Multi-agency approach by police, council and Plymouth charities aims to help women quit sex work
POLICE, the council and local charities are combining their efforts in an attempt to help Plymouth's sex workers leave the world of prostitution.
While police are keen to stress that the city no longer has the same level of street prostitution as it had in years past, it has been recognised that no one organisation has the solution to the issue of women resorting to soliciting on the streets or in back rooms.
In recent years police have used a number of tactics to try and solve the issue. Guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers have repeatedly suggested officers view working girls as victims and punters as offenders.
As a result, one of the tactics previously used included officers posting warning letters to the homes of men whose cars were repeatedly spotted in the city's 'red light' district of Millbay.
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A number of organisations in the city have now attempted to set up a co-ordinated programme to deal with the many issues surround prostitution.
Cllr Chris Penberthy, Plymouth City Council's cabinet member for Co-operatives and Community Development said: "The issues are wide ranging and complex.
"They require agencies, charities and support groups to work together. As we start to review the situation in Plymouth we will be asking all of those organisations to work with us and co-ordinate a plan that tackles the issues and can make a real difference."
Chief Insp Ian Drummond-Smith, said Plymouth police recognised that prostitution was a "complex problem" often involving "Plymouth's most vulnerable women."
He said: "We actively target the customers, often kerb crawlers, who we find come from both within Plymouth and from nearby towns or villages.
"Several special operations are planned during the course of 2013 to deal with the customers.
"In term of the street prostitutes, we always start by trying to help and rely on a number of partner agencies to whom we refer the women.
"Thereafter, we use the criminal justice system to deal with the women, or men, particularly to tackle those who have refused to engage with the support offered to help them exit sex-work.
"That said, experienced Plymouth officers tell me that we have much less street prostitutes now than ten years ago."
A spokesman for the Eddystone Trust, an HIV support and sexual health charity based in Plymouth said it currently delivered the Sexual Health Outreach Project (SHOP) in the city which its primary aim was to promote improved health and wellbeing, "in particular, sexual health and safer sex practices within the context of street sex workers' individual lives."
The spokesman added: "It became evident to SHOP workers at an early stage that few of the women are engaging in sex work as a 'lifestyle choice', but are caught in a cycle of abuse, low self-esteem and little aspiration for their future.
"This is further exacerbated by the often conflicting and varying needs of residents, local businesses, the police and the local authority.
"In response – and in an attempt to obtain a clear picture of the current situation around street sex workers – a partnership of statutory and third sector agencies are currently working together to try to understand and explore solutions to the needs of those affected by or involved in street sex work in Plymouth.
"It is hoped that working in partnership with other services and agencies in the city will glean the best possible outcomes for the women."