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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 12:32 GMT
Inside Britain's sex industry
The UK sex industry is worth an estimated 1bn and there are many thousands of women working as prostitutes on Britain's streets or in brothels across the country. This week, the BBC One daytime series 'Streets of Vice' explores the lives of those involved.

Prostitutes in a brothel
One in 23 British men admit having paid for sex (Home Office research)

"Turn down the little road so the village green and the Spar shop are on your right. We're down a long country road..."

The sex industry is not just confined to towns and cities. Elstead, a picturesque village in wealthy Surrey, has a tennis club, a riding club and a poodle parlour. It has also been the unlikely setting for a brothel.

The police have been accused of turning a blind eye on the growing number of brothels across the UK some of which have been running for many years.

Wendy loves Soho and has worked there for 20 years. She is what's known as a prostitute's maid - a receptionist who works alongside a prostitute in a flat, greeting the customers, keeping records and looking after the girl.

STREETS OF VICE
Tuesday 22 March 2005, 2305GMT, BBC One
Tuesday 29 March 2005, 2305BST, BBC One
Tuesday 5 April 2005, 2305BST, BBC One
Tuesday 12 April 2005, 2305BST, BBC One
Tuesday 19 April 2005, 2305BST, BBC One
"Most of the girls call me mum," she says.

"Prostitutes have been around for years and men have always used them and they always will. It's not going to change."

"We're off street, we're not hurting anybody," she says, "majority of the girls they're here because they want to be here."

Illegal

However, all brothels are illegal. According to current legislation, a brothel is where two or more individuals work together to provide sexual services. Anyone involved in the management of a brothel, including maids and receptionists, are committing a crime and could face up to seven years in prison.

Chief Superintendent Christopher Bradford of the Metropolitan Police Vice Squad says most women are forced into prostitution and are often too frightened to leave the trade.

Chief Superintendent Christopher Bradford
If you close a brothel down, it doesn't go away, it just moves
Chief Superintendent Christopher Bradford

He argues that the police never turn a blind eye to brothels or their activities, but acknowledges that it is hard to catch the big players in the industry.

"We've got to be realistic. If you close a brothel down, it doesn't go away, it just moves... that's a fact of life.

"When you visit the brothel, you never ever actually find the owner, or the main organiser of that brothel." He explains. "All you find there is either the victims... or the receptionist."

Although the receptionist is technically breaking the law too, Chief Superintendent Bradford believes that she is a very minor pawn in the industry.

"She's there as an element of protection for the females. She is not the person that we are really after." He says. "We're only scratching the surface. There are bigger fish for us to fry."

At risk

Working life is most dangerous for prostitutes who work on the streets. Every night they risk catching sexually transmitted diseases, like hepatitis, gonorrhoea or even HIV.

Maxine works as a prostitute on the streets of Sheffield, she gets through 20 worth of heroin a day: "If you associate with people who take crack... you get mixed up in that routine and you're tagging along with them and before you know it, you're back to square one".

Maxine Allen
Maxine Allen is desperate to stop working as a prostitute

Street prostitution is highly risky. Women are often out on their own in badly-lit streets left deserted after dark. Not only do they run the risk of being picked up by a potentially violent punter, they are also likely to get drawn into a life of drug abuse.

Home Office research has found that over 90% of street prostitutes take heroin or crack cocaine. The shocking findings have increased fears that women are getting caught up in a vicious circle, selling their bodies to fund their expensive drug habits.

Government review

But with the sex industry growing rapidly, the government has been forced to confront the issue.

Last year, it launched the biggest review of prostitution laws for 50 years, and is now looking at whether licensing brothels is a viable option.

The Home Office has published a consultation paper on the issue to promote public debate and is currently analysing the responses. It obtained views from both those within the sex industry and the communities affected by them.

Germany, Australia and other countries have already legalised brothels and for better or worse, Britain could be next.

Britain's Streets of Vice was repeated on Tuesdays at 2305 BST on BBC One for five weeks from 22 March to 19 April, 2005.

SEE ALSO:
Police crack down on prostitutes
02 Feb 05 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
City's brothel registration plan
17 Nov 04 |  Southern Counties
Nine held after vice police raids
17 Aug 04 |  Berkshire


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