Calls for Holbeck sex workers to be included in Leeds Council's domestic abuse strategy
Sex workers still operating in and around Holbeck should be included in a new council strategy aimed at tackling domestic violence, a senior Leeds politician has claimed.
The leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group added that the authority did not have a proper “exit strategy” when scrapping its managed red light zone earlier this year, and claimed many women were still working on the “periphery” of the zone.
However, other members of the council’s executive board accused Coun Carter of “hijacking” the discussion to talk about an unrelated strategy, and added that support was still in place for sex workers.
The discussion came during an item on the authority’s new domestic violence and abuse support in safe accommodation strategy, which aims to support survivors of domestic abuse who are already in safe accommodation.
Introducing the paper, council deputy leader Debra Coupar (Lab) said: “While this is a new statutory duty for local authorities, this is the first plan of its kind, but Leeds has a strong track record in tackling domestic violence and abuse.
“Key to developing this strategy is by engaging with victims survivors. We wanted their voices to be heard.”
Coun Carter said: “I would like to know whether we now have a thorough exit strategy from the Holbeck area. We were promised this at the time of the cancellation of the managed area. I don’t think we had a proper withdrawal plan at that time, rather like Joe Biden in Afghanistan.
“I would like to know if we now have a proper withdrawal plan that not only protects the people who are there,
“Please don’t tell me the young women have gone from there, because you know and I know many of them are now on the periphary of this area and not within it. That is not a success, in my view.
“They are still extremely vulnerable to the people who run them and manage them.”
Leeds City Council announced earlier back in June that the so-called “Managed Approach” area, which had been place since 2014, would be permanently stopped, following its suspension during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The policy allowed sex workers to trade at specific times within the area without fear of prosecution, but critics claimed it still put them at risk of violence.
Responding to Coun Carter, Coun Coupar said: “I don’t recognise the language that you use around the exit strategy of the managed approach. As you are already aware, the managed approach has not been in operation for some time, since the beginning of Covid.
“The decision was taken to withdraw from the managed approach. People had the opportunity to raise issues around it at that time.
“I have reiterated on a number of occasions that we have not withdrawn any resources from the Holbeck area around support for women, the policing team and we haven’t removed resources around cleaning.
“Since the withdrawal of the managed approach, I have walked around that area on a number of occasions – I have invited people who have been rather critical of the zone in the past to join me on that walkabout. Needless to say those people were unable to go on that walkabout with me.”
Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Stewart Golton said: “I am not sure the people who are working in this area or those suffering from the problem will appreciate this agenda item being hijacked to discuss Holbeck.
“They are completely different strategies.”
The new strategy follows the passing of the government’s Domestic Abuse Act in April 2021. It requires councils such as Leeds to appoint a “multi agency Domestic Abuse Local Partnership Board”, to publish a strategy showing how it will support survivors and to monitor its effectiveness.
The Leeds strategy claims the council will ensure that “the most vulnerable” have access to support in a safe accommodation.
A report by council officers added: “DVA is a cause and consequence of inequality so the provision of accommodation-based support to this group, will help to address these challenges.
“The strategy addresses the challenges faced by groups with protected characteristics, especially those from culturally diverse communities by recognising the additional barriers they face in disclosing abuse and accessing support.”
It also claimed the new sanctuary support scheme would enable more survivors to remain in their homes and to minimise the trauma of moving to a safe space.
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