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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March 2004, 20:06 GMT
Red light tolerance plea to MSPs
The idea of prostitution tolerance zones will be raised before MSPs
Prostitute support workers have urged MSPs to back legislative plans to give councils legal powers to set up tolerance zones for vice girls to work.

The Scottish Prostitutes' Education Project (ScotPep) asked the local government and transport committee to pledge support for new legislation.

Research has shown that attacks on vice girls in Edinburgh have risen tenfold since an unofficial zone was abandoned.

Lothian and Borders Police ended their policy of "non-harassment" in 2001.

Three-pronged approach

The committee took evidence from various groups as it considered whether to recommend that parliament endorses the general principles of Lothian MSP Margo Macdonald's Prostitution Tolerance Zones (Scotland) Bill in a key Stage One vote.

Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry has already urged MSPs to reject the legislation, saying they should await a report by a prostitution working group - set up by the executive after a similar bill by Ms MacDonald was rejected in February 2003 - due towards the end of this year.

No moral or ideological perspective should be allowed to further increase the vulnerability or social exclusion of sex workers
Ruth Morgan Thomas
ScotPep claims that zero tolerance cannot work, and advocates a three-pronged approach of prevention, harm reduction, and support to quit the sex industry.

While prostitutes wanting to quit the sex industry should be supported, ScotPep's Ruth Morgan Thomas argued, this had to be combined with prevention of wider social ills and, for those remaining on the streets, practical harm reduction.

Current legislation failed to adequately protect these women, she said, insisting: "No moral or ideological perspective should be allowed to further increase the vulnerability or social exclusion of sex workers."

The group said 111 attacks were recorded last year compared to just 11 in 2001.

'More violence'

Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan said neither ministers nor the expert group had yet appeared to challenge the ScotPep figures, but said some people opposed zones due to concerns about legitimising prostitution as a form of violence against women.

The Glasgow list MSP said he wanted "the eradication of prostitution and the need for women to sell their bodies".

But he added: "It would appear that Edinburgh City Council, Lothian and Borders police and yourselves are quite clear that these increasing attacks have a correlation with the removal of the zone, and I think that's important for us from a practical point of view."

The evidence to committee included statements from working prostitutes who testify to increased uncertainty for their safety - including one who said: "I carry a knife everywhere with me now and I never, ever done that before."

Another said: "Since the zone has gone we have had to put up with more violence than ever before, harassment from the residents and drug dealers pushing their kit and more girls than ever on drugs."

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