Prostitution: The Secrets of the Streets

Just 3 miles from University Park and a 30 minute walk from Lenton, lies Nottingham’s Red Light District. Based on Mapperley and Forest Road, Nottingham’s Red Light District is a well known hive of prostitution and unsolicited activities. Back in 2004, the Kerb Crawling Taskforce, part of Nottinghamshire Police, were aware of roughly 300 girls working in the area, but have since claimed that a clampdown has seriously reduced numbers

But what do those figures really mean? Do they really go any way to telling the whole story behind the sex workers that are living only a tram ride away? Statistics aside, we remain naïve to the reality of their existence.

Impact’s Samantha Owen and Rose Bewick explore the changing nature of prostitution and the dangers constantly facing those that work on the streets of Nottingham.

There are 80,000 prostitutes in Britain, all together earning around £770 million a year. Strictly speaking, the exchange of sex for money is not a crime.  However, there are so many laws criminalising acts that surround the soliciting of sex that it is relatively difficult to conduct any form of sex business completely legally in the UK. In 2003, it became an offence to “cause or incite prostitution or control it for personal gain”, and in 2009 it became illegal to pay for sex with someone who “has been subjected to force”, even if you didn’t know.  There are also laws in place which means sex workers are not allowed to solicit or advertise, and their customers (‘punters’) are not allowed to kerb-crawl.

Enforcing these laws in our city is Nottinghamshire Police’s On Street Prostitution Team which was set up in 2004. In 2008, they launched a campaign to try to stop taxi-drivers from being used to pick up prostitutes, stressing severe consequences for both the taxi driver and the passenger. By June last year they had arrested their 1000th man for kerb crawling. Then, in September they arrested fifteen more kerb crawlers over two nights when a female officer posed as a regular resident, acting in a way “that any woman going about her normal business in the area would behave”. The point was that any woman walking home in the Arboretum area would have been asked for sex from these passing vehicles, which, as Sergeant Neil Radford points out, “can be distressing for women and is totally unacceptable.”

The Team has also made more than 1,000 arrests or cautions for prostitution or soliciting, further to which a number of women have received ASBOs last year, banning them from loitering for prostitution and soliciting, and forbidding them from entering Nottingham’s vice area between 5.30am and 5.30pm daily. Richard Antcliff, a Neighbourhood Enforcement Officer for Community Protection, said of one woman that her behaviour “negatively affects local residents and their families” and that by issuing the ASBO they were “protect[ing] our local communities.”

Earlier this year, This is Nottingham reported that such orders had been breached 171 times in the past year.  Nonetheless, they still cite reason for the police to congratulate themselves, stating that, “the number of prostitutes working the streets of Nottingham has fallen by nearly 75 per cent in the last five years…There were 57 women working on city streets last month, compared to 80 last year and 217 at the same stage of 2006.” Interestingly, police had also said that 85% of men caught kerb-crawling in the city were local, meaning that Nottingham is not a nationally renowned vice destination.

The results look good, but it does seem that the police in Nottingham enforce the laws in order to respond to residents’ complaints, rather than for the safety and protection of prostitutes. Consider the Stable Door Initiative, which was set up in January of this year.  It’s all about finding ‘prostitution hotspots’ and trying to get rid of them by improving street lighting, installing gates, and encouraging residents to lock them.  They mention one success story as that of “cleaning up and securing a vacant and derelict property on Woodborough Road which had a courtyard used by prostitutes and drug users.” However, as will become increasingly apparent, these individuals did not then go and get a more socially acceptable job; they just went somewhere else.

Modern prostitution is being forced underground, into areas that are far more dangerous, making the sex workers a lot more vulnerable. The difficulty with analysing facts and figures is that they cannot tell the whole story. So whilst statistics may indicate a reduction in street prostitution, the reality is that the women just relocate; either to other cities, off-street locations or even crack houses.

Impact spoke to Hannah* who used to work on the street in Nottingham; she said, “…they shouldn’t make them go underground more because they can’t be protected so much. The girls probably don’t want to go to the police. It’s more unsafe for the girls.”

Her worries were mirrored by the many organisations Impact spoke to regarding prostitution.

A spokesperson for Prostitute Outreach Workers (POW) explained, “They are pushing prostitution underground and pushing it back into the poorer neighbourhoods and into the crack houses. It’s a massive problem in trying to access these areas. It’s difficult as well because the police used to monitor the beat, but now when they come round, the girls aren’t there. Out of everybody’s sight, it’s difficult to reach them and access them.”

Being able to access these women is of utmost importance for these organisations. According to the latest figures, roughly 90% of prostitutes also are addicted to drugs. It is evidently crucial that these women have as much access to these charities as possible.

Emily*, an ex-sex worker who is still using drugs, told us of her battle with addictions. She explained to us that she got into prostitution and drugs from a very young age. “I was 7 when I had my first fag, and when I first got drunk on vodka,” she said, “I was taking drugs by the age of 9 and started prostitution when I was 12.”  Astonishing as this may sound, this is the reality of some of the girls that are involved in the industry.

Hannah also had a brief experience with drugs. “I was on them for about 6 months. It was the worst thing I’ve ever done and I would never do them again.” Hannah is clean now and told us, “I got off it; there was a drought on drugs so I was getting less and less. So I worked myself down, not even really meaning to. But that was it; once I was off I was off.

