Rosie Campbell is the Chair of UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP) National Ugly Mugs Advisory Group, and was formerly the Coordinator of Armistead Street & Portside as well as the former Chair of UK Network of Sex Work Projects. She is currently a PhD Research Student, Durham University.
From the perspective of your many years experience working with people in the sex trade, how do you view the police?
From the research and policy work on sex work that I have been involved with and through UKNSWP working with sex work projects in different parts of the UK, my own experience is that the policing of sex work varies across forces and neighbourhoods. Policing takes place within the same laws and national guidance, but there are differences locally in policing approaches, culture and as part of that the priority that is placed on sex worker safety.
I’ve seen a wide continuum of policing, from very professional and what I’d see as progressive policing with a strong emphasis on the protection of sex workers to approaches that are more enforcement based and which impact detrimentally on sex worker safety.
In Liverpool, over the last ten years, I have worked in a climate and ethos that is progressive in relation to crimes against sex workers, where the police have been committed in increasing confidence amongst sex workers in the police and as part of that introduced the sex work and hate crime policy.
Do you have experience of dealing with the police outside of your professional capacity? And if so, can you describe that experience?
On a personal level, I directly had contact with the police in the early 1980s when a friend of mine was sexually assaulted. The initial police officer I had contact with was disappointing; I felt there had been an element of judgement. The crime was committed after a party, she’d left the party with one man, the other offenders were there and followed and assaulted her in a park. The further response from the police team from then on was professional, the case went to court and convictions were obtained. During the course of the investigation, one of the offenders involved was arrested and charged with the murder of a young woman; he went on to be found guilty of her murder. So I was aware of issues of sexual violence, policing and also the issue of the potential for offenders crimes to escalate quickly.
Have your feelings about the police changed over the years?
In the last seventeen years during which I’ve been involved in research and service provision for sex workers in Merseyside and other parts of the UK, I have come to see the police as a complex and varied organisation. Since Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the ensuing Macpherson report, I think there have been really progressive changes in the policing services offered to minority groups and the recognition of hate crime within the British police for me has been really important. Also I think there has been a sea change in the policing of rape and sexual assault and I’ve met many dedicated and highly professional officers in that area of policing. In Merseyside, I’ve seen a police force committed to improving policing for sex workers; I have worked with officers who really do believe in the rights of sex workers to safety and public protection.
What is your experience of working with people in the sex trade and discovering how they feel about the police?
For the last seventeen years, I’ve met and worked with hundreds of sex workers as a researcher, outreach worker, support service manager and as a advocate for quality support services for sex workers and policies which enhance the safety, health and rights of sex workers. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to sex workers experiences including their experiences of the police. Based on that I’d say sex workers in the UK have varied experiences and views about the police.
Because sex work takes place within a criminalised and stigmatised framework there is often a difficult relationship between sex workers and the police. For sex workers the people who are there to protect you from crime can also be the people who can arrest you (in certain sex working contexts) or others you work with.
A lot of sex workers are wary of the police, don’t have high levels of trust and for a range of reasons are anxious about reporting to the police should they be victims of crime. Sex workers can be worried that they will be judged, not taken seriously, arrested, face an outcome that causes disruption to their working and that they may be identified publicly.
I have also met some sex workers who have a strong sense that they can access police services, that they have a right to protection. Some have had contact with the police in the past, have been treated fairly and with respect and hence have greater confidence to report.
The PhD I am currently writing up is looking at Merseyside’s approach of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime. It has involved interviews with sex workers: predominately street sex workers, and also some women who have worked off-street. They discussed their experience of violent and other crimes, policing, and their views on the hate crime policy. That research found that amongst the current and former sex workers interviewed the majority felt the policing of crimes against sex workers in Merseyside had improved, with police more likely to take reports seriously and professionally investigate them than in the past.
Sex workers identified a concern for sex worker safety and welfare as a feature of the Merseyside approach to policing sex work. Yet there is still work to be done to improve confidence and gain trust with some sex workers still wary of the police. Building trust takes time and ongoing proactive efforts.
Similarly, I found there is still work to be done to raise awareness about the hate crime policy amongst sex workers, but once made aware of this policy the majority of current and former sex workers I spoke to supported it and were of the view that sex workers were victims of hate crime and experienced targeted victimisation.
What is the situation in Merseyside between sex workers and the police?
