Calls for Holbeck's red light zone to be ended after teenage girls approached for sex while walking home from school

Teenage girls are being approached for sex and youngsters are walking to school among used condoms and drug paraphernalia as calls grow for the city council to re-evaluate its approach to the Holbeck managed zone.
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Students and staff from the Ruth Gorse Academy have spoken out over fresh safety fears for pupils making their way to and from school on darker days as well as the effects on the quality of life for Holbeck residents and businesses.

Sir John Townsley, the chief executive of the GORSE Trust, told the Yorkshire Evening Post it was time to end the legalised red light zone as it was having a "detrimental" impact on some 150 students who walk through the zone twice a day on their way to and from school.

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And today (Wednesday) senior members of Leeds City Council are set to debate a white paper put forward by shadow cabinet member for community safety, Coun Amanda Carter, which calls for an exit strategy from the zone - which was introduced by Safer Leeds, a partnership between West Yorkshire Police and the council in 2014 at a cost of £200,000 a year to run.

The community of Holbeck has campaigned for many years against the managed approach.The community of Holbeck has campaigned for many years against the managed approach.
The community of Holbeck has campaigned for many years against the managed approach.
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Read More: Tories call for red light zone exit strategy

Sir John said: "It’s long been clear that the zone does not work for the community, for families living near it or for our students. Yet this report suggests that not only has it been successful but that it should continue. If the researchers had spoken to our students, they would have heard just how damaging it is for them and they would have come to a very different conclusion.

“Our families feel unsafe, and this is intensified as the dark nights of winter approach. Many have witnessed women performing sexual acts upon men in public places and, on a small number of occasions, school-aged girls have been approached by men looking for sex."

Putting their concerns forward, students said they were worried for their younger siblings growing up around the zone, were fearful of going out after school and that they felt the police and council were not interested in their concerns.

The red light zone in Holbeck was the first in the country to be legalised.The red light zone in Holbeck was the first in the country to be legalised.
The red light zone in Holbeck was the first in the country to be legalised.
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One girl said: "I have been followed by a man as I was heading home. He stopped his car and started shouting at me, asking if I was open for business. He then got out of the car and started following me on foot. He kept shouting that I was really pretty and was I looking for work.

"He wouldn’t stop following me and eventually he got closer and started grabbing at me and trying to touch me. I was able to get free and run home. My mum called the police and they

came and took a statement and took my clothes away. Nothing came of it though. They never caught him."

Another girl said that two years ago when she was 13 and wearing her school uniform she was asked if she was "open for business" and one 15 year-old boy said both his mum and aunt had been approached and now he and his older brother accompany them each time they leave the house.

Ben Mallinson, principal of Ruth Gorse Academy.Ben Mallinson, principal of Ruth Gorse Academy.
Ben Mallinson, principal of Ruth Gorse Academy.
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Another male pupil said: "Holbeck is an awful place to live. The police in the area have no control and don’t really do anything about what goes on. I have a five-year-old sister who, when she comes out of primary school, will see used condoms and needles and it isn’t fair on her. I don’t want her to have to grow up the way I have.

“I have been and protested with my family over what we have to go through living there. Other members of the community have also tried to raise concerns. But nobody listens.”

The principal at Ruth Gorse, Ben Mallinson said that having walked the route himself and seeing the evidence, he would act as a voice for his pupils and that the zone is not in line with what the school is trying to teach in 21st century modern Britain.

He added: "The report fails to acknowledge the voice of the young people. The reason I am taking this forward is to give them a platform to express their opinion. It is our belief that the community, and in particular young people's views have been surpassed. I can't see much evidence, if any, that suggests that young people's voices have been heard.

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"There is a spectrum of opinion from personal experience to thinking it is normal, and that is a concern that they think it is normal to see drug and alcohol mis-use, discarded drug paraphanalia and used condoms.

"One suggestion made (in the report) is a positive PR campaign for Holbeck. That would be welcomed but is that genuinely going to change the reality of what's taking place in the managed approach?

"We are trying to teach students about healthy relationships. That is not what constitutes an intimate and loving relationship. We want the students to evolve and grow and develop in modern 21st century Britain. Is that an appropriate representation of human kind and what should be taking place?"

Coun Carter echoed the sentiments and told the Yorkshire Evening Post what students were experiencing was "wrong on every level" but felt more could be done to help prostitutes address issues that were leading them to work on the streets but resources were lacking.

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Cllr Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member with responsibility for Safer Leeds, said: “We’ve made an ongoing commitment to listen very closely to the issues and concerns raised from local residents, businesses and all stakeholders regarding the Managed Approach. We would again ask anyone who has concerns to contact us so we can discuss and address any issues raised.

“We are absolutely determined to ensure with partners that we continue to evolve all areas of our strategic and operational work so all aspects of on-street sex work can be significantly reduced on the local community and lives of residents, including young people. Our assurance to the people of Holbeck is that we are ready and willing to take any steps required to make improvements and that the issue of safeguarding continues to be of the highest priority to us and is at the heart of our strategy and work.

"We continue to engage with groups and organisations in the area when necessary or on request, and this includes on any specific safeguarding issues that they have. We are always open to a conversation or meeting in person to discuss any matter of this type and our approach to protect and safeguard the vulnerable."

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