EVERY year Leeds-based charity Basis Yorkshire joins organisations around the world in their efforts to seek an end to violence against sex workers.
This form of violence is a very real threat as the city saw when Daria Pionko was murdered on the streets of Holbeck on December 22 – just five days after the 2015 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers had been held.
Her killer, Lewis Pierre, posed as a client to lure 21-year-old Daria to a quieter area of the city’s managed red light zone with the aim of robbing her. He then brutally attacked her when she tried to stop him stealing money from her handbag.
It is just one of the reasons why Basis today began its first ever 17 Days of Action in the run-up to the international event on December 17.
Amber Wilson, who is helping to co-ordinate the charity’s campaign, said: “It feels more poignant this year.
“When you get that phone call, it’s really hard. You can only imagine what their family is going through at that time.”
Sometimes they’re not aware they can make a report. They’re scared of it.Amber Wilson, Basis Yorkshire
The campaign seeks to change the way violence against sex workers is viewed by society, but also women themselves.
“Some of them think it goes with the job,” Ms Wilson said. “Just because somebody is a sex worker, it doesn’t mean you can mistreat them.”
The charity works with female and transgender sex workers who live or work in Leeds, including in the managed zone.
It has supported victims of violence through four court cases in the last 18 months, with three resulting in a conviction.
Ms Wilson said: “Sometimes they’re not aware they can make a report. They’re scared of it.
“We’re there with them before the case. Someone to hold their hand and give them the confidence.”
Basis also helps to promote Ugly Mugs, a national text messaging system which allows sex workers to share descriptions of anyone who is violent towards them.
“We know some people target sex workers specifically, especially if it’s quite a violent crime,” Ms Wilson said. “Sex workers can subscribe and they will get a text message saying to watch out for this individual.”
She said that since the managed approach began in Holbeck in 2014, the proportion of sex workers willing to report crimes along with their details had gone up drastically.
A number of events will be held during the 17 days and supporters are being asked to promote the campaign via social media by sharing images of red umbrellas, the symbol used for the international day.
Pieces created by local artists will go on show at Hyde Park Book Club next week to both raise funds for the charity and help change the public’s perception of sex workers.
Ms Wilson said: “We want to change perceptions generally of the women and show that by stigmatising them or looking at them in a certain way, it might make them less likely to report violence.
“Whenever somebody is hidden, that makes them an easier target.”
The exhibition – The Art of a Profession – is being pulled together by one of the charity’s student volunteers, who was inspired by a similar event in London.
Ms Wilson said: “There are a number of contributions from artists in and around Leeds who have given their take on sex work.
“Alongside that we want to have some of our own information around changing perceptions, the language used, the stereotypes and some of the models around decriminalisation.”
All the works will be available to buy during the exhibition on December 9, 5.30pm-11pm.
Basis will also be raising funds with a Christmas Stall at Slung Low in Water Lane, Holbeck, on Sunday, 1pm-4pm.
And an all-night drop in is being held at the charity’s office at 94 North Street on December 16, 7pm-4am.
This will be run in conjunction with its weekly outreach session in the managed zone.
WAYS TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
Pledge: Make your own “red umbrella” pledge using #17daysofaction and an image of a red umbrella, then share it on Facebook and Twitter.
Give: Drop-off snacks and drinks to be distributed to the city’s sex workers on December 16 by calling into the Basis Office at 94 North Street from 7pm that day.
Dine: Call in for dinner or coffee at The Reliance tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday or The Greedy Pig until December 17 and they’ll make a donation from the sale of selected menu items.
Donate: Text BYSW17 £5 to 70070 to donate £5.
Click here to find out more about the Basis campaign.