Sex zone protests

Holbeck residents want rethink on approach

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Residents living near the UK’s first managed red light zone have vowed to continue protests against the initiative following reports of antisocial behaviour.

Leeds’s Holbeck district became the country’s first legal red light area in 2014 when it was introduced as a pilot scheme to tackle
an existing problem. Since the year 2000 nine sex workers had been murdered in Leeds and Bradford and two were victims of attempted murder.

The “managed approach” was introduced to create a safe space for sex workers to operate within a designated zone, away from residential streets, between the hours of 7pm and 7am without fear of prosecution for soliciting or selling sex.

A dedicated police sex work liaison officer was brought in as well as an increased police presence, outreach workers and health officials.

With street sex workers free to work and speak to police without fear of prosecution, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the crimes being reported, according to figures published last year by the charity Ugly Mugs.

“A dangerous place”

But while sex workers report they have felt safer since the managed approach was introduced, locals in the area say some of the women are soliciting sex in residential areas at all hours of the day.

Laura Walton, a local shop owner in Holbeck, is campaigning for the council to rethink its strategy. She said: “The area has changed so much. It’s a dangerous place now. It’s affecting schools, businesses, locals. We have lost customers because of the things that have happened outside our shop.

“We are just around the corner from the local primary school and often in the morning there are women half dressed, drinking and touting for business while children are on their way to school.

“Safer in the managed area”

“At one of the schools the caretaker has to go around in the morning and clear the outside area of syringes and used condoms.

“I understand the basis that the council started it on, to make it a safer place for women, and as a woman myself I do think that obviously trying to help these women is a really important thing, but I think they have forgotten about the welfare of the residents.”

Local charity Basis provides support for sex workers in the area. The charity’s Amber Wilson said that although the managed approach is “not perfect”, the area is safer than it was.

She said: “The aim of the managed approach was to take the women outside of
the residential area and to make them safer. We have been more successful in one than the other but we would also say it did reduce the impact on the residential
area because the complaints, as we understand it, went down in the first few years, it’s only in the last year that the complaints have come to the fore.

“Before the managed area, only 7 per cent of the crimes that were reported went to the police, but now it’s over 50 per cent, so that for us is an indication that it really has made a difference. We did a survey recently with some of our women and over three quarters said they did feel safer in the managed area.”

“Further steps will be taken”

Safer Leeds is the city’s community safety partnership responsible for tackling crime and disorder. A spokesperson from the collective, whose responsible authorities include Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police, said: “The managed approach was introduced because of feedback from local residents and other representatives of Holbeck who were extremely concerned about on-street sex work over many years in this community. Prostitution is in itself a complex social issue often associated with vulnerability, exploitation, inequality, substance misuse, and health related factors. The approach was introduced therefore to find a long-term solution to the complexities of street-based sex work in this particular community, which despite many previous initiatives, has remained a prominent issue for a significant number of years.

“Residents, businesses and all interested parties can be fully assured that the managed approach is under continuous review as we seek an evidence base to ensure it is meeting our aims as far as is possible. If this is not the case, further steps will be taken and further options considered.”

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