Prosecutors pledge action over violence after meeting Leeds sex workers

Basis supporters carry red umbrellas, the symbol of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, as they walk through the centre of Leeds.
Basis supporters carry red umbrellas, the symbol of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, as they walk through the centre of Leeds.

SENIOR prosecutors have pledged to bring more cases against people who commit violence against the city’s sex workers.

They made the remarks after meeting six women who work in the sex industry in Leeds on the eve of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The pledge also comes days before the first anniversary of the murder of Polish sex worker Daria Pionko, who was robbed and beaten in Holbeck’s managed red light area.

Martin Goldman, the region’s chief crown prosecutor, said: “I was able to reassure them that we do prosecute those who commit sexual violence against sex workers and are very serious about building on the successes we have had.

“With their support, we are determined to prosecute more cases.”

He said the CPS was prosecuting more crimes of rape than ever before, with the conviction rate now at 68 per cent.

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Organised by Leeds-based charity Basis, Friday’s meeting was part of work to encourage sex workers to report offences.

During the past 18 months the charity has helped women bring four cases to court, three of which ended in convictions.

Basis supporters take the message out to the wider public.

Basis supporters take the message out to the wider public.

Taylor Austin Little, an independent sexual violence advisor with Basis, said it appreciated the support given by the CPS to its service users.

“It’s important for the CPS staff to hear about the experience of sexual and other forms of violence first hand from our service users and how the justice process might be a challenge for them,” she said.

Topics discussed included the issue of consent, restraining orders and the role of Sexual Assault Referral Centres in offering medical examinations to preserve forensic evidence.

District crown prosecutor Helen Sanderson added: “We’re also aware that many women tolerate high levels of abuse in their personal relationships and we discussed the new legislation about abuse as a result of coercive and controlling behaviour.”

The meeting was one of a number of events organised by Basis during its 17 Days of Action in the run up to the international day.

One of its aims was to change public perception of violence against sex workers.

Amber Wilson, from Basis, said: “The one thing we still struggle with is that the CPS generally understand, the police understand, but with the jury system sometimes you’ve got the general public to overcome in terms of perception.”

She said the decision to adopt a managed approach to the red light area in Holbeck had helped bring the issue to the fore.

“For moral and political reasons, some people have come out against it but most people understand it’s going to be there and every sex worker has a right to be free from violence,” she said.

“Our campaign, through things like the art exhibition, has reached people who we’ve never reached before.”

Yesterday supporters of the charity marched along Briggate in Leeds carrying red umberellas, the symbol of the international day.

And it was this symbol which other supporters, including West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, used throughout the 17 days to help raise awareness of the issue via social media.

The exhibition, The Art of a Profession, is at The Brunswick in North Street, Leeds, until Tuesday.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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