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Shelley Stoops has kindly forwarded this article written for Criminal Law and Justice Weekly. It is subscription publication read by magistrates, lawyers, judges and copies are sent to every police depatement. It is an important publication informing the minds of those who judge sex workers in the literal sense.
Shelly Stoops says that violence against sex workers should
not be seen simply as an occupational hazard
Consider this, 135 sex workers have been murdered
since 1991 in the UK. There are an estimated
80,000 sex workers in the UK. Clearly, this is not
an entirely reliable statistic but due to the criminalized,
hidden and secretive nature of sex work, it’s the best
we have currently. Around a quarter (14,000 to 22,400)
of these individuals are street sex workers. Most street
sex workers around the UK are Class A drug users with
many being homeless, living chaotic lives and working to
fund their addiction. So while street sex workers make
up only a quarter of all sex workers, they are the group
disproportionately affected by violence. Violence at high
levels, from a range of perpetrators and this violence goes
largely unreported to the police.
From research in Liverpool conducted in 2008 (Stoops
& Campbell), the women told us that 73.5 per cent of them
had experienced violence at work with 48 per cent reporting
being raped at least once. This reflects comparative
international studies such as Salfati (2009) which shows
73-82 per cent experiencing violence and 37 to 68 per cent
being raped. If we compare data from the Armistead Street
Project (Liverpool Community Health Services) which
operates an anonymous reporting system called “Ugly
Mugs” for sex workers to report attacks against them we
can see that from 2005 to 2010 there were 266 reports from
street sex workers and five reports from off street (brothels)
sex workers. All off street were robberies contrasted with
over 100 rapes reported on street.
Calling to Account
Clearly, we know historically that most crimes were not
reported to the police who cannot act on these crimes unless
they are reported and therein lay the dilemma. We had to
find a way to encourage the clients in Liverpool to come
forward, build trust with the police and CPS and try and
bring these perpetrators to account for their crimes.
Traditional policing focussed on enforcement and
disruption, arresting women for soliciting, men for
kerbcrawling and disrupting these activities. All this did
was move the women into unsafe areas where they were
at increased risk of violence and cause dispersal and this
was just cyclical. So the focus shifted from enforcement to
safety. In December of 2006, we were all shocked by the
tragic events in Ipswich when five women working as sex
workers were murdered, this was the catalyst in Merseyside
for the force to make a public statement declaring all crimes
against sex workers would now be treated as hate crime,
the first and only force in the world to do so combined with
dedicated police liaison officers.
In November of 2006 we had applied for funding from
the Home Office to employ a specialist independent sexual
violence advisor (ISVA) for sex workers who had experienced
rape or sexual violence and assist them in seeking justice,
until very recently, this was the only such post in the UK.
I asked clients to come forward, working from “report to
court” and beyond, in a holistic manner. Almost immediately
women came forward secure in the knowledge that they
would not be judged for being sex workers, drug users or for
In 2009, Merseyside Police set up a specialist team called
“Unity”. It is the first co-located police and CPS team
in the UK who deal only with sexual offences. This is a
fantastic team and we work very closely on all our cases.
The setting up of the team ran parallel to the sexual assault
referral centre opening (SARC) in Liverpool. This means
that all the systems are in place to ensure a quality of care
for victims that I would argue-is second to none.
This is reflected in our data. From 2007 to the end of
2010, we have had 20 (13 for rape-some serial rape with
more than one victim) cases brought to court and guilty
verdicts returned in 16. There are two trials scheduled for
March 2011 and one man awaiting sentence. In 98 per cent
of all our rape cases, clients have gone to the SARC for a
full forensic examination. The attrition rate for rapes of sex
workers is zero. If we contrast this with the period 1999-
2005, there was one case that went to court.
So what is now called “The Merseyside Model” is
considered best practice in dealing with sex workers
who become victims and it works because of trust and
partnerships. Partnerships between the women themselves,
the police, SARC, CPS and the Armistead Street Project.
With conviction rates on average 11 times higher than
“generic” rates, it clearly works and so if you are a sex
worker in Liverpool and are raped-you have an above
average chance of getting the justice you deserve.