On the whole there is a more sex worker friendly policing operating in Merseyside than there was a decade ago. By sex worker friendly, I mean non-judgemental, respectful and officers who treat reports of crimes against sex workers seriously. They have a good attitude; they challenge and go beyond stereotypes and myths about sex workers and in the case of some officers who have had a lead role in developing sex work strategy in the city or in police liaison, I would argue they have been advocates of sex worker rights to safety and protection.
I was managing Armistead Street and Portside sex work projects when, following Anne Marie Foy’s murder, we were working in partnership with the police to introduce initiatives to improve relations between sex workers and the police, encourage reporting and ensure a professional response. As part of that, Merseyside force introduced the hate crime policy in 2006 as the new SIGMA hate crime units were being established and very dedicated officers from SIGMA Liverpool North liaised with the project and worked on a range of investigations.
As well as the hate crime policy a number of other progressive policies and changes took place: police sex work liaison officers were in place, our local Ugly Mugs scheme was improved, we saw a shift away from the enforcement of the laws on soliciting, we had the establishment of Merseyside Safe Place (sexual assault referral centre), the introduction of the Unity team specialist police rape and serious sexual offences, and in Armistead we got the first specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) for sex workers.
These were all what I would describe as the Merseyside approach to treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime. The hate crime policy is a vital element, which sits alongside the others. Hence in my PhD work, I’ve described the hate crime approach as a banner for a multifaceted approach.
So lots of hard work has gone into a range of changes in Liverpool. There is still a long way to go, initiatives always need refreshing, funding changes can see support provisions change. In the last couple of years, there has been no outreach to off-street sex workers in the city, and whilst the project will do what it can to offer support, and the ISVA will and has supported off-street sex workers, if you haven’t got a service reaching out to a particular section of a community you are not able to promote the services you offer such as Ugly Mugs and ISVA as effectively as you could.
Can you tell me about the role of the ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) which is part of the Merseyside model?
The role of the specialist ISVA has proved to be essential in encouraging reporting and supporting sex workers from report to court. When the funding was announced for generic ISVAs to work with victims of rape and sexual assault, it struck me that such a resource within a sex work project would enable projects to more effectively support victims; we got funding and established the first specialist post of its kind.
The ISVA who took up the post was very committed to the work and worked closely with police colleagues and other agencies to respond to the needs of victims providing a whole range of emotional and practical support. We began to get more cases before the courts concerning offenders who had committed rape and serious sexual assaults than we had before with really good outcomes, with lots of guilty verdicts or pleas and we got to the point where we had more such cases coming to court than anywhere else in the UK.
There are now a small number of other such specialist ISVAs. For example, there is an ISVA in London in the Open Doors project, which works across three boroughs in East London. That project has also supported a number of sex worker victims of rape, working in both off-street and street sectors, to get cases to court. This has included a couple of cases where sex workers with irregular immigration status have had recourse to justice after being raped. ISVAs can have a key role in liaising with the police and sex workers and are there to meet the needs of sex workers and as part of that support sex workers to get justice.
Is there proof that crimes against people in the sex trade should be treated as hate crimes? Can you explain why this is so important?
In my current PhD, I look at Merseyside’s approach to treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime in practice and also I’m looking at the theoretical implications of the approach. Within academic literature on hate crime there is debate about the definitions of hate crime. I argue in my PhD that sex workers experiences fit various definitions of hate crime victimisation: including established ones that stress ‘othering’, define hate crimes as expressions of power, prejudice and hostility against groups that have been socially marginalised, as well as some more recent expansive definitions.
There is an established academic research literature spanning over twenty years that shows how sex workers have been treated as a social ‘other’ and placed at the social margins. Although much research has focused on women, men and transgender people in sex work are othered in similar ways. So researchers have documented a range of shifting discourses that other sex workers, for example, the construction of sex workers as the source of venereal disease in Victorian society, the vilification of sex workers as vectors of HIV in the eighties and nineties, what has been described as the ‘discourse of disposability’ has been highlighted in John Lowman’s work in Canada and Hilary Kinnell’s in her book ‘Sex Work and Violence in Britain’ as contributing to violence against sex workers. She highlighted how this discourse is reinforced when some policy makers, police and media talk about ‘cleaning up the streets’, ‘eradicating prostitution’. Some hate crime theorists are arguing that there can be other definitions of hate crime, for example based on ‘perceived vulnerability’. In Merseyside, it was clear that many violent and other crimes experienced by sex workers were the outcome of targeted victimisation. They were hate crimes.
