Government's prostitution inquiry highlighted Leeds managed approach

The managed approach to prostitution taken in the Holbeck area of Leeds is under review.The managed approach to prostitution taken in the Holbeck area of Leeds is under review.
The managed approach to prostitution taken in the Holbeck area of Leeds is under review.
THE SENTENCING of sex worker Daria Pionko's killer comes as Safer Leeds prepares to make new recommendations on the managed approach it takes in Holbeck.

Introduced in October 2014, the groundbreaking scheme allows women in the sex trade to operate freely between 7pm and 7am within a specified “managed area” as long as they adhere to a list of rules.

Agencies involved had reported a fall in complaints from the public and improved reporting of crimes against sex workers during a pilot.

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But national media coverage surrounding Ms Pionko’s murder in December prompted further questions about the scheme, which had been made permanent shortly beforehand.

A Safer Leeds spokesman said: “A further public consultation is currently being undertaken with local residents, businesses and stakeholders as part of a review regarding the managed approach.

“This will inform a report with recommendations regarding the managed approach, which will be brought to a meeting of the Safer Leeds executive later this summer.”

Nationally, the debate around prostitution was brought to the foreground last week with the publication of a Home Affairs Committee interim report.

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The report said that soliciting by sex workers and sex workers sharing premises should both be decriminalised immediately.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: “Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is wrong that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of sex workers should, therefore, end.

“The current law on brothel keeping also means sex-workers can be too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises, which can often compromise their safety.”

The report said an estimated 152 sex workers were murdered between 1990 and 2015, while a survey found 49 per cent of sex workers were worried about their safety.

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Basis Yorkshire, a charity offers support to female and transgender sex workers in Leeds, welcomed the interim conclusions.

It said it feared that the review of the managed approach in the could reverse some of the “progressive, pragmatic and rational steps” taken by Leeds City Council and the police.

Chief executive Gemma Scire said: “Locally, we fear the threat to the managed approach and are actively working to retain the focus on the safety of women sex working in Leeds.

“We’re acutely aware of the risk of violence and abuse that women face. By maintaining this approach, there is always an avenue for women to report crime against them to us at Basis or directly to the police.”

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The Leeds managed approach is featured in the Home Affairs Committee’s interim report.

It said: “Leeds recently piloted a different approach, where street prostitution was permitted within a defined area of the city, at specified times. The area was policed for the reassurance of sex workers and to enforce other laws, including those relating to violent crime, robbery and public disorder.

“The rules of the managed approach were agreed between key stakeholder groups including the sex workers, the residents and local businesses.

“West Yorkshire Police said that the pilot had achieved a number of its stated objectives, but the tragic murder of a sex worker inside the designated area in December 2015 had led to significant negative media coverage and an upsurge in opposition to the scheme. The Leeds Strategic Prostitution Group is now re-evaluating its strategy.”

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As the Government inquiry into prostitution continues, the committee will look at alternative models adopted elsewhere in Europe.

Prostitution is fully decriminalised in Denmark, while it is the people who buy sex who risk prosecution in Sweden. In Germany and the Netherlands as legalise model has been adopted.

The interim report highlighted the issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation, saying that there were 1,139 victims of the crime in 2014.

The committee said any changes to legislation should not lessen the ability to prosecute those engaged in exploitation and there must be “zero tolerance” of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers.

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It also said the Home Office should legislate to delete previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers, as these records make it much more difficult for people to move into other forms of work if they wanted.

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