Beyond the dangers of drug abuse itself, the motive of attaining drugs causes some women to sell their services for alarmingly low prices. According to a spokeswoman for The Nottingham Women’s Centre, “The going rate is about £5-£8 on the street. If they can buy a bag of heroin, they might do something like a hand job for £7.”

Other hindrances facing these women derive from the domestic aspects of their lives. A surprisingly high number of prostitutes in the local area started off in care homes; many were victims of domestic violence and several have had children taken from them by the social services.

Emily told Impact about her upbringing. She said, “my life was a real hard drag back then honestly, I’ve been in care from eighteen months old and I’ve not really had much to do with my family.  I went from foster care into a children’s home; didn’t like it.”

When explaining how she got involved in the industry, she said, “they put me in a room with a girl that used to self harm. She was a heavy drug user and prostitute, and, went out for a walk with her one night, too young to know the danger of it.”

So it seems, that based on anecdotal evidence from Nottingham, there is a worrying connection between prostitution and the care system. Whilst the government may be working to get prostitution off the streets, they could be far more successful in working on the reason why these women enter the industry in the first place. If these claims ring true on a national scale, then there seems to be a genuine lack of support and education in these state-funded children’s homes.

Hannah suffered from domestic abuse whilst in the midst of prostitution. “I left my partner. He beat me with a belt and that was it”, she recounted. “I decided to change my life.” At one point Hannah said, “I did quite well, I used to make 100 pound a night and then go back in. It was 20 a punt so that was 5 punters.” Hannah’s partner, however, used to take her earnings from her, which often made life difficult. “I used to make sure I had enough to put a meal on the table but it was hard.”

Clearly, the actuality of a life on the streets is harrowing. Those that choose to enter prostitution obviously do so for a range of reasons. And whilst some can afford the luxury of operating from up-market apartments or brothels, the damning reality is that for many, poverty, abuse, and drugs are all part and parcel of working in the sex industry.

So it is more important than ever that sufficient support for those who need it is as readily available as possible, and there are a range of charities and organisations in Nottingham (some of which we have already alluded to) that work hard to help prostitutes in a variety of ways.

The aforementioned Prostitute Outreach Workers (POW) are often the first port of call for prostitutes. Abiding by a strictly no-judgement policy, the organisation offers prostitutes everything from a place to shower, eat and work-out, to serious drug and GUM clinics.  POW deal with a variety of women in very different stages of their lives, some of whom are still happy to remain as prostitutes but simply want to make sure that they are doing it safely.

A spokesperson for POW explained, “…women, who are in such a vulnerable state; they need non-judgemental help. All of POWs staff have personal experience of prostitution, prison, or drugs.”

Jericho Road and 58i’s Aspire Mentoring scheme, both run by the Christian Centre, are faith-based charities which aim to help women with serious problems, offering them the support that they need to make more positive lifestyle choices. One of the support workers from 58i said, “Our role would be to help people through their treatment journey, trying to give people a bit more support than they would normally get. We’d obviously encourage a positive lifestyle, but for a lot of them it’s a very difficult thing to come out of.”

Another key organisation equally involved in helping prostitutes is The Nottingham Women’s Centre, which houses the Changes programme. Changes works to support women who have been through the criminal justice system in the last 5 years. Whilst these organisations go out of their way to help a variety of women, they do still face challenges in engaging individuals. The Changes team stressed the difficulty in trying to reach out to women in prostitution. A spokesperson admitted that “they are the hardest group to reach; they don’t trust a lot of services. They have been let down a lot and experienced a lot of prejudices. They have a lot of barriers to engagement.”

The lives of prostitutes are littered with challenges from every direction. Strict laws make it nearly impossible to make a decent living from prostitution in any legal form; and prejudices from a naïve public and uninformed government mean that all prostitutes are tarred with the same brush. Consequently, even organisations designed to help sex workers struggle to reach those most in need, and without support from such centres, recognising alternative lifestyles, let alone realising them, seems wholly unlikely. What is really necessary is a proper state investigation into the lives of those in the prostitution industry. This is the only way real solutions can be achieved for these very real problems.

Samantha Owen and Rose Bewick

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4 Comments on this post.
  • “I was taking drugs by the age of nine” | Ones to Watch
    15 December 2011 at 22:44
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  • Hannah
    9 February 2012 at 18:03
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    everybody should get involved with Prostitution Outreach Workers, they do such fantastic work and they are an amazing charity, I volunteered with them when I went to Nottingham and it changed my outlook on the world completely.

  • laura
    22 March 2012 at 00:34
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    its drugs thats the problem, once you take them you will do allmost anything for them, its like a one way road and thats why alot of prostitutes find it hard to stop, it should be the drug dealers that get punished for ruining lifes.

  • Tonee
    9 December 2014 at 00:52
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    Some years ago my Aunts girl (age 22) was working the streets of Nottingham to pay off a loan shark whom she had got involved with. I did look after her and keep my eye on her with her ‘customers’ . Most men enjoyed what she did for them and there was never ever much bother. Until she was forced off the streets and into having to work from a bedsit. The times she was on her own she had some difficult costumers until I stayed with her at the bedsit mostly in the kitchen while she was ‘performing’. It took a further 3 years for Heather to clear up her debts by having upto 4 tricks a night. She still works from her flat but only to make enough money for her bills. Strangly enough she liked working the streets with most girls looking out for each other. Now in a flat she has to face punters with no back up.

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