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‘Sex workers die as a result of ineffective policy’: Campaign group slams Redbridge Council’s punter fine

PUBLISHED: 09:56 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:07 02 October 2018

A town centre police officer issuing a dispersal notice to a sex worker.  Picture: Ellena Cruse

A town centre police officer issuing a dispersal notice to a sex worker. Picture: Ellena Cruse

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The policy of fining punters who engage in sexual activity with prostitutes has been slammed by a campaign group.

Redbridge Council is the first borough in the UK to allow police and enforcement officers to issue on the spot penalties for soliciting sex on the streets.

A sex workers evening is cut short after police catch her with a man and tell her she is banned from the area for 48 hours or face arrest. Picture: Ellena CruseA sex workers evening is cut short after police catch her with a man and tell her she is banned from the area for 48 hours or face arrest. Picture: Ellena Cruse

Organisation National Ugly Mugs (NUM), whose mission is to end violence against sex workers said the tactic will ultimately hurt these already vulnerable women.

“We feel that such action could lead to sex workers being displaced and working in areas in which it is less safe for them to do so,” said Del Campbell, policy, police and training lead at NUM.

“This increased vulnerability means that sex workers are more likely to fall victim to dangerous offenders, as was Mariana Popa - a 24-year-old woman who worked in the borough and was murdered in 2014 during a period of similar heavy enforcement from police.

“Following this tragedy the police and council were keen to build trust with sex workers and adopted a model which reflected this - encouraging them to report and linking them in with support services where necessary.

Police search a well-known lane in Ilford. Picture: Ellena CrusePolice search a well-known lane in Ilford. Picture: Ellena Cruse

“However in 2018, under pressure from vocal members of the community, local policing has again taken a heavy enforcement approach resulting in the current Public Space Protection Order (PSPOs) that allows both police and council enforcement officers powers to issue on the spot fines to those soliciting sex workers on the borough’s streets.”

The organisation is concerned that PSPOs will undermine the trust which has been built between the police and sex workers and cause a decrease in the reporting of crime committed against sex workers which is already very low in Redbridge and nationally.

“NUM is concerned that it would take another murder or high-profile violent incident to see policing shift back to a victim-centred approach.

“We are therefore keen to work with the police and the council (as we have done previously) to ensure that all voices and views on this complex issue are heard, especially the often silenced voices of sex workers themselves.”

“We need to learn from the past do everything in our powers to ensure that no more lives are lost as a result of heavy enforcement policies, and we invite all parties to engage with NUM to develop less harmful strategies that benefit not just sex workers but their entire communities.

“Sex workers die as a result of stigma, displacement, criminalization and ineffective policy.”

Council leader, Councillor Jas Athwal, said, prostitution in Ilford lane has been a problem for the last 20 years and it is unacceptable for residents to be propositioned multiple times when they walk down the street in the evening.

He takes exception to anyone accusing the council of being insensitive when they don’t have the “hard facts” in front of them.

“These people are not aware of how hard the council is working behind the scenes to find these women a safe route out of sex work and making sure that these women are thought of first,” he said.

“People are saying ‘this model doesn’t work, that model doesn’t work,’ - this is real life, this isn’t a model.

“We are trying to give the vibrant community of Loxford a good name again and that should be applauded. We are leaving no stone unturned to ensure a safe environment for residents, which is what they are asking us to do.”

He added that Redbridge Council is taking a multipronged approach to tackling prostitution “on our doorstep”

“We’re working closely with other agencies to help provide support to sex workers and create more accessible routes out of sex work, whilst also going after the kerb crawlers and men who take advantage of vulnerable sex workers,” he added.

“I am determined to make our streets safe, making sure residents don’t feel uncomfortable or intimidated when leaving their houses.

“The police are responsible for preventing criminal behaviour and protecting these women and we want to help them by providing as many tools as possible to target the users of sex workers.”

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