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North Yorkshire Police launch campaign to encourage sex workers to report crime

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A North Yorkshire Police campaign began today aimed at people who work in the sex industry to encourage them to report crime.

Sex workers are at an increased risk of a range of crimes including sexual and physical violence, harassment, stalking and coercion.

They are often targeted by dangerous individuals who can pose a huge risk to the public as a whole. However, they are frequently reluctant to report these incidents to police or seek support.

The campaign aims to inform sex workers about what support is available for them, provide essential safety tips, and encourage them to report any incidents if they are a victim of crime.

Unlike many other large towns and cities in the UK there are not any obvious “red light” districts within North Yorkshire. However, online sex work is the largest sector of the sex industry in the UK and there is online sex work in the region.

Every day, local, migrant and transient sex workers work across the county via the internet from residential addresses, hotel rooms and holiday apartments.

Recent research, ‘Beyond the Gaze’ by Universities of Leicester and Strathclyde, which examines internet based sex work highlights how 80% of respondents who work in the online sector experienced at least one form of crime in the past five years and on average respondents were the victims of three crimes per year.

Many of these crimes involved harassment with threatening emails, text messages, phones calls and threats to “out” sex workers.

The North Yorkshire Police campaign offers guidance for staying safe when working and urges sex workers to contact 999 if they, or someone they know, is in danger.

Commenting on the campaign, Detective Superintendent Allan Harder, of North Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding Unit said:

“Whatever job you do it is your right to feel safe and protected and we will not tolerate any crimes against those who work in the sex industry.

“If you are the victim of a crime, your report will be investigated and you will be treated with dignity and respect with support from support agencies if that is required.

“Whether you have been harassed, received malicious communications, been the victim of stalking, robbery, physical or sexual violence, we take all crimes seriously and we will respect your right to confidentiality.”

In some sectors sex workers frequently suffer violence and other crimes committed by people presenting as clients. However, despite 80% reporting to be a victim of crime over five years, the research by Universities of Leicester and Strathclyde, highlights only 23% reported the crime to the police.

Reasons for not reporting include fear that reporting and engagement with the criminal justice system would alert police to their sex work, which could lead to public identification, jeopardising anonymity or for some an anxiety it would lead to arrest or disruption of their business.

As such, as part of the campaign the force is also seeking to raise awareness of National Ugly Mugs (NUM), an organisation which provides greater access to justice and protection for sex workers, in particular those who are reluctant to report crime directly to the police.

Continuing, Detective Superintendent Allan Harder said:

Sex workers can be reluctant to make formal complaints to the police and so records do not reflect how prevalent crimes against sex workers are.  

“This shows the amount of work that we need to do to build that trust and those relationships.

“We would encourage those who work in the sex industry, in particular those who do not wish to speak to the police, to sign up to National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a free service that improves the safety of workers and  brings workers together to share information with each other about potential dangers.

“If a report is made to NUM, this information is used to warn other sex workers and can potentially save their lives. 

“If you have any information that you wish to provide so as to protect others contact North Yorkshire Police, National Ugly Mugs or Crimestoppers knowing that we will respect your rights to confidentially about the information being provided. 

“If you or someone you know is in danger you should always call 999.”

As the law stands, whilst selling sex work or the purchase of sex from adults is not illegal, unless coerced, various activities associated with selling and purchasing sexual services are still criminalised e.g. soliciting and kerb crawling.

For more information visit northyorkshire.police.uk/sexworkersafety  or  www.uglymugs.org 

To read ‘Beyond the Gaze: Key findings for Police on internet Sex Work’ visit: beyond-the-gaze.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/BtGpbriefingpolice.pdf

Last modified: August 2, 2018