Developing a Strategy to Remove Prostitution from the Streets of Ipswich

13th Sep 2015

In this, my fourth blog in the series, I will outline how the Ipswich Street Prostitution Strategy was formulated and how it was turned into effective operational activity. How we overcame the challenge of getting a range of agencies to sign up to one single aim and a new approach. I will also outline how we evaluated our success or otherwise.

Prostitution is a very complex and difficult subject on which there are many controversial and diverse views, as was outlined in the 2004 ACPO Strategy;

‘Prostitution is a complex subject and society has an equivocal attitude towards it, some view it as a moral rather than criminal issue, some as a crime of abuse and exploitation, others an issue of social care and welfare.  Some may even regard it as a career of choice’.

During January-February 2007 a small team of four  people representing Suffolk Constabulary, Ipswich Borough Council, Suffolk County Council and the Health Service worked tirelessly to develop an overarching prostitution strategy with its strategic aim being, to remove prostitution from the streets of Ipswich.

Many in depth discussions were had in order to come to a consensus and write a strategy, which was agreed by all. To assist us in that goal we had a wealth of information available to us from Operation Sumac.  An analyst was dedicated to examining the data so we were able to have as full an understanding as possible of the extent of the problem.

We learned very quickly that there were more women involved in street prostitution in Ipswich than we thought. We had previously estimated there to be about 40-50 women, but in fact there were 107 women, who had worked or were working on the streets of Ipswich over the past five years. (While it is accepted that men do engage in street prostitution activity, there was never any evidence to suggest that males worked on the streets of Ipswich).

It was our investigation into the deaths of these young women that gave us a real insight into the lives these women led. Our experience showed that the women who were working as prostitutes did not freely make that choice. They felt they had no option, in most cases fuelled by drugs and ‘coerced’ by partners/boyfriends. Official research estimates that 95% of street prostitutes use heroin or cocaine.

Any argument of those that claim prostitutes and trafficked women are making a free choice or that the answer to both problems is decriminalisation, are misled. The reality is that these women are being exploited. Many of the women in Ipswich were coerced on to the streets, most were vulnerable, marginalised and addicted to drugs. When asked the vast majority wanted to get out of prostitution where they were subjected to regular abuse, violence and sexual assault.

We also had to consider the impact of street prostitution on local communities. Again my experience in Ipswich has shown that this has an enormous impact. Consider if you will local women who reside in the area where prostitution regularly occurs, coming home from work in the evening being asked for sex by men who are prowling the area in their cars.

Consider the men who live in these streets who are accosted by the women asking if they ‘want business’. Consider also children playing in gardens where used condoms and needles are discarded. This is the reality across the country where street prostitution takes place.

To me it was the real harm that was being caused to individuals and communities that made the need to deal with prostitution in all its forms a priority. As a team we wanted to ensure that prostitution was removed from the streets of Ipswich to ensure that no other woman was murdered or harmed as a result of working in such an inherently dangerous environment. We wanted to challenge the commonly held view that prostitution is the ‘oldest profession’ and that there will always be a demand for street sex, with economically or socially disadvantaged women ready to supply that demand.

It was against this backdrop that we worked on drafting The Ipswich Street Prostitution Strategy. My colleagues and I presented our draft strategy at various senior management team meetings in various agencies across the county; we listened to their views and tried to incorporate them where possible. In order to make this work we all had to make compromises and think differently about our approach.

It was the circulation of ‘Version 18’ of the strategy that was finally agreed to by all agencies. We secured additional resources; we were able to create a multi-agency team dedicated to this work comprising of police officers, children’s social workers, adult social workers and family support workers. Technological resources were also deployed for example increased CCTV and automatic number plate recognition systems (ANPR).

The Strategy was launched in March 2007 and concentrated of five key aims;

  1. Identifying the problem – It was only by having a thorough and in depth knowledge of the situation, the impact on the individuals and communities concerned along with understanding the motives behind those involved in prostitution, that we were in a position to start solving the problem. This knowledge helped us to focus, prioritise and allocate resources and finances where they were most needed. We also ensured the situation was continually monitored.
  1. Developing Routes Out – As I mentioned earlier, street prostitution is not an activity that women in Ipswich entered into by choice. It was said many times that their only choice was that they had no choice. We helped the exit process by offering multi-agency case conferences for each individual involved in street prostitution, ensuring that drug treatment programmes, health services, accommodation, and other supportive interventions were made available to those individuals who wanted to change their lifestyles and leave street prostitution.
  1. Tackling Demand – This was a response to community concerns by deterring those who create the demand and removing the opportunity for street prostitution to take place. By utilising and exploiting all available technology for example Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), which provided the police and their partners with the intelligence to support their aims.
  1. Prevention – Awareness raising and early intervention measures to stop individuals, particularly children and young people, from becoming involved in prostitution.
  1. Community Intelligence – To respond appropriately to the needs of the communities affected, by keeping them informed of our activities. By listening to their concerns we ensured that the environment was kept clean, safe and designed in such a way to deter and prevent street prostitution.

We acknowledged from the outset the significant challenge set to remove street prostitution, however we felt there was a real opportunity to resolve some of the long standing problems that were associated with street prostitution, its causes and its consequences.

To get all of the partners signed up to the strategy and its overarching principles was a huge success. The partnership was convinced that we had the right strategy and desire in place to make a real difference in improving the quality of life for those vulnerable individuals who engaged in street prostitution, those young people at risk of sexual exploitation, as well as improving the lives of the residents who have suffered from the consequences of street prostitution over many years.

In my next blog I will outline the operational activity deployed in support of the strategy, some of the problems encountered along with the outcomes of an independent evaluation.