Out of the gutter

The first school to reform kerb crawlers opened last week in Leeds.

My mother rang me on Friday evening. "What are you doing this weekend, pet?" "Running a school for men who've been caught kerb crawling," I replied. There was silence, and then: "You know what, Julie? I've never said anything before about your mad schemes, but this one takes the biscuit!"

I knew what she meant, but it does make sense to take a new approach in tackling the problems of prostitution. Traditionally, everyone with an interest in prostitution - health workers, researchers, police officers - have focused on the women. We know that 70 per cent of all street prostitutes in London have suffered some form of violence at the hands of a punter, more than 60 per cent were underage when they first started out, and a high proportion of the women are addicted to illegal drugs and/or alcohol. We know it's a grim world inhabited by pimps, drug pushers and other unsavoury characters. But what about the men? What do we know about them? Very little.

Something is missing between the arguments to either "decriminalise and tolerate" prostitution or to "run it out of town". A focus on the men who create the demand for it has traditionally made people nervous. The aim in setting up the first Kerb Crawlers Re-education Programme was to get these men off the streets and to find out as much as possible about them. Based on a model in San Francisco known as the "John School", the KCRP is a "diversion from court" scheme. In conjunction with the West Yorkshire police, the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University has set up this pilot project to run for one year. When kerb crawlers are stopped by the police they are given a choice: attend a one-day school run by ex-prostitutes, the police, sexual health workers and community spokespeople, or go to court and run the risk of their name being in the paper. Residents complain on a regular basis to the police about their "quality of life" being ruined by kerb crawlers in their areas, and so far the police have not known how to tackle this. The KCRP is a new initiative that might just work.

Since operational officers began to implement the procedure, more men than ever before have been apprehended. Every man has, without hesitation, chosen the school. Little did they know what was in store for them. As the trainers were preparing their presentations, the first punter knocked on the door, early. "I'm here for the prostitution school," he told me. "No you're not," I said sternly, "you're here for the kerb crawlers' school. Please await outside until we're ready for you." When I looked outside five minutes later there they all were, like that scene from The Birds where all the crows are silently perched in a row, looking ahead. They trooped in and sat down, shiftily gazing at the floor.

There I was in my severest suit, an uncompromising look on my face. "I hope you realise how privileged and lucky you are to be here today," I said. During the session on legislation, delivered by a teddy bear of a chief inspector who had managed that day to look uncompromisingly stern, I dared to take a closer look at this unknown quantity of man. Max (all names have been changed) was in his fifties - built like a US Marine with grey crew cut and huge shoulders. He refused to look any one in the eye and oozed insolence and contempt. I identified him very early on as the group troublemaker and asked the chief inspector why he didn't just arrest him now on a charge of having a bad hair cut. I watched him during the session on connections between men's attitude towards women and violent crime. He squirmed in his seat when the subject of domestic violence came up.

Simon was no more than 20 - skinny, fair and frightened looking, as if he was going to be personally picked out and made to stand in the corner. Sukjhit was a good-looking 30-year-old in a trendy tracksuit. He was listening carefully and was the first to come up with a comment during the five minutes allowed for "clarification questions" at the end of each session. "I didn't know so many of these girls started out as children," he said. "I feel ashamed."

The most powerful session of the day, and the one rated most highly by the men, was lead by Fiona Broadfoot. Pimped into prostitution at the age of 15, she lived 11 years of hell working the streets. After her cousin, also a prostitute, was murdered by a punter she managed to escape and now runs EXIT, an organisation set up to help women leave the game. Before her session she was terrified, sobbing in the toilets. As soon as she stood in front of the men, though, she was like a woman possessed. "Do you know what we think of you?" she almost shouted. "Well, I'll tell you - dirty, desperate and sick." She was wonderful, almost like an evangelical preacher. Afterwards she hooted with laughter. "Even if I didn't dent their conscience, I bet next time any of them tries to do business, he won't get it up."

Jim was fortyish and balding. He shouldn't be there, he said. "I only went out for petrol." "What made you think that woman you asked to get in your car was carrying any in her handbag?" I asked.

"US Marine" was looking more and more angry. "For God's sake," he exploded after the session by Irene Ivison, of Coalition for the Removal of Pimping, whose daughter was murdered after being pimped into prostitution. "I haven't killed any one." It was pointed out to him that that would not necessarily make him Mr anti-sexist.

In the discussion group, the men were told that it is not acceptable to buy and sell women's bodies as part of their leisure activities. "Are you saying I've got to go back to ballroom dancing?" asked Ernie. One of the punters came out with what sounded dangerously close to an early radical feminist analysis of marriage. "What I'm doing is no different from what my mate Dave does," he insisted. "He pays the wife for cooking his tea, for sex, for looking after the kids."

Some men looked devastated by the information they were being given. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they really did not know that most women are drug addicted, regularly raped, and have violent pimps on their backs. One man told me he would "never buy a woman again". He thanked me for helping him "see the light".

The day affected the trainers in different ways. I went out to dinner with a friend and had obviously not got out of my "strict matron" role. When I spoke to the waiter he answered sarcastically, "Yes, Miss, and should I write that out a hundred times?" Patricia, who had run the small group sessions, told me she had sobbed all the way to the car park, thinking, "What the hell am I doing?" Fiona was "on top of the world". "It was so empowering," she said, "to stand there in front of them, fully clothed for once, and tell them how vile a life it was, how much I always despised them. It was like restorative justice."

Julie Bindel is the assistant director of the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University, and also founder of the KCRP. A documentary on the school will be shown on BBC2 on 15 December

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions