QotD: “Police criticised as organised gangs gain control of sex industry”

Organised crime is far more involved in running Britain’s sex trade than previously thought, with more than three-quarters of brothels found to have links to criminal gangs, according to pioneering research. It claims that [prostitutes]’ movements were controlled by brothels in a third of cases and criticises police for failing to tackle the criminals who control much of the off-street sex industry.

Published by an independent thinktank, the Police Foundation, the study is the first of its kind to document the links between organised crime and prostitution in a comprehensive way.

Using police data, researchers examined 65 known brothels in Bristol over two years, a figure which is a fraction of the true total, and interviewed more than 100 officials from the police and supporting agencies.

The report criticises the failure of local police to protect vulnerable [prostitutes], quoting one source saying that organised crime in the sex trade is “too hard [to tackle] for the amount of harm it causes”, while admitting that operations against brothel owners are rare.

The findings come shortly after the conviction of Christopher Halliwell for the murder in 2003 of 20-year-old Becky Godden, a Swindon [victim of commercial sexual exploitation], a development that has prompted debate about the ability of the police to provide sufficient protection to [prostitutes].

The cost of tackling trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK is estimated to be £890m a year, but the study highlights a near absence of proactive police strategies. “Occasional welfare checks were completed at brothels by a local police team and partners, but sex workers rarely came forward,” it states.

“Consequently, there were few calls to respond to and little information to direct more proactive policing efforts.” It says that police welfare checks at brothels are “sporadic and not core business for any local agency”.

Researchers say police, whose organised crime work is primarily focused on theft and drug-related offenders, did not apply a rigorous approach to the issue. “While one or two officers had attempted to scan online ads for the threat of exploitation, this was not done systematically or regularly,” the report states.

[prostitutes] most vulnerable to trafficking are those at “pop-up brothels”, which constitute up to a fifth of the number identified and move location frequently. Almost half of the [prostitutes] identified in Bristol are Romanian.

The combined failure of any agency to take full responsibility for exploitation in the off-street sex trade, the Police Foundation claims, is leaving many [prostitutes] isolated and vulnerable to exploitation by organised criminals.

“The relative impunity with which pimps and traffickers operate, combined with the almost total exclusion of many off-street [prostitutes] – particularly foreign nationals – from mainstream society, requires a radical reconsideration of what the police and other relevant agencies should be doing,” the report adds.

Overall, the Police Foundation recommends a radical overhaul of local police approaches to organised crime in the sex trade. It urges the police, working with other local agencies, to do more to help victims of exploitation to come forward and offer more protection when they do.

The study also outlines a need for police forces to gather more robust intelligence: “The police and other local agencies need to do more to identify the hidden victims exploited in the off-street sex market and facilitate investigations for which no victim comes forward.”

This is from the Observer, which, I am happy to say, no longer calls raped children workers, but is still ok calling raped adults workers, and, in the full article, quotes the IUSW without offering the alternative view of the Nordic model.

I am writing to the Observer readers editor (he at least replied to my emails before, the Guardian readers editor never has).

Dear Stephen,

I was disappointed to read an article in the Observer today (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/24/organised-crime-behind-uk-sex-trade) on the sex trade that used the term ‘sex worker’ to describe women in prostitution controlled by criminal gangs. You have already agreed that it is not appropriate to call a raped child a ‘worker’, so it should be equally inappropriate to call a raped adult a ‘worker’.

I was also disappointed to see the article quote the IUSW uncritically, without offering any alternative viewpoint on the legal status of the sex industry. The IUSW is not a legitimate union, as it allows bosses to join (see this article here: https://www.byline.com/project/3/article/4).

It is bad journalism to only offer one side of an argument, the Nordic (abolitionist) model has been successful in Sweden since 1999 (https://nordicmodelnow.org/what-is-the-nordic-model/), and should at least be mentioned along side other legal approaches to prostitution.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,
Abi

observer.readers@observer.co.uk

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