The interview below is with the STAR (Surviving Trauma After Rape) Project based in Wakefield. It is part of a short series of interviews with agencies in West Yorkshire who support sex workers and who liaise to some degree with West Yorkshire Police (the first interview was with the Joanna Project).
The purpose of the interviews is to try and understand what actually happens on the street when West Yorkshire Police interact with sex workers. As discussed in previous articles, West Yorkshire Police, along with most other forces, has chosen not to adopt elements of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which has been instrumental in helping Merseyside Police achieve a 67% conviction rate for crimes of rape against sex workers compared to a national average conviction rate for rape of just 6.5% (2010 data). But while the policies, processes and leadership of police forces are critical, it’s essential to look at what actually happens on the street on a day-to-day basis. Do the interactions between individual police officers and prostitutes working on the streets of West Yorkshire tend to make the working women safer, or do they put them in more danger?
The STAR Project is managed and jointly funded by West Yorkshire Police so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the interview throws little light on the day-to-day interactions between West Yorkshire Police officers and sex workers, but it still contains some interesting information. The interview is with Sue Widdowson who manages the STAR Project and works in the Safeguarding Governance Unit of the Crime Division.
What is the set-up at STAR?
The STAR Project is a jointly funded initiative between West Yorkshire Police and NHS England. The project provides a free support service for females and males aged 14 and over, offering counselling and emotional and practical support throughout West Yorkshire. The main office is run by WYP employees, the Initial Support Workers are volunteers and the professional counsellors are employed on a sessional basis.
How many sex workers do you help approximately? How do you assist them?
During the financial year 2012/2013, the STAR Project supported 8 females whose perpetrator was a working women’s client. From April 2013 up to Feb 2014 support has been given to 2 clients. Working women are not judged by the STAR Project and are treated in the same was as any other client.
Based on feedback from all clients (sex workers and non-sex workers), are there things that could be improved with how WYP handle sexual crimes?
STAR do not have this information. As previously mentioned we treat all client’s in the same way. We ask our clients to complete a questionnaire, however this is anonymous and we would not be in a position to distinguish between sex worker and non-sex worker.
Are victims, whether sex worker or non-sex worker, always encouraged to report crimes and then supported to see things through to conviction?
The STAR service is there to support all victims pre-trial, trial and in some cases post trial.
Is STAR connected to West Yorkshire Police’s ‘Operation Topaz’?
In February 2014, Operation Topaz was dispersed to Divisional Safeguarding Units. Rape Investigations are now dealt with by Specially Trained Officers within these Units. STAR work closely with the Safeguarding Units and receive referrals from them on a daily basis.
Does STAR do any work to change community’s views about prostitution, e.g. that’s it not just an issue of crime?
STAR is not actively involved in changing community views around prostitution.
Are you aware of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which is recommended in the 2011 ACPO guidance and centres on treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes?
STAR is not aware of the ‘Merseyside Model’.
The use of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers to support sex workers out on the street has helped Merseyside Police greatly increase their conviction rates for crimes against sex workers. It sounds like your Initial Support Workers might fulfill a similar role?
Initial Support Workers offer a crucial and valuable element of the service provided by the STAR Project, visiting clients in their own homes, offering support to help clients deal with the practical, emotional and social impact of the assault. Provide clients and their families with whatever support, advice and information is required, to help them deal with the practical, social and emotional impact of the assault. This support may involve the following: enabling clients to talk freely about the assault; providing information about health related services (e.g. GUM clinics, pregnancy testing etc.); providing information about police and court procedures; providing information about other relevant local agencies (e.g. housing, benefits etc.); liaising with other agencies to obtain information or services on behalf of the client; and assisting clients to identify future options and make informed choices at the end of the six-week period.
West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Topaz and the Association of Chief Police Officers 2011 Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation are discussed in this article.