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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Police AIDS 'witch-hunt' criticised
by Brian Thornton
BBC News Online, Berkshire

Police in Reading are carrying out a "witch-hunt" against prostitutes, according to a group representing sex workers.

Oxford Road, Reading
The recent crackdown was in Oxford Road in Reading
In the latest move in a ten-month crackdown, Thames Valley Police have issued a warning that a prostitute working in the town has AIDS.

This follows the naming and shaming of prostitutes, the cautioning or charging of 30 sex workers and the sending of letters to kerb-crawlers.

However, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) claims this aggressive approach will simply "fuel hostility against prostitute women".

Prostitute women have faced this kind of witch-hunt before where the police have used AIDS to justify a crackdown.
English Collective of Prostitutes

"Increased attacks on sex workers are likely as a result because violent men will know that they are more likely to get away with attacking women when the people supposed to be protecting prostitute women are attacking them.

"It's outrageous and an infringement of their civil rights that the women were named - it will make them even more vulnerable to attack," said a spokeswoman for the ECP.

"Prostitute women have faced this kind of witch-hunt before where the police have used AIDS to justify a crackdown.

"On several occasions the so-called evidence was proved to be fabricated," she said.

Health dangers

Defending the campaign, Sergeant Wayne Bennett, said women were on the streets "as a result of their own problems".

"The [recent] operation did lead to us receiving information that one of the women who work on the streets has AIDS.

"Obviously, this is of concern to us and our partners in the health service and we would like to highlight once again the risks people put themselves at if they engage in unprotected sex with these women.

"As well as AIDS, there are all manner of sexually transmitted diseases which could be transferred," he said.

There are serious concerns raised about the sexual health of the street workers and the men who use them
Su Harnett, Director of Public Health at the Reading Primary Care Trust

Su Harnett, Director of Public Health at the Reading Primary Care Trust, backed the AIDS warning.

"There are serious concerns raised about the sexual health of the street workers and the men who use them," she said.

But, the ECP described her comments as "shocking and ill-considered".

"She [Su Harnett] should know that there is no evidence of prostitute women spreading AIDS.

"Police refer to the fact that women are on the game for their own problems; the fact is that 70% are mothers, and poverty, low wages and cuts in benefits are driving women into the sex industry.

"If police or others in authority were serious about helping women get out of prostitution they would do something about these issues," the ECP spokeswoman said.




SEE ALSO:
'Saving' the street-walkers
24 Apr 03  |  Berkshire
Drugs lead to prostitution boom
09 Apr 03  |  Bristol/Somerset


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