The following interview is with Rosie Campbell OBE who took up the Chief Executive Officer post at Leeds-based support agency Genesis in September 2013. Rosie has been heavily involved in researching, service development and sex work policy in the UK since 1995 and was one of the driving forces behind the ‘Merseyside Model’ which helped 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).
Following academic work in Merseyside in the late 1990’s which drew on many different experiences connected to sex work to show that a one-dimensional policy approach would not work, Rosie went on to be involved in setting up the Linx Project and then to be coordinator at Armistead Street and Portside outreach and sex worker NHS support projects in Liverpool. Alongside that she was one of the founder members of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects in 1992 which she chaired for eight years. Rosie currently chairs the national advisory group for Ugly Mugs and is a director for Ugly Mugs in a voluntary capacity.
Genesis was set up 24 years ago and is the longest running support agency for sex workers in Leeds. Genesis offers street outreach services two nights a week in Leeds and outreach to indoor sex workers across the city, making contact with sex workers, offering health promotion and harm reduction interventions, and personal safety information, much of which has been developed in partnership with sex workers and expert organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. Genesis also offers advice on a wide range of issues including sexual health, law on sex work, drug and alcohol issues, and housing and benefits which has been in particular demand following recent government policy changes. Genesis offers one to one support to sex workers in all sectors and can refer women and support them to access a wide range of agencies. Genesis works closely with West Yorkshire Police as part of the Genesis Leeds Ugly Mugs Scheme which helps to address crimes against sex workers.
Q: What is your view of West Yorkshire Police’s strategy around sex work?
In general terms we can describe a policing approach towards prostitution as being on a sliding scale from enforcement-based at one end and protection-based at the other. Since joining Genesis in Leeds it became clear that the policing approach had for some years been predominantly enforcement-based, which meant the use of soliciting legislation and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders for street sex work. The use of ASBOs for street sex workers is something I’ve never supported because it is not in my view proportional. It doesn’t fit with the removal in the 1980’s of imprisonment as a penalty for soliciting – this was a critical step in acknowledging that this is a welfare issue and not one of criminal offending.
Enforcement-based approaches always make it more difficult to offer health and support services because, understandably, sex workers are more suspicious of anyone who they see as being from the authorities when an enforcement-based approach is being taken. Even if they do trust support projects they will be more wary of being identified and will want to move on from the area as soon as they see any police officers because they are fearful of arrest or other sanctions. This is a very difficult climate to deliver services in. There was a lot of shock at the Met’s raids on brothels last year. This kind of police tactic pushes sex workers into more danger.
It’s important to say that there will be marked differences in approach even between the towns and cities within a single police force’s area so I am only commenting on Leeds.
Q: Are there signs that West Yorkshire Police’s approach might be changing?
What is very encouraging is that with the new prostitution strategy in Leeds there is a move away from enforcement to a more proportionate response as recommended by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and there is a determination to improve the policing of crimes committed against sex workers and a real desire to build trust with sex workers.
A new strategic partnership framework on prostitution in Leeds which includes West Yorkshire Police, local authority and third sector agencies was agreed in April 2014. This was informed by consultation with a range of partners over many months and drafted following a scoping exercise led by Dr Kate Brown from York University which drew together existing data on sex work in Leeds, including the numbers of sex workers, the socio-demographic profile of sex workers in Leeds, what the main services were for them, criminal justice data and Ugly Mugs data. It established that the police approach was predominantly enforcement-based which is out of step with the national guidance that urges a staged approach with enforcement being reserved as the last recourse.
What I found when I arrived in Leeds was that the level of women reporting into our Ugly Mugs scheme wanting to make formal reports of crimes to the police was extremely low. That’s no surprise when there had been an enforcement-based approach for some years, it is difficult to build trust and enable reporting in such a context. When I first came to Leeds it reminded me of the culture in Liverpool in the late 1990’s. There was a very untrusting relationship between sex workers and the police. Sex workers thought they wouldn’t be believed when reporting a crime against them and may even be prosecuted themselves.
Fortunately, police officers taking a leading role in implementing the prostitution strategy have supported a more balanced approach in recent times and have been very committed to improving the policing of crimes committed against sex workers. The new strategy clearly states that crimes against sex workers will not be tolerated.
