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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Ipswich fights shadow of prostitution
By Liz MacKean
BBC Newsnight

The Ipswich victims
The women were found between 2 and 12 December

After a 10-day period last December in which the bodies of five young prostitutes were found dumped in the countryside and streams around Ipswich, Suffolk's strategy for dealing with street prostitution has been given a new urgency and direction.

The lives and deaths of the women were headlined around the world. Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Annelie Alderton, Annette Nicols and Paula Clannell had all been addicted to drugs.

A local man, Steve Wright, will stand trial next year for their murders.

The aim in Ipswich is to rid the town of street prostitution within five years. There are two approaches.

The first is engagement, helping the dozen or so women who persistently work on the streets to turn their lives around.

Practical help

The other is enforcement. Since March more than 80 kerb crawlers have been arrested.

The authorities are confident in their new strategy and BBC Newsnight has been given an exclusive chance to see it in action.

"We need to challenge the view that street prostitution is here to stay," Supt Alan Caton told BBC Newsnight.

Steve Wright
Steve Wright has been charged with murdering the five women

"These women are incredibly vulnerable. They lead incredibly chaotic lifestyles and are subject to violence, rape - these are women who are often marginalised in society.

"So there is a real need to actually intervene and help them choose a different lifestyle."

The intervention involves teams from different agencies.

Janet, from the vice squad, and Hannah, from Ipswich council, head off to find women and offer them a way off the street.

The small patchwork of streets that make up the red light district is relatively quiet tonight.

But they come across Lou and she is willing to "engage", as they say.

'Swing-door effect'

Last December Lou became the face of street prostitution in Ipswich. She told BBC Newsnight that, even with people she knew vanishing around her, she was still working.

Eight months on, Lou is now on methadone, a replacement for heroin, but she still works on the streets to top up the dose.

But tonight she's given practical help to sort out her housing problems.

"I basically need somewhere more stable than where I am. I could be out anytime...." she told BBC Newsnight.

An Ipswich street with a prostitute
Police want to rid Ipswich's streets of prostitutes in five years

Janet asks: "Can you come and see me on Monday? We'll have a chat. We have got some funding to help women like you to get you some place."

"We can arrest them," Janet told BBC Newsnight, "We can put them before the court, they can get a fine and they'll come out.

"It's the swing-door effect. We're looking at trying to change that.

"If we can engage them with other organisations to address their drug use and any other problems it helps the police service to get them out of it.

"I've done 22 years in the police service. I've worked with the vice in an enforcement way and I feel that now we've got to look at it differently."

Help at hand

The work of the Iceni project is seen as a vital part of that.

It was set up seven years ago to treat drug addiction. The project tackles drug addiction holistically, treating the psychological and social factors that contribute to it.

It first developed programmes for street prostitutes last December and is now seeing six, including Moira.

"There's a lot of help now in Ipswich. There's practical help for housing, finances and there's also help to fill in your life with something different. Treatment and college. Whatever," she told BBC Newsnight.

We need at least another year to identify individuals and do everything humanly possible to help them get out of it
Brian Tobin, Iceni

A cure can take at least two years - a timeframe that will surely test the police's softly-softly approach.

Iceni's founder, Brian Tobin, told BBC Newsnight: "This is a first. Normally it's been prostitution and us - we've had to work against the police, if you like.

"We need at least another year to identify individuals and do everything humanly possible to help them get out of it.

"If our efforts fail then I think the criminal justice system will kick in. And then we're back to the old issue of the punitive approach and my evidence suggests it doesn't ever work."

'Jail don't work'

Schemes like the Iceni project are largely voluntary but that could be about to change.

Parliament is about to debate a new law requiring street sex workers to attend counselling sessions. If they don't they face jail.

But for these women, driven every day to break the law, how much of a deterrent is prison? "I've been to jail 24 times," Debbie told BBC Newsnight.

"I'm 25 years of age.

Prostitute called Debbie
Prostitute Debbie said she had been to jail 24 times

"Shoplifting, assault, criminal damage, street robbery, theft, fraud and deception, failing to surrender, messed up probation, all sorts.

"Obviously jail don't work."

For now the policy of engagement continues. But if women like Debbie don't take part, enforcement - jail if necessary - will prevail.

The police are adamant that by driving prostitution off the streets, they will not be driving it underground.

"I go back to what happened in December," says Supt Caton.

"I don't know that it can get more dangerous or more underground than what was experienced in Suffolk last December."

And those events guarantee that what happens in Ipswich will be closely watched.

Ipswich has set itself an ambitious target. And they're relying on a so far untested partnership between the long arm of the law and the hand of help.


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