Headlines: May 15th, 2006

A report today says better management of public spaces could improve the relationship between local residents and street sex workers. Researchers commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examined the concerns, issuesand attitudes of local residents, female street sex workers and people working with them in five areas of England and Scotland.Their report says coexistence between local residents and the workers could be improved by the management of public spaces and by more integrated responses. They have also identified effective policies and how public spaces might be better managed.

For many residents, the report says, street sex work in their neighbourhoods did not significantly affect their overall quality of life. Where concerns did exist they involved the visibility of prostitutes and associated nuisance such as debris and noise. There were concerns that the activities impinged on the use of public space and some people associated it with drugs and crime.

Community views and responses ranged from sympathy and engaging with the women to action to move them from local streets. Coexistence was best where integrated responses to community concerns had been developed by a number of partners, including sex worker support projects. Residents’ anxieties were higher when such initiatives were absent or where there was a sense that no one was managing the public realm.

In some places local authorities and the police had used enforcement measures such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders to deal with local people’s concerns but the study says this approach is of limited use to address long- term issues, particularly when no support package was offered to sex workers. In some cases the ASBOs distanced women from areas where they could access services or forced them to operate in unsafe areas to avoid being arrested.

Jane Pitcher, lead researcher on the project, said tense situations could often be defused once residents, agencies, sex workers and staff from support projects all start talking to each other. “We found that sharing different perspectives and having opportunities to air concerns and then identify potential solutions together was a more effective approach than isolated enforcement action,” she said.