It is very challenging for police forces who are all working within a problematic legal framework. But despite this some are moving in the right direction and making real efforts to address crimes against sex workers, for example, Merseyside, Manchester and Lancashire.
Q: Are changes planned for how offender data is managed by West Yorkshire Police?
We re-launched Ugly Mugs across West Yorkshire in August this year. We know in the past that the information gathered has not always been recorded properly or has not always been processed effectively by West Yorkshire Police. WYP have reviewed and enhanced their intelligence pathways in response to this. Crimes against sex workers will have an Ugly Mugs flag added and West Yorkshire Police will actively interface with National Ugly Mugs to ensure intelligence is shared nationally to ensure mobile offenders are better managed and that mobile sex workers are better protected.
Q: It sounds like West Yorkshire Police are shifting in the right direction at a senior level, but it still seems down to individual officers as to whether victims get a good service or not as the BLAST interview showed?
In my view Leeds is in a period of change and there are some positive developments, but it’s still in the early stages of change. In my experience the changes in attitude towards sex workers and crimes against sex workers can take a long time. There was a long transition period in Merseyside for example, change did not happen overnight – it took over a decade. So we need to have some patience, but I’m certainly not trying to justify unacceptable policing or any poor conduct. When we think about the history of murders of sex workers in areas of West Yorkshire such as Bradford, and with Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes still casting a tragic shadow, I would have hoped to have seen the safety of sex workers as an absolute priority for many years.
Earlier in the year we delivered training to 200 police officers about the diversity among sex workers and their differing needs and experiences. It was clear from those sessions that officers had quite differing views about sex workers.
Q: Are you aware of any cases being referred to West Yorkshire Police’s Professional Standards Division?
I’m not personally aware of any since I joined Genesis. It is vital that every police force has routes to not only deal with unprofessional behaviour but also incivility. We have had a sex worker raise an issue of inappropriate language with us and we have taken that to the police. I’m confident that the managers of those officers have thoroughly investigated and dealt with the problem. I want to encourage sex workers to raise those issues with Genesis should they occur – I will deal with them head on as I have done in the past in Merseyside. But we need to do a lot more to build relationships with more sex workers, let them know their rights and encourage them to report any problems they encounter.
Q: When I first spoke to West Yorkshire Police about the Merseyside Model they didn’t know what it was – now in a recent letter from Mark Burns-Williamson (West Yorkshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner) the police force seems to be suggesting it has adopted the model in all but name?
Any force cannot say they have adopted the Merseyside Model until they take a primarily protection-based approach, treat crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and utilise specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and sex work liaison police officers to increase the reporting and conviction rates. Some forces may have adopted elements of this approach. Merseyside Police Force is still the only force to have adopted the hate crime policy itself. The Police & Crime Commissioner’s letter perhaps indicates there isn’t yet a full understanding of the Merseyside Model within West Yorkshire Police. He rightly points to specialist services, including the STAR project who we have referred sex worker victims to and who have provided quality support. But from the available evidence, having a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advisor for sex workers in place would – as clearly demonstrated in Merseyside – have increased the reporting of crimes by sex workers, improved victim support for sex workers and kept sex workers better engaged in the criminal justice system from report to court. I have met with people from the PCC’s office before and talked about Genesis’ work in Leeds but I haven’t had the chance to talk in detail about the different elements of the Merseyside Model. I think there is work to do to more clearly communicate the elements that make up the approach and explain the benefits that come from adopting it.
The hate crime policy which is part of the Merseyside Model is critical, but on its own it won’t get the results. You also need sex work liaison police officers which originally saw success in Edinburgh in the 1990’s and later in Manchester and Merseyside, and for a move away from an enforcement response. As of May this year we have a prostitution liaison officer in Leeds to offer a first point of contact with sex workers and to build trust. The officer who has taken on this role is specially trained to deal with rape and sexual assault victims. She specifically has a non-enforcement role. She works to get to know people on the streets and we are also promoting her role to indoor sex workers. She’ll be the first point of contact for projects like Genesis and BLAST. We can offer her support to victims of harassment, rape and sexual assault and other crimes, whether to just talk, or to make a formal report if they wish.
