Police are considering plans to make a part of Newport a designated area for sex workers to operate without fear of being moved on or arrested to ensure their safety.
The move comes despite fears that girls as young as 14 are operating as prostitutes in the Welsh town. Gwent Police is expected to pilot the initiative, which will see prostitution “managed”, in the Pill area of Newport.
The project, which would aim to help prostitutes leave sex work, improve safety on the streets and encourage more people to report violence, has been inspired by a similar scheme in Leeds. There, the Holbeck area of the city was placed under controls to give prostitutes a safer place to work last year. There is also a drop-in centre for sex workers to report incidents and liaise with police. Although not popular with all residents, communication between the force and those on the streets is said to have dramatically improved.
Gwent Police confirmed that it was looking at adopting a similar scheme. “Officers have looked at pilot initiatives implemented by police forces in the North of England and are in the very early stages of looking to see what, if any, solutions can be applied to the issues in Pill,” a spokeswoman for the force told Wales Online.
“One of these solutions includes a designated place away from residential areas that prostitutes can use. It has been shown that this initiative has enabled police and local agencies to provide prostitutes with opportunities to access support services including health, welfare, addiction and housing.
“We have a fundamental responsibility to protect communities from the nuisance caused by prostitution, but also to protect individuals involved in prostitution from harm themselves.”
Alex Bryce, of the sex work support group UKNSWP, believes the Holbeck scheme has had a positive impact, in contrast to a scheme in Hull in which sex workers have been given anti-social behaviour orders. Holbeck is “an area where sex workers operate from – somewhere where they won’t be arrested, and away from residential areas,” he told The Independent.
“Generally, pure enforcement policing is counter-productive. What they have in Hull at the moment is the worst example I’m aware of... In communities where police and local authorities pursue a populist approach and cave in to ‘not in my back yard’ attitudes, sex workers can be put at serious risk of harm.”
But Newport resident Sarah Allen said: “There are girls who walk the streets of Pill already who are as young as 14 and are charging £2 for sex.” She added that if police bring in the safe zone, “there will be riots”.
David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, said: “I don’t think anyone wants a situation where parts of Pill are being turned into something like you see in Amsterdam... I lived close to a brothel in Newport for quite a long time. I didn’t make use of it and it did not cause any problems, and that was that.”
Mr Bryce, who sits on the board for the National Police Chiefs Council and is part of a group that looks at the safety around the sex trade, said there were no plans to roll out specified locations for sex work across the country, and that it was up to local authorities to implement them.
The Home Office has made no comment.
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