Emptying the streets

In the mid 1990s, when the Children’s Society launched its Game’s Up campaign against prostitution, the idea that the so-called sex industry was a form of child abuse was ridiculed by some sections of the popular press. There was a refusal to accept that the problem needed tackling and the issue was trivialised under headlines about “teeny hookers”.

Thankfully, attitudes have moved on and the latest government strategy to crack down on kerb crawlers and try to eradicate street prostitution has been met broadly with approval.

There are still those who argue that “the oldest profession” will always be with us and so the best course of action is to turn a blind eye. But ministers have rejected the idea of tolerance and Dutch-style managed red light zones in favour of a tougher line on those who procure prostitutes, coupled with a more supportive approach to those who feel they have to sell their bodies to survive. This is to be welcomed as the country’s estimated 80,000 prostitutes include some highly vulnerable people.

Of most concern are child prostitutes, who are often in care or have run away from home (or, increasingly, trafficked from abroad) and who, although they are less visible on the streets, continue to be drawn into the vice trade despite the efforts of the authorities. For the past five years the government’s line has been they are victims rather than offenders and the new strategy announced this week builds on that.

But one loophole in the system that needs to be addressed is that those young people who continue to return to prostitution can be prosecuted. This makes little sense as those who really struggle to get out of prostitution are some of the most vulnerable young people.

Another anomaly is the increasing use of Asbos which again runs counter to the spirit of the new thinking and makes it more difficult to offer women a route out of this degrading human trade.
In Sweden an approach similar to that being put forward in this country led to a halving of the number of street sex workers and it cut the number of customers by 80 per cent. It worked partly because it changed public attitudes and persuaded men it was unacceptable to prowl the streets in cars looking for sex. We may not be as enlightened as the Swedes in all areas, but let’s hope we can at least emulate them in this.

See news

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.