|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (December 2015)|
The Soho area has been at the heart of London's sex industry for over 200 years. Before the Street Offences Act 1959 became law, street prostitutes worked in Piccadilly Circus and the streets and alleys around Soho. By the early 1960s almost every doorway in Soho had red-lit doorbells, or open doors with little postcards just inside advertising "Large Chest for Sale" or "French Lessons Given." During the mid–2000s several walk-ups on streets leading off Shaftesbury Avenue were bought up and closed or renovated for other uses. Nevertheless, prostitution is still widespread in walk-ups in parts of Soho and prostitutes are widely available. The studio flats in which they work are often sign-posted by fluorescent "model" signs at street level.
The name comes from the way a potential client accesses the flat. This is generally achieved by walking through an open door at street level and then up a flight of stairs to a second closed door which has a door bell containing a girl's name. The client rings the bell to gain access. From the street level door to the main building there is often a visible hand crafted sign reading 'model' to indicate that it is indeed the entrance to one or more walk-ups.
Each walk-up normally consists of a single sex worker and a maid. The job of the maid is to act as receptionist who can receive potential clients when the sex worker is occupied and either give them somewhere to wait or suggest they return at a later time.
There are a number of online directories that give the locations of the walk-ups and some details of the sex workers that are providing services on particular days.
Unlike a call girl or escort, visits are not by appointment and no booking is made. The potential client simply rings the bell to see if the sex worker is available.
Money is paid directly to the sex worker for the required sexual service. A tip of a few of pounds is normally also offered for the maid.
A Soho walk-up can be legal, but the law of England and Wales on prostitution is complex. It is technically legal for a single sex worker to work in this way (for a house to be a de iure brothel it must be used by more than one person to offer sexual services in return for payment), provided she does not break any other laws relating to prostitution e.g. the prostitute may not solicit potential customers on the street i.e. clients must by their own initiative walk in through the door (hence the need for a euphemistic sign at the door of a Soho walk-up; it is the only communication to the public that sexual services are sold there). Despite this, there have been a number of high-profile police raids in Soho based on allegations for illegal activity which has resulted in the closure of some walk-ups. However, police have found it difficult to make charges stick which has resulted in the courts allowing walk-ups to reopen.
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- "Soho walk ups". The Flying Scotsman. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- Gorman v Standen (1964) 1 QB 294, Lord Parker CJ at p.303
- "Sexual Offences Act 2003". www.legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
- "Prostitution in the United Kingdom". Wikipedia. 2017-03-01.
- "section 51A, Sexual Offences Act 2003". Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- Jamie Welham (21 August 2009). "'Walk Up' Sex Workers Hit Out At Cops". Camden New Journal (West End Extra). Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- "Victory — closure order on sex workers' Soho flat defeated; the flat re-opens!". The English Collective of Prostitutes. 21 February 2014. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
Media related to Soho walk-ups at Wikimedia Commons