Harlots Parlour

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UKNSWP statement.

I am pleased to publish a response from UKNSWP regarding a recent post that illustrated concerns felt within the sex working community with regard to the pilot Nationwide Ugly Mug Scheme.
Alex has asked for feed back, so please either contact him direct or comment on this forum, which would be helpful for any discussion on sex workers concerns with regard to the NUM scheme, or you can email me direct as dearharlot@googlemail.com and I will be pleased to pass comments, suggestions on.

UKNSWP is proud to be part of a tradition of “ugly mugs” and third party reporting schemes which give options for sex workers to alert each other and to report crimes. In our reports and public presentations about ugly mugs we have always acknowledged that “ugly mugs” originates from sex workers themselves and that sex workers have been and are resourceful in finding ways to protect themselves, often in challenging legal and social contexts. Before the National Ugly Mugs (NUM) Pilot Scheme was established a year-long development project was undertaken by the UKNSWP which consulted widely with sex workers. We still welcome feedback from sex workers and reply personally to anyone who sends us any comments which we take on board and make changes if we can. The vast majority of the feedback we have from sex workers has been positive and we are constantly told that the scheme is really useful. It has to be remembered that this is a pilot project and thus we are continuously learning from the experiences of scheme participants. The scheme is also being evaluated by two academic members of UKNSWP (on a voluntary basis), and they will be seeking the views of participants early next year to inform the final evaluation report and make recommendations for ways in which the scheme might be improved.
UKNSWP is pleased that there is discussion about NUM amongst sex worker online communities. We would welcome such forums to get directly in touch with us so we can consider their feedback and views through constructive engagement. In fact to date, many of the changes we have made to the scheme have come about as a response to constructive feedback from sex workers or those who run forums or escort sites.
NUM aims to support all sex workers, whether male, female or trans, and whether working on the streets, in parlours, flats, advertising online or working in any sector. Some sex workers do not necessarily have access to the internet or websites for information-sharing and it is important to make reporting as accessible as possible to all sex workers, through a range of options.
We are fully aware that sex workers who take bookings over the phone would find full numbers and profile names useful as it makes it easier for them to block people. For escorts taking bookings over the phone we do try include as much information as possible (if we have it) which might alert people to individuals to avoid such as whether the incident was an in/out call, their name, their accent, their telephone manner, the area they live in and any other details or habits which may come to light before actually meeting the individual in person.
With regards to phone numbers, our current policy is if we have a full phone number to include, this will be included with three digits taken out. This policy was based on the legal advice we took during the development of the scheme. As well as the legal issues with publishing full details of reported perpetrators, we have a duty to individuals making the report not to put them in danger of repercussions if the alert fell into the wrong hands. In compiling any alert we therefore have to consider how any details or content might identify the victim, so this can sometimes limit what is included. The other main reason why we cannot fully identify alleged perpetrators is that it could undermine a prosecution of an ‘ugly mug’ and ultimately lead to a court case falling apart. By fully identifying people we mean by including full details that identify a specific individual – telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, car registration numbers and names of alleged perpetrators are all details which we need to be extra careful about. We must also be mindful of the possibility that malicious reports could be made into the scheme.
For clarification some of the posts about NUM imply that we would include a phone number in an alert with more than three digits removed – we would never do that. In addition, in alerts where there is no phone number included that is because the person reporting the incident didn’t provide us with a phone number. The same goes for descriptions of perpetrators – we include as detailed a description as we can with the information provided to us. We encourage all NUM members to include as much information as possible about perpetrators; this will enable us to provide fuller alerts. We provide alerts in cases of limited information because members have said they want these.
That leads me on to the other main aspect of the NUM Scheme which is to support sex workers in reporting information to the police. Less than 30% of the victims reporting into NUM feel comfortable enough to make a full report to the police. That is why, if and only if the victim gives consent, we will feed the information (including full details about the perpetrators) to the police without giving any information about the victim. We have already seen positive results from this and many police forces are actually investigating them as if they had been formally reported. This is one area where NUM can really complement other schemes, whether being run by forums or escort sites or sex work projects.
We acknowledge that the laws around sex work are problematic and can undermine sex workers’ access to the criminal justice system – that is why we need schemes like this. Currently, whilst challenging laws and policies detrimental to sex worker safety, we are having to work within the existing framework to try to make a difference. Engaging with the police on our terms has already had positive outcomes in many areas.
NUM is supported by a range of organisations and individuals and we hope to build the network of supporters. Although the scheme is supported by some projects and individuals who take an abolitionist approach, the scheme is run independently and autonomously by the UKNSWP, which is fully committed to recognising sex workers’ right to self-determination. It is also important to note that the board members of the UKNSWP are unpaid and the NUM Scheme is run on a small budget by two members of staff who work very hard to manage and develop the service.
It is hard to see how a scheme which raises awareness about how the law and bad police practices contributes to sex workers being targeted by criminals, and makes them reluctant to report to the police, could be used to support abolitionist policies. UKNSWP has a long history of opposing criminalisation of sex work, and if the scheme were ever misrepresented in such a way, we would strongly oppose this.
The purpose of NUM is to complement, not replace, the work of local projects working with sex workers as well as forums, escort sites or agencies who share warnings and alerts. It may not be the perfect model for everyone working in the sex industry and we know that the alerts would be more effective, especially for those who arrange bookings over the phone, if we could identify perpetrators, but we have outlined the legal considerations we are working within that shape our practice.
However, we have already had some positive outcomes in the four months since the scheme launched. Within this short timescale, NUM has already been instrumental in the arrest and charging of 3 criminals wanted for the aggravated assault and robbery of at least 9 sex worker premises in London, the arrest of one male wanted for rape in Merseyside and the recalling to prison of a well-known scammer of male escorts.
Taking on board the feedback we have received, we will re-examine the issue of our legal requirements regarding telephone numbers and other key personal information with our legal advisers. We are also currently looking into the possibility of introducing a number checker which would allow members of the scheme to type in a number to see if it matches any that have been reported to us. As we stress, this is a pilot scheme and we genuinely want to reflect and develop.

