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Merseyside Police commended on sex trade initiative

A report suggests that other forces should follow the example set by Merseyside Police when dealing with sex workers. The investigation by London Assembly member Andrew Boff focuses on how to make people in the sex industry safer, writes Charlotte Malone.

In response to the Ipswich murders, current Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe – then Merseyside Chief Constable – decided to publicly label attacks against sex workers as hate crimes.

In doing so he acknowledged sex workers as a minority who were victims of prejudice and required an ‘enhanced service.’ This led to support scheme Ugly Mug becoming formally linked to the police. Victims are now able to anonymously report attacks.

As a result, the service saw an increase in recorded crimes against sex workers and resulting convictions. In the first 18 months the local conviction rate for rape was 67 per cent, compared to the national average of just 6.5 per cent.

In the report, a sex worker recalled her experience of the new approach with specialist officers, saying: “You could talk to them – even if I had the littlest question I could phone them. The police have been brilliant.”

As positive experiences circulated amongst victims, more crimes were reported. Indeed, the number of sex workers prepared to confide their names and addresses to police increased by 400 per cent in the first 18 months.

The Olympics have heightened media interest in trafficking and prostitution in London. The Government Office of London has set aside £600,000 specifically to target trafficking.

However, fears of an increase in activity during the Games may be unfounded. In his report, Mr Boff found that South African officials expected an increase of 40,000 people soliciting prostitutes during the 2010 World Cup. Evidence showed that this was not the case.

Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Liaison for UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP), Rosie Campbell said: “The Met should consider adopting the policy of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime. Research has found the Merseyside approach has changed attitudes amongst the police.”

Even with the new approach the issues can be problematic as a female sex worker may not see herself as a victim of sexual exploitation.

In 2010 the specialist trafficking unit in the Met was replaced by the Human Exploration and Organised Crime Command (SCD9). In May 2011, MP Mark Field expressed his concern that insufficient resources were being directed at policing teams.

Other street problems, vice, kerb crawling, casino fraud and money laundering are massive problems in their own right. One wonders whether the other problems are crowding out trafficking,” he warned.

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Photo: keepwaddling1 via Flickr

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