Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Friday, 15 December 2006

Cycle of drugs and prostitution

By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Following the killings of five prostitutes, many women in Ipswich are taking heed of police warnings to stay off the streets.

A prostitute
Many prostitutes are forced to take risks because of the need for cash

Detectives in Suffolk strongly suspect the five women are victims of a killer, or killers, targeting prostitutes working in the town's red light district.

But despite the warnings and growing fears, some women will continue to work the dark streets because of a desperate need for cash.

One prostitute in the town, who has decided to take a holiday until the New Year, said women would continue to risk their lives because of the need to buy drugs and take care of children.

"It is dangerous," she said. "We all know it's dangerous. But it's Christmas and people need money to live."

Harry Shapiro, spokesman for the charity DrugsScope, said he hoped the murders acted as a "wake-up call" to the government to put funds into helping women off drugs.

"Many of these women come from terrible backgrounds and start taking drugs to deal with that at a young age.

This should be some kind of wake-up call
Harry Shapiro, DrugsScope

"They leave home and are very vulnerable at that stage. They often get involved with partners, who may or not act as their pimp, who may also be on drugs.

"Then being a street prostitute is about earning to feed that need. It is a vicious spiral that they get into."

Mr Shapiro wants the murders to act as a "wake-up call" to deal with the problem.

He backed recommendations by health workers earlier this year for the use of special rooms or "shooting galleries" where heroin users could legally inject drugs.

But this must be accompanied by other support services which were available to women out of office hours, he said.

'Substance misuse'

Simon Aalders, coordinator of the Suffolk Drug Action team covering Ipswich, said the effects of withdrawing from heroin is one of the reasons why women are continuing to put themselves at risk.

heroin
Drug use is widespread among prostitutes

Mr Aalders, whose team had been helping one of the murdered prostitutes, Paula Clennell, said that "pretty much all" of the women working the streets would have "some kind of substance misuse problem".

Another of the five victims, Anneli Alderton, has been described as someone who turned to drugs and prostitution after getting in with the "wrong crowd".

"It is unlikely that a woman would be able to engage in that kind of activity if she was not," said Mr Aalders.

But he added that it was not drug treatment alone that would stop women working the streets.

'Complex issue'

"There are other key issues around poverty, violent pimps or partners and a lot of women have mental health issues," he said. "This is a very complex issue.

"If we are talking about someone with a life-long history of abuse they will need all different types of support."

In Ipswich the team has put extra staff on the streets every evening and increased the opening hours of the community drugs treatment centre in the hope that some of the women will come to get the support they need.

We have to learn lessons from this
Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, believes the recent spate of killings requires a change in the way prostitution is regarded.

"Clearly once this comes to an end, once we have found the person who has committed these ghastly crimes, we need to sit down and re-think how we do things," he told BBC Five Live.

He added: "I'm so shaken by what's happening it's quite difficult to think of the long term implications but certainly as leader of the county council I will have to sit down with the chief constable and we will consider what we do in the future.

"We have to learn lessons from this."

Society

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, told BBC Breakfast that perhaps it was wider society that needed to take note.

"I think what we are reminded of quite simply, in the last couple of days, is that every one of these young women is someone's daughter and someone's child," he said.

"And they are human beings who have been very vulnerable and who are made very vulnerable by aspects of our society that need to change."

video and audio news
One woman on her life as an escort in Ipswich



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