We at Basis are deeply saddened by the article featured in the Daily Mail today (16th December 2017), which is littered with factual errors and distortions of the truth http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5185231/Rape-cases-soar-Britains-red-light-district.html . The journalist claims that ‘rape and sex assaults have soared’ in the area where women are selling sex ‘on street’ in Leeds, which is absolutely and categorically untrue. Yet again, a national paper cynically uses the good work and huge improvements in the way women are treated in Leeds to make news that is far from the truth. As a small charity in Leeds, working ‘on the ground’ day in, day out, with women and have done for 30 years, we are the people who have taken those very reports of crime from women themselves over the years. In the past, women would not allow us to share information about the crimes they had experienced, fearful of the Police and authorities, or even had an opportunity to speak with us as they fled from street to street, subject to Police enforcement action. We have worked tirelessly in partnership with the Police to ensure that where women are victims of crime, that they feel able to report that and seek justice from authorities. Something shamefully not possible before 2013, leaving perpetrators ‘at large’ in the community and victims of crime unheard and unsupported . If the view is that prior to the Managed Approach there were few incidents of violence and abuse against sex workers then that view is entirely mistaken: it happened, it was not reported, and women were failed in their need to access justice and support.
At no point as the specialist sex work service in the city have we been asked for our expert perspective on this issue and indeed it’s apparent that people with a poor knowledge of both the local context and the needs and rights of sex workers are invited to comment. In particular, I wish to respond to Mary Honeyball MEP, with whom we have had no prior contact and who appears to have a role around women’s rights. I would appeal to Mary that in order to understand the efforts in Leeds to protect sex workers, she visit and hear directly both from services here to support women and the women themselves. We would warmly welcome her. The comment about ‘pimps and brothel owners’ is wholly inappropriate and factually inaccurate as a) the article is centred on the ‘beat’ in Leeds i.e. street sex working and not related to ‘brothels’ and b) the conditions that lead to women working on street are varied and complex, not least to do with government policy on welfare and reductions in public services that lead to poverty & ill health. In addition, the issue of drug related litter in Leeds is a city wide issue with whole areas of Leeds badly affected: the area of street sex working is not the worst by far, but is deeply affected by the effects of drug use, some of which is related to sex workers, some of which is contributed to by other drug users (in line with national increases in drug use).
Clearly, from the additional investment by the Home Office for Merseyside into sex work services that are focussed on increasing reports of crime, there is a growing recognition nationally of the need for services ‘encouraging more victims to report the offences against them, in order to bring more attackers to justice and prevent further crimes happening’ https://www.merseyside.police.uk/news/latest-news/2017/12/merseyside-police-launch-red-umbrella-project-to-support-sex-workers-on-merseyside/ . We are committed partners with Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police and are determined to further improve the safety of sex workers, building on the success achieved to date. The ‘Managed Approach’ is significant progress in responding to street sex work and the safety of sex workers, but is only one step towards a better and safer way for either women, or the communities they work in. Our sad history as a society of criminalising women involved in selling sex has been incredibly damaging and has left women vulnerable, isolated, stigmatised and subject to perpetrators who have targeted sex workers with little fear of identification, arrest or conviction. The Managed Approach goes some way to redressing that as the statistics that are quoted evidence. On the eve of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – 17th December- https://uknswp.org/um/num-dec-17th-statement-idevasw17/ , it is altogether too sad that instead of honouring the memory of sex workers killed and working towards better safety for those involved in sex work, the progressive work that is ongoing is undermined. We at Basis remain dedicated to the safety of women and all efforts that contribute to that.
CEO Basis Yorkshire