WOMEN’S safety campaigners warned on Thursday that Ipswich local authorities’ plans for a “zero-tolerance” policy on street prostitution will compromise prostitutes’ safety.
The Safety First coalition, which is co-ordinated by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), warned that the proposals replicated almost exactly those in place before the horrific murder of five street prostitutes in Ipswich, Suffolk, in December last year.
“Once again, no lessons have been learned,” ECP spokeswoman Cari Mitchell said and called for the decriminalisation of sex work, combined with viable economic alternatives to prostitution.
In the draft street prostitution strategy report, the Suffolk authorities propose to remove street prostitution from all areas in Ipswich and adopt a policy of zero tolerance against clients.
“The key objective must be to ensure that women do not become involved in street prostitution in the first place,” the report declared.
If they do, the Suffolk authorities promised to ensure that drug treatment programmes, health services, accommodation and other support are available to help them to leave the “harmful lifestyle.”
The policy is believed to be ready to be rolled out across Britain if it is deemed successful.
But campaigners warned that those addicted to drugs would be forced into unsuitable rehabilitation programmes, with threats of arrest and imprisonment if they refuse treatment.
Multiple Choice Drug Rehabilitation Centre spokesman John Furniss warned: “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 women’s lives.”
London GP Dr Jonathan Fluxman insisted: “Forcing people into compulsory drug treatment is known not to be effective,” while Ipswich resident Camille Shah expressed her opposition to the zero-tolerance policy because it would make women “less visible and more vulnerable” to attacks.
“Sex workers need protection and support. Zero tolerance offers neither,” she argued.
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust spokesman Rev Paul Nicolson pointed to the main reason why women turn to “harmful lifestyles” like prostitution – poverty.
“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,” he said.