Streetwalkers' profession on its last legs

Kerbcrawlers face tougher penalties
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The Independent Online
Street prostitution is on the decline as an increasing number of women ply their trade in "saunas" and from rented flats, according to research.

The number of streetwalkers may have dropped by half in the past decade, believes one expert.

The shift away from the streets is likely to be hastened by a report today by an all-party group of MPs calling for a crackdown on kerbcrawlers.

The Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and police want to introduce powers of arrest against kerbcrawlers and new penalties against "cruisers" who drive around red-light districts, without stopping. They also urge alternative sanctions against kerbcrawlers including endorsing driving licences and forcing them to do community service.

As street prostitutes come under increasing pressure from residents and vice squads, there has been an increase in "saunas" and massage parlours, to which police tend to turn a blind eye, and in the numbers of calling cards in telephone boxes used to advertise the services of women in private flats.

For a forthcoming book, Prostitution and Public Policy, by Catherine Benson and Roger Matthews, of Middlesex University, about 100 prostitutes and 50 clients were interviewed in cities including Nottingham, Leicester and Norwich.

Researchers found a slump in the number of street workers and little cross over between types of prostitutes; women who worked the street found it very difficult to move into saunas.

Dr Matthews said: "In the last few years the number of women on the street have probably halved. It is being seen as increasingly dangerous work."

As an example he said in areas such as Streatham and Tooting Bec, south London, in the 1980s there were about 140 prostitutes, but now due to campaigns by residents and police crackdowns they have been reduced to about 20. The research also found that kerb-crawlers were not deterred by fines, only publicity.

These trends confirmed an earlier study of police vice squads, also by Dr Matthews and Ms Benson, in which officers often stated that their main priorities were to "clean up the streets - not to police sex".

Nationally, the number of prostitutes prosecuted has fallen from 9,196 in 1988 to 7,912 in 1993, while kerbcrawlers prosecuted had risen from 622 in 1988 to 857 in 1993.

Police officers are frustrated at what they believe is weak legislation and soft penalties.There is no power of arrest on kerbcrawlers.

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