Teenagers attending school near what has been dubbed England’s first legal red-light district say they have been repeatedly propositioned for sex.
Pupils at Ruth Gorse Academy in Leeds have told teachers they do not feel safe passing through the so-called Managed Approach area in the city’s Holbeck neighbourhood – where sex workers are allowed to operate without fear of arrest.
They say they regularly see curb-crawlers, drug taking, used condoms and discarded needles on their walk to school.
Now, headteacher Ben Mallinson has demanded the experimental area - first trialed in 2014 - is finally scrapped by the city council.
He told The Independent he fears not only that the children are being endangered but that witnessing prostitution on a daily basis may be impacting on their views of healthy adult relationships.
“We are an excellent school but more than 100 of our pupils have to walk through this area every day and they are being repeatedly exposed - at what is a really informative age - to things which they should not have to witness: drug taking, and stepping over needles and condoms.
"By having to witness this everyday, the concern is it normalises what are not healthy or safe relationships.
"Then, when you talk of pupils being approached and propositioned - that becomes a significant safeguarding risk and what our students are saying must be taken seriously by the relevant authorities and acted on.
“And it is clear, I think, that action must be to now end this approach to this area.”
In a report sent to councillors, the school – a 1,200-pupil centre that is part of the Academy Gorse Trust – has compiled first-hand accounts of what pupils have experienced travelling through the area.
"I was 13 and was wearing my school uniform,” one notes in the submission. “I barely got down the street and I was approached by a man asking if I was a prostitute.
"I've been asked by sex workers if I was one of them as well walking back from school on a different occasion.”
She added her eight-year-old sister had seen “people injecting drugs into the genitalia”.
Another said she had been previously been followed by a man. "I was really scared because I was by myself and it was dark,” she said. “He was just saying 'I like you' and I was walking faster and he started walking faster."
The school compiled the dossier after an independent report into the Managed Approach area, published in July, did not seek the views of either staff or pupils because, strictly speaking, the academy is slightly outside the designated sex work patch.
Its complaints have now been taken up by Conservative councillors on the Labour-run authority, with the issue set to be discussed at a full meeting on Wednesday.
The group said that it was “concerned that no action appears to have been taken to address child safeguarding concerns raised by schools in the area”.
It is not the first time the experimental scheme has caused controversy. Residents have long-complained of anti-social behaviour, continual low-level crime, littering and drug use there.
In response to the new concerns, the council pointed out that sex work had been taking place in Holbeck for decades and that the creation of the Managed Approcah area was an attempt to regulate it and make it safer.
It said it took all safe-guarding issues seriously.
Debra Coupar, executive councillor with responsibility for Safer Leeds, added: “I would urge anyone who witnesses any form of indecency or unacceptable behaviour to please contact the police or Safer Leeds partnership immediately so a full and thorough investigation can be undertaken…
"We will always take appropriate and firm action against any individuals involved in unacceptable behaviour. No incidents that are reported will ever be ignored.”
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