Page last updated at 01:59 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Cracking down on kerb crawlers

Money exchanging hands (generic)
Police are attempting to rehabilitate the men looking for sex

By Chris Robinson
BBC News, Southampton

"I got my cheekbone broken last year through five Polish punters," said Taz, standing on a street corner and lighting up a cigarette.

"Another working girl I was with stole their wallet and I tried to stop them taking her into the back of the car so I got punched in the face."

Taz, who has been on heroin since she was 15 years old, started working as a prostitute in 2008 to fund her habit, and because of spiralling debt.

She is one of six "working girls" seen walking about in Southampton's red light area during a patrol by Hampshire Constabulary's vice team.

Officers are trying to tackle street prostitution not by targeting the girls - an otherwise "revolving door" approach that would just see them back on the streets attempting to pay court fines - but by directly targeting the men who go out looking for sex.

In 2000 the force launched the Change Course, a one-day programme aiming to rehabilitate kerb-crawlers.

Taz on the street
Taz said she could work up to seven nights a week

The men have to pay £200 to attend - the price of a court fine - and after running costs are deducted, any extra cash raised goes back into the community affected by prostitution.

Southampton's Vice Team has handed out more than £4,700 to good causes, including those in place to support street sex workers.

Figures reveal that in 2003 the force was aware of 320 prostitutes working in Southampton, but that number was recently down to about 30.

The force believes this is largely to do with supply and demand, as well as the success of the course and additional help for the women wanting to give up prostitution.

Since it started in July 2000, 569 men have been caught kerb-crawling and, of those, 137 failed to attend and six who did attend were caught reoffending.

It is now being run by the Thames Valley, Northampton, Avon and Somerset, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Wiltshire police forces.

'In tears'

"It all came about because we were looking at the victim-controlled approach to the women and targeting the men," said Sgt Belinda D'Orsey, who led the vice team until her retirement in 2009.

"For the men who attend we get varying emotions from them. Sometimes it really hits home when they talk about the girls.

Inside car looking out at night (generic)
Covert officers are carrying out checks of vehicles in Southampton

"Some of the men end up in tears because their life flashes before their eyes and they soon realise what they stand to lose. Other guys could stand to lose absolutely nothing."

Officers carry out a covert patrol checking vehicle number plates spotted in and around the vice area.

In Southampton, the course is held about three to four times a year.

At the end of the course the men are cautioned for the offence of kerb-crawling.

None of the men arrested during the latest crackdown were willing to speak to the BBC when approached.

'Underground prostitution'

However, campaign group the English Collective of Prostitutes claim that while police time and resources are poured into picking up customers, protecting sex workers from violence continues to be a "low priority".

Cari Mitchell, group spokeswoman, raised questions about the long-term safety of prostitutes.

"Crackdowns on clients push prostitution underground making sex workers more vulnerable to attack," she said.

"Safe, regular customers are driven away and women are forced to move to isolated areas to avoid arrest.

"Women have less time to check out clients before jumping into their car, as the men are nervous about being picked up by police. The police measure success by pointing to the reduction in women working on the street. But where did those women go? Are they safer?

Hampshire Constabulary said its vice investigation team is committed to working in partnership with agencies that offer support for working women who wish to find a life away from prostitution.

The Policing and Crime Act, designed to tackle crime and disorder, received Royal Assent on 12 November, 2009.

It makes paying for services from a prostitute subjected to force an offence, as well as amendments to the law on loitering for the purposes of prostitution, and the law on soliciting.



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SEE ALSO
Prostitutes arrested in suburbs
24 Dec 09 |  Norfolk
CCTV installed in red light area
21 Dec 09 |  England
Kerb crawlers go on change course
06 Oct 09 |  Wiltshire
Kerb crawling soon to be outlawed
24 Oct 07 |  Northern Ireland
Passport to prostitution
01 Nov 05 |  London
Kerb crawlers dig deep to change
05 Apr 05 |  Nottinghamshire
Calls for controlled vice zones
12 Oct 04 |  Suffolk

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