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Controversial approach to tackling sex workers in Leeds praised

A controversial programme tackling sex work in an area of Leeds, which moves away from conventional law enforcement, has been generally successful and should continue to evolve, researchers at Huddersfield University have found.

The Managed Approach scheme, introduced by the Safer Leeds Partnership in 2014, is a multi-agency approach and was adopted, aiming to reduce the prevalence of street-based sex work in south Leeds. The aim of the scheme was to engage with sex workers, improve their health and safety and make it easier for them to quit their way of life.

One of the researchers Professor Roach said that the overall verdict is a positive one, and the Managed Approach should continue to evolve. It had been more successful than attempts in other urban centres to move sex work away from residential areas towards industrial zones, he added.

“Also, supporting the women and taking an adult protection approach as opposed to a punitive, criminalisation approach has set the tone for the national policing of on-street sex work. It is a multi-agency approach rather than just arresting sex workers,” he added.

The multi-agency approach was introduced when previous policing methods had proved ineffective. There was a high number of reports of sex work in residential areas of Holbeck and a low rate of reporting crimes against them by street-based sex workers themselves.

After it was established for several years, Leeds City Council commissioned Professor Roach from the University of Huddersfield and five colleagues who are experts in criminology and sociology to carry out an independent review and make recommendations for the future.

On-street sex workers, social workers and police unequivocally considered the programme to be invaluable to achieving its stated aim “to better engage with street sex workers to improve their safety and health, with a view to enabling them to exit this way of life”.

In fact, more should be done to involve the local community in the development of the Managed Approach. The report recommends that a campaign should be launched to present a more positive image of the district, in order counter negative perceptions created by the programme.

The independent review has been welcomed by Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member with responsibility for the Safer Leeds partnership.

She said: “The review found that the Managed Approach was able to deal at least as positively if not more so with problems associated with on-street sex working than any other policing approaches in the UK. It also highlighted that the Managed Approach was viewed as an essential factor in better engaging with street sex workers to improve their safety and health

“We are determined to ensure that we continue to evolve all areas of our work, and remain absolutely committed to listening, learning and engaging with all stakeholders and the wider community of Holbeck. We will do this in whatever form it might take moving forward and will focus on the findings and recommendations of the Independent Review,” added Cllr Coupar.

Chief Superintendent Damien Miller, who is District Commander for Leeds, said he welcomed the insights provided by the University of Huddersfield’s independent review.

“The issues around street sex work are long-standing and present complex challenges. This was always going to be a difficult journey and we recognise there is still a long way to go, but we remain committed to this being the most effective approach to safeguard the vulnerable, reduce harm and maximise safety,” said Chief Superintendent Miller.

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