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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 12:22 GMT
Prostitution 'crackdown planned'
A sex worker talks to a potential client
David Blunkett had proposed setting up tolerance zones
Proposals for licensed red-light zones may be shelved in a government crackdown on prostitution.

A zero-tolerance approach towards the sex trade will be unveiled next month, the Guardian newspaper claims.

Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart said kerb crawlers indirectly supported drug dealers and abusers of women.

Ministers had initially floated a controversial rethink including decriminalising brothels and "managed tolerance zones" for prostitution.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Ms Mactaggart said prostitution blighted communities and was "frankly intolerable".

Police would be expected to take a zero-tolerance approach towards "massage parlours" and kerb crawlers, including making more use of powers that would lead to confiscation of driving licences, according to the Guardian.

The plan goes against all the evidence which shows that criminalisation and crackdowns make sex workers more vulnerable to rape, other violence and even murder
Carrie Mitchell, English Collective of Prostitutes

Ms Mactaggart told BBC News: "Frankly I do not buy the view that it is the oldest profession and we have to live with it.

"There are things that can and should be done to reduce the impact of prostitution on communities, to reduce the number of women involved in prostitution.

"It is a form of child abuse - most women who are prostitutes started being prostitutes at the age of 13 or 14 and we have got to have strong mechanisms to reduce prostitution."

Ms Mactaggart refused to be drawn on the detail of the final Home Office strategy, to be published next month, other than to say that it would focus on street prostitution.

Controversial proposals

The Home Office signalled a potentially massive shift in thinking on prostitution when it launched a substantial consultation on what to do in July 2004, with ministers saying they were "open-minded".

That document revealed an estimated 80,000 people were involved in prostitution and the vast majority of women were addicted to hard drugs.

At the time, Home Secretary David Blunkett said the rethink aimed to do three things:

  • Prevent girls being coerced onto the streets
  • Protect those already in the sex trade
  • Bring to justice criminals controlling the lives of these women

    The proposals in the document were mostly based on methods used in other countries.

    They included creating "managed tolerance zones", areas of a city or town where prostitutes are allowed to work while also being targeted with appropriate support in getting out of the trade.

    Other ideas included licensing brothels and registering sex trade workers.

    The consultation came after a long period of sustained pressure from many councils that had been appealing to the government to rethink the law so that local authorities could help women off the streets and clean up areas frequented by kerb crawlers.

    Doncaster and Liverpool are two of a number of councils that have been campaigning for managed zones, saying that would give them the best chance of targeting crime while also helping the women.

    Campaigners' warning

    Carrie Mitchell, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, warned that while the Home Office was talking about crime and drugs, women became prostitutes because of poverty - and punitive measures would do nothing to help.

    READ THE ORIGINAL PROPOSALS

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    "The plan goes against all the evidence that shows that criminalisation and crackdowns make sex workers more vulnerable to rape, other violence and even murder," Ms Mitchell told BBC News.

    "In Sweden legislation introduced to criminalise the buying of sex has had a devastating effect on prostitute women.

    "Neither the poverty that forces women into prostitution to support themselves and their families - or any of the grave injustices in the existing legislation - have been addressed."

    Ms Mitchell said the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and prison sentences against women were counter-productive as they made it more likely they would return to prostitution rather than leave it behind.

    She also attacked an increase in immigration raids on brothels run by international gangs, saying the women ultimately deported at the end of the process were extremely vulnerable.


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