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‘Not an Occupational Hazard-Addressing Violence against Sex Workers The Scouse Way’
Liverpool Echo – News – Liverpool Local News – Liverpool grandad behind bars for prostitute rape
A GRANDFATHER was today starting seven years behind bars for raping a prostitute.
For too long now , violence against sex workers has been regarded as a hazard of the job by society, the police and sex workers themselves. Prevailing attitudes around fear of the police has prevented many sex workers coming forward to report when they have been victimised, raped and abused. This has left many offenders free to rape, rob, hurt and in some cases -murder at will with little fear of sanctions.
Here in Liverpool-we have changed the way that crimes against sex workers are treated and investigated, in doing this-we have seen record levels of reporting, investigations and charges. The results are the results of partnership work between Mersyside Police and the Armistead Street Project (Liverpool Community Health Services)
The first thing was to challenge long held attitudes on a cultural level, In 2006 in the wake of the Ipswich murders, Merseyside Police stated that any crime against a sex worker was to be designated a ‘Hate Crime’. The criteria was that if a sex worker felt they had been attacked due to their occupation-that was the threshold test. They are the first and only police force in the world to do this. With the Hate Crime ‘tag’ on a case-it is subject to extra revisions, at regular intervals by senior officers to check on progress. It brings accountability, you can be sure that Detective Supt Tim Keelan (who oversees all parts of the partnership and deals with the strategic aspects) is constantly vigilant!
At the Armistead Centre, we have a team called Armistead Street which provides outreach and support to street sex working women.We were fortunate in 2006 for Armistead Street to be given some Home Office funding to have the first Sex Work ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) in the UK (& worldwide as far as we know). This meant that an outreach worker who already had trust with the clients was now dedicated to sex worker safety, UGLY MUG’s and helping clients report violence against them and supporting them from ‘report to court’.
One of the other tenets to the partnership with the police was a dedicated police liaison officer-Sgt Cheryl Rhodes who managed the Hate Crime Unit in Liverpool North, she is dedicated, compassionate and a determined, dogged investigator. She built trust with the women so that now, there is hardly a second thought about reporting.
In 2008, Merseyside Police invested in (what is now called) the Unity Team. Managed by Insp Steve Jones (who could double as a comic if he ever got fed up of jailing rapists!) the Unity team consists of specially trained police officers who deal with rape and other sexual offences, investigators and PC’s and also there are CPS soliciors, barristers all based in the same team. This has been amazing. All of the officers have received specialist training around sex work and are fully aware of the issues facing sex workers in reporting offences against them.
The Inspectors in all the areas ‘affected’ by street sex work prioritise safety over enforcement and any operations that take place are always done in partnership with the project. Insp Mark Morgan mamages the larger part of the beat and is always ensures that his officers on the beat check people are OK and are vigilant in looking for suspected UGLY MUG’s.
So we now have, what is becoming known as ‘The Merseyside Model’. In short, dedicated people who care. Care about the clients, care about justice and understand that its possible to change the world, albeit-our little corner of it, with a leap of faith, a relationship built on mutual trust and respect and a lot of hope…
And coming to a TV screen near you soon-we are in the process of beginning filming for a documentary on our work, we start on the 19th of July and I will keep you all in the loop as to how its going!