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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 June 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Dangers of street prostitution
By Raymond Buchanan
BBC Radio Scotland's Sunday Live

Karen has been working the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh for the past ten years.

Her profession is famously the oldest in the world but sadly it is also one of the most dangerous.

The Scottish Executive is committed to outlawing kerb crawling
The Scottish Executive is committed to outlawing kerb crawling

She is 29 and a drug addict.

An hour-and-a-half at lunchtime in Glasgow's east end can earn her 150.

But with the money comes hassle from clients who "aren't right in the head" and police officers threatening court and the inevitable fines.

Karen said: "I've just been told I'm on my last warning. That means next time I get stopped, I'll get taken to court and get a 250 fine. How am I going to pay that but by going back out onto the streets? Its a vicious circle."

The Scottish Executive is committed to outlawing kerb crawling.

Its review group looking into prostitution is expected to publish findings in the autumn.

But the idea of prosecuting clients has been criticised by some support groups that work with prostitutes.

Risk assessment

Ruth Morgan Thomas runs the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project (ScotPep).

She believes outlawing kerb crawlers will lead women to take more risks.

Ms Morgan Thomas said: "Women who are working on the streets do carry out a risk assessment with each client - even if it is only for 10 or 20 seconds.

"Women are able to negotiate the services provided, whether these are going to be safe sex services and the prices.

"During those seconds they can make a judgement about whether they want to get into the car or not."

Karen agrees and explained: "You get instincts after a while. I've been doing this job a long time so you get instincts.

"You notice if the person has a wedding ring on and the registration of the car. You can tell just by looking at somebody if they're a decent person."

They'd drive up with the door open as they were pulling up to the kerb and expecting the women to jump into the car
Ruth Morgan Thomas

Ms Morgan Thomas said the experience from England was not good.

She said: "We have had reports from sex work projects in England - where kerb crawling legislation was introduced 10 years ago - that violence against women escalated significantly and did nothing to reduce the nuisance of street prostitution.

"Because clients were being prosecuted they were not prepared to park up in red light areas and negotiate. Instead, they'd drive up with the door open as they were pulling up to the kerb and expecting the women to jump into the car.

"That meant the women didn't get the chance to carry out their risk assessment."

Lothians MSP, Margo MacDonald, has tabled a bill at the Scottish Parliament which would allow tolerance zones to be set up for prostitutes working in Scotland.

Margo MacDonald
Margo MacDonald has called for tolerance zones

Aberdeen already has one and Edinburgh had one until it was abandoned in 2002.

But Ms MacDonald's bill is unlikely to become law as it doesn't have the support of enough MSPs.

The loss of the Edinburgh tolerance zone has soured relations between prostitutes and the police.

Karen used to work in Edinburgh because she thought it was safe, but now she has returned to Glasgow.

She said the women used to work closely with the authorities but now there is no such co-operation, either in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

"In Edinburgh we had a bad man book. If there were vicious people going about then we would go and liaise with the police," she said.

Street prostitution

"We went to them because we knew that there was a relationship between us.

"We would tell them, there is such and such car going about, don't anybody get in it. But we can't do that anymore, if someone is attacked we can't go to the liaison - so that car is still going about."

As the law stands, the police can charge a prostitute with soliciting but they can only charge a client with breach of the peace if they have a witness.

Officers say the impact street prostitution has on local communities can be enormous.

Women complain that they are approached by men, and men complain about being approached for sex by working girls.

The debate over whether a change in the law would make things better or worse will be discussed on this week's Sunday Live on BBC Radio Scotland.

On the programme will be Glasgow councillor Irene Graham and Marieke van Doorninck of the Dutch Institute for Prostitution Issues, an organisation which advise governments and authorities.

Have your say by e-mailing the programme at sundaylivescotland@bbc.co.uk. Sunday Live is on BBC Radio Scotland every Sunday from 0900 BST to 1030 BST.

Prostitutes urged to use centre
01 Jun 04 |  Scotland
Red light tolerance plea to MSPs
23 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Council considers vice clampdown
13 Nov 03 |  Scotland


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