Staff from a Leeds charity stood shoulder to shoulder with sex workers to highlight the issue of violence against women involved in prostitution.
Representatives from Basis – which supports women in the sex trade – joined some of those who work in the industry in Leeds for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers yesterday.
They brandished red umbrellas – the international symbol of those who campaign for sex workers’ rights – to remember women who have died as a result of violence.
One former sex worker, who asked not to be identified, told the Yorkshire Evening Post attacks on women by clients were commonplace.
She said: “I have lost count of the number of times that it happened. I have been raped, beaten up and threatened.
“We are people just like anyone else, we have feelings, we are human – we aren’t aliens, because that’s how some people see us. And we deserve to be treated like anyone else.”
The annual day to remember sex workers who have lost their lives was started in the United States to commemorate the victims of serial killer Gary Leon Ridgeway, who is thought to have murdered almost 100 women in Washington state.
It was first marked in 2003 and has become an annual event to highlight the fact that many crimes still go unreported. Authorities in Leeds say action is being stepped up to deal with the issue.
West Yorkshire Police has a dedicated officer to work with sex workers.
In September 48-year-old Abdul Fulat was jailed for eight years for raping a sex worker. Last month 27-year-old Anthony Riley received a ten-year sentence for a similar offence.
Basis chief executive Gemma Scire said: “These streets are Leeds’s streets and whether you are a sex worker or anybody else you should be able to expect to live your life without experiencing violence or intimidation.
“Violence against sex workers is a problem that many of the women face. Things are moving in the right direction, especially as a result of the fact that there’s a designated sex work officer now – there is a sense that you are going to get justice if you come forward.”