Press Release: Safety First Coalition appalled at Ipswich policy proposals

Press release from the Safety First Coalition

Contact: Cari Mitchell
020 7482 2496         
07811 964 171      

Policies which contributed to the tragic murders of five young women in Ipswich are being reintroduced

The Safety First coalition is appalled at proposals of zero tolerance against clients and removal of street prostitution announced yesterday by Ipswich Local Authorities, police, health and probation services.  The proposals replicate almost exactly the policies in place before the murders.  Once again no lessons have been learned.

The report proposes:

  • Removing street prostitution from all areas in Ipswich.  Women may be forced out of Ipswich – what has that got to do with safety?  Targeting clients with zero tolerance and police crackdowns, including ASBOs, forces prostitution further underground.  Women will have even less time to check out men fearful of arrest.  Instead, they will be pushed into more isolated, less well lit areas where they are more vulnerable to attack.  Whatever anyone thinks about men paying for sex, safety should be the priority.  It is not even mentioned in these proposals.
  • Measures to ensure “that women do not become involved in street prostitution in the first place”.  They offer no budget or resources to address the poverty, debt, rape and domestic violence, lack of housing, cuts in benefits, and low wages in other occupations which force women into prostitution.  70% of prostitute women are mothers, mostly single mothers, who are working to support themselves and their families.
  • The only concrete proposals are for more police patrols, CCTV and the use of anti-social behaviour legislation.  Where are the proposals to deal with the appalling 1.6% conviction rate for reported rape in Suffolk?
  • “Developing” drug treatment programmes and accommodation support. The proposals take no account of the needs of those addicted to drugs.  Compulsory referral means that women will be forced into programmes regardless of their suitability and face arrest and prison if they refuse or for some reason are forced to drop out.  One woman in our network was turned down for a detox programme because of funding considerations until a cheaper place was found.  This resulted in a delay of several months during which time she was forced to continue working on the streets, faced arrest (until we intervened) and was seriously assaulted on a number of occasions.

Comments from some of the concerned individuals who are part of Safety First:  

Camille Shah, Ipswich resident

I am totally against a zero tolerance policy on prostitution because it will make women in our town less visible and more vulnerable to attack. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the Ipswich murders, it has to be that sex workers need protection and support.  Zero tolerance offers neither.

Dr Jonathan Fluxman, inner city London GP

There is now clear evidence, both medical and more widely, that sex workers need support and assistance.  Forcing people into compulsory drug treatment is known not to be effective.  The most effective way is to decriminalise prostitution along the lines of the system adopted in New Zealand. 

Helen West, General Manager Oxford Brookes Students Union

Young people and students who are sex workers are struggling to survive.  They need viable economic alternatives to prostitution.  Many are in debt: since the elimination of grants, student debt has increased by 544% and now totals over £5 billion.  Everyone in our community deserves to be safe from attack, regardless of their occupation, sexual preference, race, age, nationality or lifestyle.

John Furniss, Multiple Choice Drug Rehabilitation Centre

These policies are going along the same path that led to the murders and are a terrible mistake.  The justice system is based on abstract targets, not the reality of womens’ lives.  For example, success on a Drug Rehabilitation Requirement is seen as 16 weeks on methadone regardless of whether it solves the underlying problems.  Women face particular difficulties because childcare and their other needs are not addressed.

Rev Paul Nicolson, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

Street prostitution is thought to be motivated by drugs but rich people do not have to turn to the oldest profession to finance their addiction.  All benefits are below the government’s poverty thresholds.  Buying the things that most people consider necessary is impossible at the lowest levels of income in the UK without deciding to go into debt, shoplifting, bending the benefit rules, carrying drugs or for some, entering prostitution.   

The Safety First Coalition is co-ordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes to look at the decriminalisation of sex work and viable economic alternatives to prostitution.