Basis Yorkshire works in partnership with Safer Leeds (West Yorkshire Police and Leeds City Council) under the managed approach to street sex work. Since working under a managed approach, the relationship with the police has been substantially improved – ensuring overall improved outcomes for the women, the business and the residents of Leeds. Amongst other things, this has led to the identification and prosecution of criminals including those guilty of sexual and other violent forms of assault on sex workers and other citizens in Leeds, men who have sought to exploit younger girls (arrested as a direct result of reporting to the police by sex workers) and other forms of crime.
We deliver outreach in the area and on Friday last week we were witness to the immigration activity by the UK Border Agency in the area. We tried to support the women that were detained and/or questioned with information and/or refreshments as best we could, as our primary focus remains the well-being of sex workers, but our access was restricted. In addition, the manner in which the operation was handled was unduly heavy handed and caused distress amongst the women as well as our staff.
Data shows that a trusted relationship with the police is a key element to reducing the risk to sex working women and ensuring women feel confident to approach services like ours- a founding principle that has underpinned the managed approach in Leeds. We believe strongly that this process has been detrimental to the relationship between street sex working women and the police.
In addition, this will not reduce the amount of migrant sex working women, but merely push them to more hidden and therefore less safe activities as has happened in the past with enforcement based approaches. This is a particular concern given the murder of Daria Pionko in Leeds last year, an example of the lethal violence that is targeted at migrant sex workers as a particularly vulnerable group. Furthermore, this is a risk for any women that might have been trafficked and who would now be unlikely report this to the police given their experiences of last weekend.
As a rights-based organisation, one of our aims is to inform sex working women of their rights and support them in accessing these. In light of recent events, we will be focusing specifically on informing women of their immigration rights as well as supporting women detained or given other forms of notice, in efforts to ensure that appropriate legal procedures are adhered to.
As a key partner in the development of the managed approach and the partnership in Leeds, we have an obligation and duty to ensure that the safety of women is paramount and we will advocate and lobby that the managed approach remains focussed on that.
Gemma Sciré – CEO Basis Yorkshire
Dr Kate Brown – Chair of Trustees