It’s about giving sex workers rights in the same way other groups do. And this would mean that managing crimes against them is done in a slightly enhanced way and that there is enhanced support for the victims.
Q: Is it more helpful to use the term ‘sex worker’ or the term ‘prostitute’?
I use the term sex worker. ‘Work’ is an activity to generate income – it takes place under a range of conditions from free labour to forced labour so I don’t see the phrase as being loaded or excluding any particular experience or circumstances. Some people use the word prostitute in a non-loaded, non-stigmatising way, but some people use it in a very stigmatising way. They spit out the word, or variations of the word. The word prostitution has neutrality, but prostitute doesn’t. It’s obviously up to individuals who work in the sex industry to choose the term they want for themselves, e.g. sex worker, escort, prostitute, but policy-makers need to be mindful of how their language is interpreted and use appropriate and responsible language. For me it is critical I don’t use language that would further stigmatise a person.
Rosie’s PhD research has examined the Merseyside Police’s approach to treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes. She argues that the experience of sex workers fit several key established definitions of hate crime, they are victims of targeted violence and abuse generated by prejudice and that a hate crime approach can lead to practical improvements in responses to crimes against sex workers and recognises the rights of sex workers protection and justice. Her work has been recently published in the chapter ‘Not Getting Away With It: Linking Sex Work and Hate Crime in Merseyside’ in Chakroborti, N and Garland, J (eds), ‘Responding to Hate Crime: The Case for Connecting Policy and Research’, The Policy Press, Bristol.
This interview is with Phil Mitchell from the Leeds-based BLAST Project. The BLAST Project provides a range of support services to boys and young men across Leeds and Bradford who are or have been sexually exploited, or are at risk of being sexually exploited, including those who are involved in selling/exchanging sex. This interview is part of a series with agencies in West Yorkshire who support sex workers and liaise to some degree with West Yorkshire Police. The first interview was with the Joanna Project, the second with the STAR Project. All previous articles on this topic can be found here.
Q: How much work does the BLAST Project do with sex workers?
We’re currently working with two young men in the Bradford area, but we’re finding male sex workers difficult to identify and engage with at the moment. We have outreach workers who go out late at night and they work with a number of young men who appear to be begging or homeless. We know a number of them have offered sexual stuff in exchange for cash or drugs, but a lot of them won’t disclose it to us, so we’ve got to get to know them better and build more trust. We have worked with more sex workers in the past, although they tend to only talk to us once or twice and then don’t want to see us again. Quite often they are looking after themselves and their sexual health and don’t need support; they have friends and they say they don’t want to speak to anyone else. So we just let them know we’re here if they ever need us for anything. There’s not really any 1:1 work with sex workers at present, the bulk of that type of support is with boys under 18 who are being abused or are at risk of being abused.
Q: Do you have much interaction with West Yorkshire Police?
If someone from the ‘Vice Squad’ knows of a young man out selling sex they always refer them to us. But this rarely happens because either the boys aren’t out on the streets or some of the police don’t identify them as selling sex – they see them more as causing trouble, wanting to mug someone, or begging, and they move them along – some officers don’t understand that they could be selling sex. The police tend to make assumptions based on gender which isn’t helpful.
While we do work closely with WYP in some instances, we are very careful about how we associate with them. A lot of the boys and men we work with don’t like the police, so if we say we work closely with the police they won’t engage with us. If we become aware of something which is worrying and potentially a crime we’ll send the information to the police. But if the young person doesn’t want to speak to the police then that’s up to them.
Q: What are the interactions like between West Yorkshire Police, the BLAST Project and the people the Project is trying to support?
There are negative and positive aspects. There are some officers and individuals who are amazing, but there are others that tend to say one thing but do another. They deal with allegations and say to the victims they’ll keep in touch and let them know what’s happening, but 9 times out of 10 that never actually happens. A person can make a complaint and give a statement and it can be a year later before they find out what’s happened. In that year no-one has kept in touch, no-one has said what’s happening – has it gone to the CPS etc. – we have to phone and chase.
The Police have a tendency to criminalise boys and young men. All of the safeguarding guidance says you cannot label someone under 18 as a prostitute, but there have been instances where this has not been followed. Only this week we found out there was a 14 year old boy who’d been offered drugs for sex. We approached WYP about this and they said, “This is male prostitution…” – we had to challenge them – he’s a 14 year old boy, you cannot classify him in that way. The focus tends to be on prosecution, but there has to be more to it than that.