In my PhD research many police officers and sex workers thought sex workers were targeted by some offenders because they thought they could get away with it, that is they would not report and if they did would not be taken seriously.
Some sex workers I have met, and in some reports to National Ugly Mugs, some report experiencing offenders who have directly said ‘you’re not going to report this!’. This shows the importance of putting protections in place for sex workers, ensuring police do take crimes seriously and challenging the belief that crimes against sex workers will not be taken seriously. Otherwise offenders will continue to think or in many cases are getting away with their crimes, leading to further targeting of sex workers. The legal framework that criminalises sex work is a problem because as I’ve noted this creates a difficult relationship between the police and sex workers, contributing to vulnerability.
Hate crime policies have on the whole been welcomed by the BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) and the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) communities who have been recognised as victims of hate. Whilst improvements in policing for those communities is still ongoing there has been progress. At a very practical level, the hate crime approach to crimes against sex workers means sex workers should get a victim centred police response. It means also various procedures have to be adhered to by the police in relation to investigation and victim support. I think sex workers are one group who can benefit from inclusion and protection given to minority groups defined as potential victims of hate crime; it can play a role in improving the safety of sex workers through public protection measures.
Including sex workers as a hate crime group provides one practical approach to break down some of the barriers to reporting. We need a range of strategies to improve the relationship between the police and sex workers. Practically, it is one step of ensuring sex workers receive a professional and supportive response from police and it is an approach based on the recognition of rights – the right to public protection and safety.
Compared to the dramatic increase in reporting and conviction rates in Merseyside since the hate crime model was introduced for crimes against sex workers in 2006, have there been any changes within other regions of the UK?
It is hard to make an assessment of the situation overall across the UK because there is no ongoing standardised monitoring of policing policies on crimes against sex workers and the number of cases coming to court etc. We do though have some research studies and reviews that gives us an insight into what is taking place in those areas where these are carried out. For example, Andrew Boff’s report ‘Silence on Violence’ published in 2012, captured what had been seen by a number of projects in London as a deterioration in the relationship between sex workers and the police in recent years. Policing approaches in some boroughs with intensive enforcement of kerb crawling and soliciting legislation, and raids on and closures of indoor premises, were identified as impacting negatively on sex worker confidence to report crimes committed against them to police.
There are numerous barriers to reporting of crime for sex workers, with some additional ones for migrant sex workers and as London has a large proportion of migrant sex workers those additional barriers are layered on. Migrants face a whole set of others, migrants who are undocumented or have irregular immigration status can be fearful of the police, they may have experienced police corruption amongst the police in their home nations. I have spoken to migrant sex workers who have had successful outcomes when crimes have been committed against them, and that is in London. As I mentioned, there is some really good work taking place in parts of London to encourage sex workers to report crimes against them and seek justice. For example Open Doors Project (East London), who have a specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advisor for sex workers, have worked with Sapphire Teams to support a number of sex workers who have been victims of crime to make formal reports and to get convictions at court.
I think the establishment of National Ugly Mugs co-ordinated by UKNSWP is an important initiative for a wide range of reasons, one being that it encourages forces across the UK to engage with the scheme and respond to crimes against sex workers. Whilst there is not as yet a national sea change, we are seeing some progressive work; we are seeing some forces give increased prioritisation to crimes against sex workers, but we need further policy changes.
What policy changes are needed to ensure people in the sex trade can safely and confidently report crimes committed against them to the police? What can be done in the rest of the UK to achieve a situation between sex workers and the police as that which exists in Merseyside?
There is a huge hill to climb in building confidence and trust between sex workers and the police. We need multilayered policies; rarely is only one policy or initiative needed; people and social phenomenon are more complex.
A key part of what we need is the Merseyside hate crime model. I support the roll out of the policy of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime across the UK. In the context of England and Wales, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have already signalled their support for that in their operational guidance on policing prostitution. Sex workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, as is part of their human rights.
It is imperative there are specialist ISVAs for sex workers within sex work outreach and support projects. We have seen what a difference such a role can make in Merseyside and East London.
