PCC joins Streetlight UK and Sussex Police on safeguarding intervention for sex worker
Local charity, Streetlight UK, regularly support the police on live joint operations providing that specialist support for those involved in prostitution, victims of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Yesterday (28th May) Mrs Bourne attended a live police operation to see those support workers in action as they help the police initiate a safeguarding intervention for a local sex worker.
Mrs Bourne has funded Streetlight for a number of years through her Community Safety Fund and now supports them through her Safe Space Sussex Funding Network. She has recently uplifted their funding by £13,000 to increase the number of support workers they employ to help those wanting to exit prostitution.
Gatwick Team Leader for Streetlight, Shereen Hazman comments: “We were there to do a welfare visit on a woman that was known to be sex working in the area. Our particular role in operations like this one is to support this woman and make sure she is not being exploited. If you can imagine 10 burly police officers knocking on your door, you would be afraid and in our experience the potential victim will not open up as much. We break down those barriers and build trust between the victim and the police who can then gather enough intelligence to understand whether they are there of their own free choice, or being controlled by others.
“Today we spent time with the woman, gathering this information and offering support. We brought with us sexual health testing kits and pregnancy tests along with informative leaflets and stayed with her until the police were convinced that she was safe and there of her own free will. I have, as I always do, given my contact details to her so we can have a follow up visit if she wants one. This secondary welfare check often allows us to gather further intelligence as unfortunately many victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation feel too scared at the time to tell us that they are in danger.”
Sussex Police have ongoing operations that aim to identify and safeguard potential victims of trafficking through intelligence, particularly in relation to those advertising online. Officers seek to locate vulnerable sex workers and carry out immediate safeguarding visits. The PCC attended one of these visits with Streetlight UK and Detective Sergeant Steve Luxford.
Streetlight’s front line outreach teams operate across Sussex and provide an on call service and helpline for police in West Sussex and other local partners offering specialist support for women who live in the area and are involved in prostitution. Their partnership work with the police is crucial for gathering meaningful intelligence into the sex trafficking industry and has led to a number of successful police operations and convictions.
Detective Sergeant Steve Luxford comments: “As part of ongoing work tackling sexual exploitation and human trafficking, we assess any intelligence that we receive for potential vulnerable people working as sex workers. We will visit these sex workers with no preconceived ideas, but always try to reassure them that they are not in trouble and we are there to help. The relationship we have built with Streetlight is invaluable and means that sex workers are given ongoing support and assistance.”
Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne comments: “Many people are not aware that prostitution in the UK is not an illegal activity if you are doing it of your own free will and you declare your earnings to HMRC. However, many women and men who work in this industry still do not feel they can reach out to the police and report if they have experienced violence or abuse. Streetlight support workers are more approachable in these situations, they don’t have a police uniform or badge so, someone who feels vulnerable around the police are more likely to let their guard down. They are then able to speak to that person, as I saw today, get their story and feed that back as intelligence into whatever police operation is ongoing. This partnership approach to policing and safeguarding is crucial and I will continue to support the important work that Streetlight does.”
Notes for editors
As of June 2017, the Crawley area had 11 escort agencies (with between 10-50 women in each) as well as 21 Brothels and 18 Massage Parlours being advertised, along with dozens of individual adverts within the area selling sex. Gatwick which is a major gateway into the UK and a target for traffickers, has over 30 hotels in its ‘Hotel Watch’ scheme, which as part of its role addresses the sex trade and its related issues, such as trafficking and sexual exploitation.