We’ve had reports from children and young people like “I’ve been online, I’ve chatted to what I thought was a girl and she’s got me to perform a sex act on a webcam but it turned out to be a middle aged man who’d recorded it. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the police but they said ‘there’s nothing we can do’…” So I’ve phoned the police and said “You’ve got a child reporting a child sexual offence to you, you can’t say ‘there’s nothing you can do’?” – then they try to bat it back to the voluntary sector saying, “Well, you do this and then if they want to speak to us phone us back.”, and we’re like, “They did want to speak to you – they spoke to you and you told them to go away.”
There was one young lad who came out as gay and went online looking for a boyfriend. All these older men said to him “Let’s have sex, it’ll show me that you love me” – he was groomed by lots of different men. Some of them had previously been in prison for sexual offences. He tried reporting this but the police told him he was wasting their time, that he was costing too much money – they told him they’d lock him up in a secure unit – again we had to challenge the police. Fortunately we managed to stop that happening on that occasion.
Some WYP officers don’t understand that boys and young men don’t go to the red light areas like the women do. The red light areas are used by male, heterosexual kerb-crawlers. The boys will hang around all the gay bars and gay venues and approach the gay guys. “I can let him watch me masturbate and get £20”, or “I’ll let him think I’m gonna suck him off but then I’ll mug him and run off.” But then sometimes they end up being raped. But because they’re often under 18 we wouldn’t call them sex workers – they’re sexually exploited young people. Unfortunately the police don’t always get that.
There are some officers on Vice that have been very good. They’ve spoken to victims and built a good relationship with them. But it depends on individual officers and their background. Maybe you could blame the cuts for some of this. Everyone’s got to do more for less. But that excuse can only go so far. It hasn’t helped that West Yorkshire Police have historically been reluctant to say they sometimes get things wrong or could do things better, but I’m hopeful that things may now be changing in this respect.
Q: Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?
I’ve heard of it, but we’re not involved in it. WYP didn’t consult with us about it. They have consulted with us on some things but not on a great deal.
Q: Do you work to change communities and societies views towards sex work?
We do, but the focus is on preventing sexual exploitation of under 18 males rather than on sex work. I spoke at a conference earlier today with the message that it doesn’t just happen to young girls, it happens to young boys too. We do national campaigns like the ‘Think Again’ campaign, and we do challenge – we challenge that you can’t use the term ‘prostitute’ for under 18’s for example.
Q: Have West Yorkshire Police offered to join forces with you in this work?
We are in discussion with WYP about doing an online web chat. WYP have previously worked with Isis (linked to Genesis but dealing with girls who are sexually exploited) and separately PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation who support parents who have children who have been abused) to do web chats, so we’re hoping to do one aimed at parents about boys who are sexually exploited and give people advice about grooming and sexual exploitation.
We’re very careful how we link up with the police as sometimes they say the right thing but they don’t do the right thing. I’ve got more negative experiences than positive experiences, and I think so have the boys and young men we see, therefore we have to be very careful about how we associate with WYP.
A few years ago we did some outreach with some PCSOs in one of Leeds’ main red light districts late at night. We approached the working women and said we’re looking for boys to give information and support to. Many of the women knew of boys but said they won’t be here; they’ll be around all the gay bars. Then the PCSOs, who were lovely, said, “We’re out and about, take care of yourselves, but look, if we see you here again we’re going to have to arrest you or move you on”. And that made us think – even though we got on, our approaches are very different, so we can’t do outreach again together.
Q: Are you aware of the ‘Merseyside Model’ which is recommended in the 2011 Association of Chief Police Officers’ guidance and centres on treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes?
I think that anything that helps brings a prosecution is good, but anything that makes these people feel supported, and not judged, is also good. I’m all for anything that does that.
I’m not that familiar with the ACPO guidance, but it is not a big surprise that other forces have not adopted the approach of Merseyside Police. The police often let their morals get in the way. What they need to do is put their morals and views aside and just focus on the fact that you’ve got a victim. Some officers don’t seem to realise that you can sell sex legally in some circumstances – they think it’s all wrong, illegal. What really matters is that there is a victim.
