There’s been criticism from sex workers about the Suffolk police strategy of getting sex workers off the streets of Ipswich. It’s being claimed it’s moving the problem elsewhere rather than tackling the root causes.
The murders of five women in Suffolk in 2006 has put the county in the centre of the debate about how to deal with the sex trade. All five of the women worked as prostitutes on the streets of Ipswich. All five were regular users of class A drugs.
The response was the ‘Street Prostitution Strategy’ which was hailed as a success by the agencies behind it and described as ‘important’ by the Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker.
He came to Ipswich in June 2008 to see the effects of the strategy first hand, and he described the work being done as significant in shaping the national picture.
The Safety First Coalition held a meeting in July 2008 – it’s a group led by the Ipswich & District Trades Union Council and the English Collective of Prostitutes. The acceptance of the reported success was heavily questioned by them.
The Reverend Andrew Dotchin, who’s the vicar of Whitton in Ipswich, said: “Certain streets are now clear of women working, but has that made Ipswich any safer for women to be in?
“If there was another person who came to our town, like Steve Wright, would they be able to kill in the same way? I would say sadly the answer is yes.”
The Government is still deciding on the way Britain will address prostitution and as well as the work carried out in Ipswich and they’ve are looking at models from overseas. The two main,but opposing, ones are in Sweden and New Zealand.
The New Zealand government has published its official review into the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA). Niki Adams from the English Collective of Prostitutes says it’s proved a success:
“It took three years, they didn’t start until the legislation had been in place for a couple of years so they had plenty of time to see it practically working.
“They asked sex workers what was actually happening to them, that’s really crucial. They actually had sex workers on the review committee.
“What they found was that there was no increase in the numbers of women actually going into prostitution, something the opposition had raised a hoo-ha about.
“Women felt more able to come forward and report violence. We think that any policy on prostitution should be judged on whether it makes women safer or not.”
Another statistic from the review says over 60% of women in all areas of the sex industry felt they were more able to refuse a client.
Simon Aalders is the acting head of the Ipswich Prostitution Strategy Group. He admits they are still part-way through a five year plan and there is still a long way to go.
But he doesn’t feel the New Zealand experience is transferable: “New Zealand is a very small country, and it’s difficult to get to. Within two or three hours of Britain you’ve got 300 million people in the Europe Union where travelling and movement is very easy.
“Legalisation and decriminalisation doesn’t stop violence against women, it doesn’t stop the involvement of organised crime, it doesn’t stop trafficking and it doesn’t stop the exploitation of women.”
He insists targeting kerb-crawlers is a necessary part of getting women off the streets.
But Niki Adams disagrees: “We know from very long and bitter experience that any measure to criminalise clients always results in making prostitution more dangerous for women.
“It means women have less time to assess clients and the industry is forced underground.”
In Sweden, particularly Stockholm, it’s been illegal since 1999 to buy sex and ‘clients’ face fines and up to six months in prison as the penalty.
It’s clear to see that the numbers of street prostitutes have dramatically reduced, but there’s widespread reports of women using the internet to advertise or simply moving to the less visible places.
A BBC report from the capital earlier this year said because there isn’t supposed to be prostitution, there were no drop-in centres for health checks and no-one handing out condoms or needles.
Lou the prostitute’s story
Back on the streets of Ipswich, Louise, who worked as a prostitute at the time of murders in 2006, says she is still seeing clients:
“People still come and see me. Just because I’ve been given an ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order) it hasn’t stopped me working.
“I’ve been to London to work and I’ve also got people who call me up. My mate she actually walks up and down Ipswich’s high street now to get business when the clubs come out.
“There’s a couple of others who are walking round different parts, not the old red light district but Barrack Lane and Geneva Road.”
She said other women are also just working in other towns and travelling to London is far from safe: “Three times I’ve nearly got attacked up there. One time this guy came with me round the back of some shops to do some business and basically he tried to rape me.
“I shouted to my mate and she called the police, but the police wouldn’t come so no, it’s not safe.”
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go before anything approaching a perfect strategy on the sex industy can be agreed on, let alone implemented.