Since the murder of Daria Pionko in Dec. 2015 and the news about the continuation of the manged area in Oct. 2015 (reported on in January 2016), there has been increased focus by the media on the managed approach to sex work in Leeds and the women that work there.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the reporting has been inaccurate or just voyeuristic and sensationalist. Basis Sex Work decided to cooperate with the Vic. Derbyshire in April 2016 (BBC) to achieve a more accurate reporting, allow for less stereotypical reporting as well as raise awareness of how Basis contributes to the managed approach and how it works. Since then, the media attention has largely quietened down, even when the council agreed to extend the managed area in July 2016, following extensive consultation with the community and businesses in the area.
The exception to this has been BBC3, the producers of Sex Lies and Murder. The production started filming in April 2016 and the documentary first aired in July 2016. Based on successful viewing figures, a further 6 were commissioned. Our input was requested at the start but we declined as they insisted on being unable to guarantee anonymity and because we are extremely restricted with our interaction with the media, in particular involving women with any press and had just been involved with Victoria Derbyshire. We NEVER want to publicly out women who are sexworking or engage with any activity where we thought this might be a risk. Women’s choice to identify as a sexworker is theirs and theirs alone and this choice should be made free of any coercion with full information and final say over the edit.
We are very concerned about the impact we have seen on the women, since the start of filming, both those who did take part and those who declined. They have selected to work with women who we believe are not in a position to give informed consent due to their complex vulnerabilities, including drug addiction, experiences of recent or more historic violence and abuse, mental and physical health issues and abject poverty. This also makes them highly vulnerable to offers of compensation in exchange for speaking to them on camera. Any regret expressed to the production team by the women about “consent” provided after the filming is not taken into account, nor has our feedback on the impact of the women they have been filming. Where women did give informed consent, their information was edited in such a manner that the objective for engaging with media did not have the intended effect – and in fact had an extremely serious impact on a woman’s wellbeing and access to support.
Increasingly, a number of highly vulnerable women have been repeatedly followed and harassed into cooperating which we fear may escalate. In addition, the comments made by women or how these have been edited, increasingly so in the more recent documentaries, have had significant consequences for them or are likely to have in the future. This includes putting any possibility of contact with children for instance or access to other forms of support (harm reduction etc) at risk. In one case this has led to vital support from family now being cut off completely.
We will continue to inform women with information about working with the media, sharing the experiences of other women so they can take informed decisions. Having considered a complaint earlier, we will again be considering all options to keep the women safe and informed, both now and in the future.