Shelly Stoops is the Interim Manager at SAFE Place Merseyside (adult sexual assault referral centre-SARC) and was formerly the Specialist ISVA for sex workers at the Armistead Street Project for Liverpool Community Health.
How do you feel about the police?
I greatly respect Merseyside Police for the way they have taken a pragmatic, human rights approach to sex workers and prioritise their safety.
How do you think people in the sex trade feel about the police?
The women I have worked with here in Merseyside now have a great level of trust in Merseyside Police. That has been the result of massive amounts of trust building from the women themselves, the ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) and sex work project. So in the beginning, women would do Ugly Mug reports if they were attacked and wouldn’t dream of going to the police. Now, they will ring 999 just like any other victim would which is a direct result of the partnership.
From the women you’ve been working with, what has been their experience of dealing with the police?
Since we began this work, around twenty-five women have been to court – I think that’s a shining example of their experiences! The women speak highly of the police as they no longer fear them; they feel the police are there to protect them.
What is your experience of working with people in the sex trade who have had crimes committed against them?
I have worked with hundreds of women and many of them have experienced violence of one type or another – be that stranger violence or DV (domestic violence). However, since 2006, my role as a Specialist ISVA was to work with sex workers who had experienced serious sexual violence so that was primarily what I saw.
How do the women you’ve worked with feel about reporting crimes committed against them to the police?
At first, they were reluctant but once we had the first successful outcome at court and the victim spoke highly of how well she had been treated by the police, and they knew I would come out at 3AM if they needed support, they came forward. It took around six months to slowly increase the reports but now it’s the norm.
Before the hate crime model was introduced in Merseyside, what deterred the women from reporting crimes committed against them to the police?
In the past, there were many reasons: it was perceived as an occupational hazard; the women felt they wouldn’t be believed; they were worried about being ‘outed’ as sex workers; the perpetrator may have been a police officer; fear of recriminations.
Were the women you worked with able to report crimes committed against them to any other agencies instead?
They used to report it to us at the Armistead Street Project, which is a specialist service for sex workers. The service provides many things including outreach and an Ugly Mugs Scheme. The women used Ugly Mugs as a self-help system to warn their friends and colleagues about people who posed a risk to them. Most often, they also agreed for us to pass that information onto the police anonymously.
If a crime was committed against people you know in the sex trade and it was unrelated to their work in the sex trade, do you know if they would feel differently about reporting those crimes to the police?
My clients have never been treated any differently regardless of the type of crime that they were reporting.
How do you think the police view people in the sex trade? And do you think they take crimes committed against them seriously?
Merseyside Police see sex workers as members of our community, sisters, mothers, brothers etc. who are as deserving of protection as we all are. Their priority is their protection. I think an example would be a sex worker who had been raped and had warrants for shoplifting. She was dealt with as a victim and when that was over (the medical, statement etc.) we went with the client and the police to enable her to hand herself in and she was bailed after an hour.
How do you think the police should deal with crimes against people in the sex trade?
As they do here in Merseyside! Make all crimes a hate crime and prioritise protection over enforcement.
How do you feel the Merseyside model of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes would benefit people in the sex trade?
It’s incredibly important. Culturally it sends a message that they are valued and violence against them is unacceptable. There are also important things that happen internally in police investigations when the hate crime tag is applied which means accountability.
Do you feel there is a need for any changes to the Merseyside model if it were to be implemented UK wide? And what would those changes be?
I think it can work anywhere with tweaks to fit with local area needs.
Would you like to see the Merseyside model rolled out across every police force within the UK?
I certainly would! It would be one of the proudest days of my life. I would like to see it go global!
Please support our petition on Change.org to make the Merseyside model the standard policing approach for the UK.