International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
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Merseyside Police is today (17 December) marking the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.
The international awareness day, which has been held on 17 December since 2003, allows us to come together with our partner agencies and support workers to renew our commitment to end violence against sex workers. In these hugely challenging times, there are many complex reasons why an individual may become involved or be forced into sex work. We are all still here to protect them, bring offenders to justice and do what we can to end the marginalisation that sex workers experience.
Since 2006 Merseyside Police has led the way and was the first force in the country to recognise these offences as hate crimes and through the skill and care of our specialist dedicated liaison officer and officers in the Unity Team, who deal with sexual offences, we have been able to successfully prosecute and secure convictions against violent individuals who commit crimes against sex workers.
Each year we see an increase in reporting of this crime, which demonstrates to us the confidence people have in us to bring offenders to justice.
Our pioneering approach followed the murders of a number of sex workers in Ipswich, Suffolk, in 2006 and the recognition that some people specifically target sex workers.
We see the importance of working with our partners and have a strong partnership approach to deliver an innovative and important service across Merseyside, including the Red Umbrella project which:
• supports sex workers to ensure they get the help they need to ensure they are better protected and free from violence, abuse and exploitation and to encourage reports of violence to police
• provides a dedicated police sex worker liaison officer to build trust and give sex workers the confidence to report incidents to the police
• includes support from a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advocate for sex workers, as well as two support workers
There are challenges, but working together with partners and volunteers from Armistead Project, Tomorrows Women Wirral, Streetwise, Pearls Project, and drugs and alcohol services enables a holistic view across Merseyside and allows us to increase our understanding of the needs of those engaging in sex work in all its facets, be it on street or online. We work together to provide advice, intervention where appropriate and signpost to the agencies best placed to help. Thereby continually improving our services to sex workers.
ACC Ian Critchley, Merseyside Police said, “As a force Merseyside Police has already taken a progressive stance by treating attacks on sex workers as hate crimes, because they are a vulnerable targeted group. As a police service it is our duty to seek to protect all our communities, especially those who are the most vulnerable, and this extends to everyone, including sex workers.
“Merseyside Police will not tolerate violence against sex workers and we will make every effort to ensure that offenders are tracked down and face the full force of the law and that victims receive the justice they so rightly deserve. Many of those involved in sex work have hit hard times and they do this type of work through circumstance. People forget that those involved in sex work are human beings, they are someone’s daughter, mother, sister, or son, brother, father, and we must never forget that.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy said, “Merseyside Police has led the way in this work for many years, in large part by being the first Force in the country to recognise offences against sex workers as hate crimes. We are also fortunate to have the first dedicated police sex worker liaison officer and some fantastic partnerships, particularly with the Red Umbrella project.
“Through the Red Umbrella, reports of offences to the police have trebled and there have been some major success stories in prosecuting violent offenders, ensuring justice for their victims and making the streets safer for all.
“It is only by working together that we can continue to break down the barriers to reporting crimes in the sex industry, ensuring more victims get the support they need. Today is an important opportunity to further raise awareness of these issues and reaffirm our commitment to ending the abuse, exploitation and violence sex workers experience.”
Sharna Kennedy, Comms Officer Tomorrow’s Women Wirral said, “Tomorrow’s Women Wirral’s Action for Street Health (ASH) Project is designed to offer safety to street sex workers across Wirral. Operating weekday evenings they offer practical support to women providing free contraception, a listening ear and signposting to other support organisations. Initially ASH was funded by Merseyside Police’s Community Cashback Fund, which enabled the project to commence. TWW & ASH are proud to be able to have repurposed the funds, and more long-term, continued to offer crucial support to an often marginalised and targeted group”.
Jay Grech, Area Manager at Changing Lives said: “International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers is an opportunity to recognise the challenges faced by people who engage in selling sex across Merseyside. This is especially important now as this year we have seen more people selling sex as a way to deal with challenges such as poverty, which have been made worse by the pandemic.
“The Red Umbrella Project offers vital support for those who have been the victims of sexual violence whilst selling or exchanging sex, including reported and non-reported incidents. We do this through a partnership approach with Armistead and the Police and provide outreach and 1-1 tailored support. It’s so important that we continue to work together to support anyone who is the victim of sexual violence or sexual exploitation”.
Karen Hampson, Team Leader for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust’s sexual health services, said: “This is always an important day in our calendar because it enables us to bring together sex workers, their families and their loved ones to help support their health, safety and wellbeing.
“We would normally hold a memorial service, which we’re unable to do this year because of the COVID-19 restrictions. We’ll still be marking the day, by reinforcing safety messages to protect these vulnerable women against all instances of violence, stigma and discrimination and signpost them to the help available through our Armistead service”.