In response to the report by the Listening Well, Basis would like to make the following statement:
As a charity that has supported sex workers for over 30 years, we have and will continue to work constructively to engage and share information with residents about our work and how we support women. We continue to work hard to address any negative impact of the Managed Approach. We fully understand the impact of not feeling safe in your own community. In fact, this was one of the reasons for the original development of the approach, in response to many years of different actions being taken by the police in Holbeck which proved ineffective with questions being raised by residents going back as far as 2004; previous ineffective actions also created a more unsafe environment for sex workers.
We would like to however raise some key areas of concern with the report, mainly the one-sided nature and the inherent bias it creates, in particular as it seeks to set out that there is a view of “the residents” or “the community”, while failing to acknowledge that sex workers are part of the community. The collection of evidence through a series of events was not held in a manner that would have enabled sex workers to safely express their opinion, experience and perspective; the report therefore does not reflect their views. Nonetheless, we know that in previous research the majority of sex workers have expressed their support for the Managed Approach as well as having expressed compassion and understanding for the wellbeing of children and families living in Holbeck including their own. Nor were charities (including our own) invited to offer direct input to set some of the findings and/or recommendations into context or to offer a different perspective.
Equally, based on the evidence in the report it is not possible to state that many of the incidents would not have happened in other areas of Leeds. We know that the drug trade, homelessness and violence are issues that affect many areas of our city and we are committed to support addressing these issues, for everyone’s safety; including sex workers.
Taking into account the above reservations we will consider its findings alongside findings from other recent research such as the Independent Review by the University of Huddersfield. We reiterate our willingness to continue to engage with the community and community representatives to implement a number of the recommendations including sharing information about our work. Indeed, a number of recommendations align very much with our own objectives as an organisation which we have been advocating for many years now and many have already been progressed to a degree; offering addiction support and counselling help with victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation and support for women who wanted to “exit” (fully recognising the limitations of the word exit) – all of such services are in place but are insufficient to meet the demand. Moreover, while we have been successful in our support for a number of women in this regard in recent years, we also know that such support is hardly ever a “quick fix“ and can take significant input over a number of years, for many this can be linked to domestic violence, addiction as well as more structural issues such as housing, benefits (including the impact of austerity) etc. It therefore also takes a multi-agency approach that truly responds both to the immediate and longer term needs of women who sex work in areas such as the benefits system (in particular universal credit), health, housing, criminal justice and tackling stigma.
Finally, we would like to reiterate our request for compassionate and respectful debate on this topic from all parties.