I think there needs to be more general awareness about selling sex and the law – not just within the police, but in wider society. If I wanted to invite people to my house to sell sex then I’m not breaking the law. There are more students now who want to do that because they’ve got more debt – they think it’s quick and easy – obviously there are risks but younger people tend not to give the risks much weight. I never tell any of the young men that they shouldn’t do it – it is their choice. I advise them to be aware of the law – if it’s under 18 it’s a crime, if it’s in a public place it’s a crime, if it involves coercion it’s a crime, but otherwise you can sell sex quite legally, – and to be aware of the risks and make an informed decision, and get support if you need it. But the police are often very judgmental. I don’t think that criminalising prostitution solves anything.
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.
The BLAST Project recently launched their 2 minute My New Friend video to highlight the grooming and sexual exploitation of boys and young men.
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.
The police’s approach to tackling prostitution has come under the national media spotlight of late as part of a wider debate about how society views sex work. In previous articles I looked at how 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).
The policies and processes that individual police forces adopt, and the standards and behaviours that police leaders set for their officers are of course critical, but to understand the full picture 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? Do the interactions support an exit from the cycle of addiction and prostitution which is prevalent among women working on the streets?
To try and answer these questions, I requested interviews with all the support agencies which West Yorkshire Police told me they liaise with. The first of what I hope will be a short series of interviews is presented below. This interview is with Jackie Hird from the Leeds-based Joanna Project.
What is your relationship with West Yorkshire Police like?
We’ve established a good working relationship with WYP. We certainly don’t live in their pocket – but they know who we are, and we know who they are. We’ve built a closer relationship in recent times as Inspector Christopher Bowen (Holbeck Neighbourhood Operations Inspector) has taken over. He’s been very proactive in contacting us. We have a planning application in at the moment for a support centre in Holbeck and the police have been very supportive of that.
I’ve been here for 4 years and I’ve seen a definite change in attitude, at least in the senior officers. A couple of years ago I attended a meeting hosted by the police and they were making statements there about needing to see the women as victims and looking at the bigger picture, recognising they have multiple needs and that policing alone will not solve things. This meeting was the beginning of the formation of the strategy called Responding to Prostitution in Leeds: A Partnership Strategy. I know there are working women who will tell stories about encountering officers who are less than helpful, but it can take time for attitudes to filter down. I don’t think you’ll get every officer signing up to that.
We do an evening outreach and sometimes officers will come across who don’t recognise us – by and large, once they find out who we are and what we’re doing, they’re respectful of our activities.
What interactions do you have with the police?
We are part of the Ugly Mugs scheme so we would use that if there are any ‘dodgy punter’ type allegations. The police will contact us too. For example, there was recently an incident of rape, so the police alerted us to that and said if anyone had any information to please let them know. They said to put the word out that they were taking the incident seriously. They do make efforts. There’s been an issue ongoing for a while where a particular person has been a cause for concern. Different agencies, including the police, have met to try and resolve the situation. We wouldn’t give information to the police about a client unless it was for their safety, or if someone was missing, or if they’d given their permission to be discussed at a multi-agency meeting to try and help them in some way, for example with exit strategies. We don’t get involved in the police’s duty to uphold the law.
How good are WYP at encouraging your clients to report crimes and to see them through to convictions?
It’s quite difficult to get our clients to report crime and to take it the distance through to conviction. They see violence as an occupational hazard. The women we work with are street sex workers, which is quite different to many indoor sex workers. All the women we support have huge addiction issues. For them, it’s a cycle of working, using, working, using. They’re out there driven by their habit. So things like ‘reporting crime’ can be very low on their priority list. They might think ‘it’s awful what’s happened to me but I still need to work and score.’ I know sometimes there have been efforts made by the police to get women to follow through on statements, but it’s not always where the women are at. Our experience is more that the problem is when the case gets to court. Juries and magistrates etc. don’t see the women as they should – as credible witnesses. They think ‘well, what were you doing out there anyway’.
The women themselves may not see a more enlightened approach from the police. They might not see the bigger picture – they sometimes just see themselves as ‘being moved on’, ‘being lifted’, ‘being ASBO’d’. They don’t trust the police.
