Anti-Prostitution Strategy To Offer Counselling Or Court

Street workers are to be given bespoke counselling and help to find alternative lifestyles as part of a tough anti-prostitution strategy that is being piloted by the Home Office.

The initiative will be tested in Ipswich, Suffolk, where five women were murdered last year, but could be rolled out across other UK cities if it is a success.

Prostitutes will be told to take part in the programme or risk a harsh regime involving prosecution and Asbos. Officials are also focusing on kerb crawlers who keep the trade afloat; they are being tracked via CCTV and identified from registration plate recognition technology.

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The package of measures has been in gestation since the high-profile murders in Ipswich, when women were taken from the streets, killed and dumped in the Suffolk countryside.

All prostitutes will be the subject of a “case conference” so that a strategy can be drawn up which is relevant to their circumstances. Each will be given an “exiting package”, or phased programme showing the transition they might make.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The key objective is to challenge the street-based market in the town, focusing on prevention, tackling demand, routes out, and ensuring justice.”

Liz Harsant, the leader of Ipswich borough council, said officials there felt it was time to draw a line. “We have been taking a softly softly approach with the street workers because it is an ongoing inquiry and the police had to interview the girls to get information from them about the murders. But now that the main part of the inquiry has come to an end we are taking a zero tolerance stance to the kerb crawlers and girls working the streets.

“The red light district is actually a nice residential area and many of the residents there have had enough of the girls, the needles, the foul language and fights.”

But street workers fear the approach could drive women off the streets and into unfamiliar towns or force them to take risks by working alone and unmonitored.

Jill, a young woman who has been working on the streets for more than two years to support her heroin needs, said she was alarmed. “Immediately after the murders happened they were really supportive towards us. They gave us a number we could text to tell them where we were going with a punter. But that number stopped working. A few weeks after that the police started arresting us again for soliciting and loitering, and some have been very abusive.” She said the women were trying to protect themselves. “Some have been carrying bricks and other weapons for protection.”

Andrew Dotchin, vicar of Whitton, in north Ipswich, has been offering support to the women. “Using a dragnet to sweep all the girls up won’t work. There isn’t a one-size fits all solution here. The girls aren’t the threat, they’re the victims.”

The English Collective of Prostitutes has launched a “safety-first coalition” calling for decriminalisation. “The Ipswich approach will simply drive the prostitution underground,” a spokeswoman said.

The Suffolk town was thrust into the spotlight in December with the murders of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Annette Nicholls, Paula Clennell and Anneli Alderton. After a manhunt involving more than 10 police forces Steve Wright, a local man, was charged with their murders.

Jill said the remaining girls on the street were “twitchy”, but still the same faces came out night after night. Recently rent boys aged 14 and 15 have appeared on the streets who sell sex in the town’s lorry park. “I’ve had bits of my body broken and I’ve been treated like dirt by both police and punters,” Jill said. “Is it going to take another five murders of working girls before the police realise that heavyhanded tactics against women on the street don’t work?”