Women attack Leeds red light zone review as they begin new protests against Managed Approach

A group of women who are angry that the council is to continue with its controversial approach to managing Leeds' red light district have unfurled a banner in Holbeck as they begin a month of protest.

Friday, 28th August 2020, 1:12 pm
Updated Friday, 28th August 2020, 4:07 pm

The women, under the banner of the Leeds ReSisters, put a large sign over an advertising hoarding which reads 'Leeds City of Punters #WomanFriendlyCity #ChildFriendlyLeeds #Leeds2023'.

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The aims from the outset have been to reduce the prevalence of street-based sex working, lessen the problems it creates for residents and local businesses, and better engage with the women involved to improve their safety and health.

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Members of Leeds ReSisters in front of the banner (photo: Gary Longbottom).

But the Leeds ReSisters claim the review was a "whitewash", and it was also criticised by the Save Our Eyes campaign group.

The wording on their banner aims to highlight what they see as the disconnect between the MA and Leeds' ambition to be the UK's first 'women friendly' and 'child friendly' city.

The group is demanding: "their Council recognise prostitution as violence against women; provide appropriate exit services for women in prostitution; consider their Public Sector Equality Duty, and assess the equalities impact of the Managed Approach on women and children in Leeds."

A woman who sells sex in Holbeck.

A Leeds ReSisters spokeswoman said: "The review deliberately excluded any researchers with a political opinion that prostitution is violence against women, as is recognised in international law.

"This ensured that there would be no analysis of the specific harms perpetrated against the prostituted women under the Managed Approach."

The group said they use the terms 'prostitution' and 'prostituted women' - as opposed to 'sex work' - "in deference to survivors of prostitution, who ask us not to use terms that confuse sexual exploitation with any form of work."

The ReSisters said the review ignored the so-called Ipswich model, which takes action against men buying sex in a bid to end demand.

The banner over an advertising hoarding in Holbeck (photo: Gary Longbottom).

They added: "The review prevaricated over the question of the prevalence of on-street prostitution, and doesn’t give data that can be used for a like-for-like comparison.

"Residents claim a huge increase in the numbers of women prostituted on the streets of Holbeck, including those being exploited by boyfriend/pimps, and those trafficked from outside of Leeds.

"Online Punter forums support the assertions that numbers of women and girls exploited in on-street prostitution in Holbeck, has increased."

The ReSisters said the review did not present evidence the MA is helpful to women who sell sex in Holbeck - in terms of the number of women in recovery from addiction, or those given tenancies or given mental health support, beyond that provided by the charity Basis.

They added: "Local women are outraged that their concerns about children being exposed to prostitution, on their doorsteps, or on the school run, were dismissed by the review.

"These are non-contact child sex offences perpetrated by the men that exploit prostituted women, and should be investigated and responded to appropriately.

"Women’s reports of catcalling, sexual harassment, soliciting, kerb-crawling, and assault were dismissed by the authors of the review.

"No wonder the authors found it hard to engage residents.

"There were no practical suggestions about how to stay safe when men are encouraged to see every woman in the area as a consumer good.

"We demand better.

"There is no way to ‘manage’ prostitution, because prostitution is inherently unsafe.

"The interior of a woman’s body can never be a workplace."

Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member with responsibility for Safer Leeds, said: "We fully recognise that there continues to be strong feelings from those in favour and not in favour of the Managed Approach and that there are residents and groups with concerns regarding its negative impact on their lives and on Holbeck as a whole.

"This cannot and will not be ignored by us, and we continue to be committed with our partners through the Safer Leeds partnership to listening closely to the views of local residents, the community of Holbeck regarding the Managed Approach.

“It was through this type of engagement with the local community that we requested an Independent Review be undertaken into the scheme. The review which findings were published in July of this year found that the Managed Approach was able to deal at least as positively if not more so with problems associated with on-street sex working than any other policing approaches in the UK. All work undertaken must be consistent with UK law, and not the laws and models of other countries.

"This means for example as highlighted in the review, that all elements of other strategies, such as the Nordic Model, cannot currently be fully implemented in the UK without a change in legislation. Secondly the review also highlighted that the Managed Approach was viewed as an essential factor in better engaging with street sex workers to improve their safety and health.

"These recommendations relate to two key critical parts of our work and it is positive that progress has been made in both of these important areas. Whilst welcoming these findings, it would at the same time be wrong not to acknowledge other elements of the report that were not as positive, and we are continuing to work extremely hard to make improvements and changes where appropriate to improve our day-to-day operational approach.

“Enforcement remains an important element of our work and in operation as part of the scheme are a designated four person policing team in the area, Safer Leeds patrols and CCTV. The Managed Approach is a strategy consistent with and informed by National Policing Sex Work Guidance as advocated by the National Police Chief’s Council.”

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