Have you heard of West Yorkshire Police’s “Operation Topaz”?
No, I’ve not heard of that.
What about your work to change the community’s view of prostitution – is that done in conjunction with the police?
It’s a hot topic at the moment because of this planning application.
The reason we didn’t go public about our proposal and have lots of meetings is because we’re aware lots of residents don’t want their area (Holbeck) trumpeted as a red light area and we were trying to respect that. Ironically, the challenge from some (but definitely not all) residents has thrust this in to the spotlight.
Holbeck is trying to rehabilitate its image. But sadly the reality is that it is where women are working. So being respectful of residents we didn’t make a big fuss about our building. And we know it will have absolutely no impact on the residents. It’s a very small building near an industrial estate – it’s not in the residential area. It’s not going to look any different apart from some clean curtains in the building. All anyone might possibly see is an occasional woman knocking on the door and being let in. We need the women to know where we are but we won’t be putting a big sign on the front of the building saying “working girls here” or anything like that! All people will see is the building that is there now. To suggest it will attract women in to the area is a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives women to work as street prostitutes. They don’t come here because we give them a bun and a cup of tea. We’ve actually been working in Holbeck for the last 10 years. This new proposal is just a small extension to our existing work. But somehow it’s become very visible and contentious which is frustrating.
I have invited different representatives of residents groups to meet with me and we have had some productive meetings. But I think when you’re involved in an issue like prostitution you become a kind of lightning conductor for all the anger about that issue, but I cannot solve it myself. I did not cause it. I’m just suggesting we could be a small part of a solution.
The Joanna Project and the police recognise each other’s aims – theirs is to uphold the law, ours is to help women exit prostitution – we both have an important part to play. One of the points I try to make to residents is that, because the women’s addictions are so strong, the police are not a deterrent from what they do. The addiction that drives them is much stronger than the fear of being caught by the police. The need to feed the addiction, which isn’t about pleasure but about stopping the pain, is the driver – that’s their rationale. Fear of getting an ASBO is nothing in comparison. But that can be hard for members of the public to understand.
Where are you in the application process for your outreach centre?
The planning officers have approved our proposal, but a councillor has requested that it go to a panel – this was originally going to be on the 6th March but has been deferred to 3rd April. So we wait for the councillors to decide at the planning meeting. All the objections and support for the scheme are public access.
Have you heard of the ‘Merseyside Model’ in the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance which has led to a big increase in conviction rates for crimes against sex workers?
Not heard of the ACPO guidance specifically but I would think that if Independent Sexual Violence Advisors are seen as being anything to do with the police then our clients won’t trust them. In terms of encouraging people to report crime and assist with that, that is something the voluntary sector would do in Leeds. We get the message across that just because you’re a working woman does not mean you should accept violence. We give that message strongly – it is not “OK”.
I don’t know enough about the hate crimes approach but it sounds like a very sensible idea. I think it’s the sort of thing which needs a council and political will to back it, not just the police will. I don’t know whether the political will is there or not.
Are more fundamental changes in law, politics or society needed to help tackle this issue?
I think society has this idea that these women just wake up one day and think “I’ll go and sell my body”. There isn’t the acknowledgement that it was a long and difficult journey to where these women are today. It very commonly started in the care system, in parental abuse, in neglect. A huge number of women will have been sexually abused as children. Society let these women down way back in their journey. Maybe their own parents were addicts. How do we get society to take responsibility for these people who have been damaged and let down in the past? Very commonly we hear of heroin addictions starting in the early teens. But when we see them later on in street prostitution people say “It’s all their fault” and that they “need to shape up”. Many of them won’t have completed secondary school – they often don’t have basic life skills. It’s OK helping women exit prostitution, but it’s naive to then expect them to be able to get a house and manage money, rent, bills etc when they’ve never done that before. Some have no supportive relationships because the only people they know are sex workers and other addicts. The journey to begin to build a positive life from that starting point is incredibly hard. There is very little acknowledgement of those issues. It’s a much bigger picture than just a woman saying “I’m going to take crack and heroin”.
Have Hilary Benn MP and local councillors come out in support of your outreach project?
Hilary Benn came to visit us a little while ago to learn of our plans. He certainly seemed supportive of them.
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.