EDIT: I’ve changed the terminology used in the title from ‘street level’ to ‘on street’ as I think the former is degrading, as ‘level’ is akin to ‘class’.
Turf wars have broken out among Romanian street sex workers, many of Roma origin, in east London amid claims that women are being “taxed” £200 a week to stand on particular street corners.
Some of the women are thought to be under 18 and are likely to have been trafficked. They are working in red light areas in east London, in Newham and Redbridge, as well as in other major cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.
One young woman, who told the Observer she was 18, said she had been threatened by older Romanians in Newham when she was out working. “They told me that if I wanted to continue to stand on the street corner where I was working I would have to pay them £200 every week because they ‘owned’ that corner and I was on their territory. I refused and moved somewhere else to work. I’m not earning very much money from sex work, only about £70 per night, and I can’t afford to pay that sort of money.”
On another occasion a group of older Romanian women surrounded two young women engaged in street sex work and demanded a £200 “tax” from them for standing there.
Romanian street sex workers in Manchester have come to the attention of both the police and the Home Office. Greater Manchester Police confirmed that last weekend for the first time they carried out a joint operation with the Home Office targeted at this group. A GMP spokesman said six street sex workers – five Romanian and one Czech – were interviewed about their immigration status and soliciting for sex. None were arrested or charged but two were interviewed under caution, were told they had no right to be in the UK and agreed to leave voluntarily.
“In some cases it seems to be a well-oiled operation, with people from their country arranging for the women to come and work here,” said the police spokesman. “It may be that they’re working for a particular criminal gang.”
In October, Romanian street sex worker Mariana Popa, 24, was murdered in Ilford. Farooq Shah, 20, has been charged with her murder. The Metropolitan Police has been conducting Operation Clearlight in Redbridge to tackle prostitution in the area.
Georgina Perry, manager of Open Doors, an NHS project working with sex workers in east London, said the presence of Romanian street sex workers is a relatively new phenomenon and they were providing support services for them.