Alex Bryce
Coordinator
National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme
you can email direct alex.bryce@uknswp.org.uk
or follow us on twitter: http://twitter.com/NationalUglyMug

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About Douglas Fox

7 comments on “UKNSWP statement.

  1. Steve
    9 November, 2012

    Thanks

    A number checker would be a valuable tool but one I think you should have introduced in the onset of the scheme.

    I was one of the sex workers asked for input into the scheme a long long time before it came to fruition and I said there and then that without the full telephone number, address etc, the alerts were pointless to in-house sex workers like myself. If a checker was available that I could store on my iphone browser, I could check out suspicious calls in seconds. Why was that never developed or considered to begin with, it would have saved a lot of hassle.

    I never implied that the full blanked out numbers were NUM alerts, only highlighting a point that blanked out numbers are pointless full stop. As is communal block in Basildon. It just doesn’t help anyone.

    If this scheme has the backing of the police, is there no way the scheme can protect itself from blame, should the system be abused and have the onus placed on the person who abused the system. What checks are made to verify the authenticity of the escort joining the scheme. Sign in details don’t require a telephone number, escort website etc to verify who these people are who are signing up, anyone can sign up. One UK forum I am a member of does that. They won’t let you in as an escort unless the webmaster can verify that the email address / phone number you’re using matches a publically available genuine escorting advert.

  2. eire
    9 November, 2012

    Great website, Very interesting topic, Keep up the good work

  3. Douglas Fox
    10 November, 2012

    I personally still have concerns about certain organisations such as the Eves project being involved and individuals such as Vera Baird. I take your point re the current position of the UKNSWP re sex worker self determination but the information if it is to be useful will be shared with the home office and with the police. The last labour government was almost totally abolitionist in its thinking and wanted desperately to introduce Swedish style legislation. That party has not shown any remorse over the legislation they did introduce and remains a threat to sex workers should it be re elected. They will have access to this information that you are collating and they will use any negative information ie attacks on sex workers etc as justification for further negative legislation. They will be supported by groups such as Eves and individuals like Vera Baird in this and some (as you have agreed) groups within the UKNSWP network who already have an abolitionist attitude. If this happens protests from the UKNSWP will be pretty irrelevant, as they were when Labour introduced the negative legislation during its last term in office. Information can be used in which ever way the government and the police choose and that is a danger for sex workers and one that you have not properly considered. can you give assurances that this information will not be used against sex workers?

  4. JB
    10 November, 2012

    I too would be interested in knowing who, outside the industry, has access to the information.

    I’m more worried about Vera Baird being elected Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. than information she may receive from NUM. As she subscribes to the view prostitution is violence towards women (which conveniently ignores male sex workers) her election pledge to ‘tackle violence against women in all it’s forms’ is worrying. As leader (if elected) of the 6th largest police force in England and Wales, I would image she would have a large influence in policy. This may well lead to a crackdown on the industry in the North East.

    • elrond
      11 November, 2012

      I too noticed with absolute horror that Vera Baird was standing in the North East.

      Today I have emailed all but one of the prospective police commissioners in my area about their views on the sex industry. All but one, because one has made themselves impossible to contact. I will make this know on forums if I get it before voting. (Thames valley, strange area as there is tolerance in some areas, and intolerance is others)

      I kind of assume that direct information from the NUM is not made available to those outside of the sex industry, other than in the ways documented on this site. I do suppose statistics of number of reports will be published, as the NUM have published here the successes in helping bring a number of criminals to book.

      • elrond
        12 November, 2012

        I received replies back from my candidates. The best responses on sex work came from the Labour candidate and the UKIP candidate. The labour candidate was/has been a prosecutor on trafficking offences, but unlike Vera Baird seems to accept that sex work does happen and not conflated with trafficking. That banning it will only drive it underground in criminals.

        The Conservatives and Liberals, alas not anti sex work had no clue.

        The independents, 1 had no contact information, the other never replied.

  5. Pingback: That Was the Week That Was (#46) « The Honest Courtesan

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This entry was posted on 9 November, 2012 by in Campaigns and Groups, Law, NSWP, Organisations Comment, Research, Safety, Uncategorized.
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