National Ugly Mugs is one step in encouraging sex workers to report crimes against them and encourage local forces and the police service at a national level to ensure crimes are taken seriously and investigated properly. It provides people in sex work another option for reporting and getting violent and other crimes against them recognised. It is important as an initiative which recognises sex workers rights to public protection and justice.
We need policing approaches that prioritise the protection of sex workers. It helps if police forces allocate strategic leads for sex work that understand and support the work of sex work projects and are linked to public protection. Police sex work liaison officers can work really well. We need police forces to train officers about professional and respectful policing of sex work. In all forces new officers come into posts, so training if needed for those officers and refresher and update training periodically for officers at different points in their service.
There needs to be a clear channel where complaints from sex workers can be reported if officers behave unprofessionally. Some of the poor examples of police behaviour I have had described to me, for example offensive and insulting language used to address sex workers, in my view are themselves hate incidents. Forces need to ensure there are robust procedures for identifying and dealing with any police incivility and professional misconduct with disciplinary action taken against police officers who do not treat sex workers professionally and take criminal proceedings in cases where criminal abuse has taken place. Police professional standard departments could benefit from liaison with sex work support projects to be sensitive to the issue of sex work and unprofessional policing.
There are different areas and departments that deal with sex workers, rape, sexual assaults, and trafficking. There must be work to ensure all appropriate officers in the operation are trained. Over the years with projects and the UKNSWP, there have been attempts to try to feed into the police, providing guidance, such as giving people time to get dressed, no screaming and shouting, the use of respectful language. If the route of hate crime is othering, this adds another layer of social exclusion and invisibility, which is in itself othering. Robust standards are critical.
More widely, we need to support initiatives that challenge the stigmatisation of sex work and promote the social inclusion of sex workers. We need to ensure quality, accessible, adequately resourced support services are provided that meet the holistic and diverse health, welfare and social care needs of sex workers and those of sexually exploited young people. We need to support the development of sex worker participation in civil society and the planning and delivery of support services for sex workers and sex worker self-organisation. But I think we can only go so far within the current legal framework that criminalises sex work, prevents safer working and contributes to social stigma and marginalisation, which is a key part of the cultural and social conditions that generate violence against sex workers and vulnerability. So fundamentally, we need changes to the legal framework.
Can you tell me a bit more about the National Ugly Mugs scheme?
Funded by the Home Office, the National Ugly Mugs (NUM) Pilot scheme went live in July 2012 and has been running as an operational scheme for just under a year. This was a landmark moment as UKNSWP had for over decade been advocating for a national scheme which linked local sex work support project schemes. The term ‘ugly mugs’ originated in Australia where sex workers in Victoria alerted each other through the project to people who were a danger to sex workers. The first local schemes in the UK were set up in projects in the late 1980s and the majority of projects have since then developed schemes.
Overall NUM aims to increase the reporting of crime by sex workers, to alert sex workers across the UK to dangerous individuals and to aid in the investigation and conviction of offenders committing crimes against sex workers. NUM operates a central, secure, web-based hub, which not only links local schemes but also the online alert boards that escorts have established, and also it provides a scheme through which individual sex workers (female, male and transgender) can access alerts about dangerous people who are targeting sex workers. This is very important because sex workers may be living or working in an area where there is no local project or scheme; they may also go to work in different parts of the UK. NUM enables members to access alerts from throughout the UK. Via NUM sex workers making reports have various options, including sharing information with the Serious Crimes Analysis Section (SCAS), who have a formal partnership with UKNSWP. SCAS is the service that maintains a number of national police databases including serious sexual offences, unsolved murders and missing persons. They support local forces in their investigations and they have been very supportive of NUM.
Membership sign up to NUM has surpassed targets for the pilot period. There has been a lot of activity through training to raise police forces awareness of NUM and issues relating to crimes against sex workers and there have been some positive outcomes in which NUM activity has supported police investigations.
Active fundraising is ongoing to sustain the scheme beyond the pilot period. NUM is the first and only national scheme in the world and we look forward to the evaluation of the pilot, which will be published in June 2013.
Rosie’s research work on treating crimes against sex workers as hate crime in Mersesyside will be published in 2014 in her PhD thesis, which she is completing at Durham University and also in a book chapter ‘Not Getting Away With It: Linking Sex Work and Hate Crime in Merseyside’ in Chakraborti, N.A. and Garland, J. (eds) forthcoming (2014) Hate Crime: Bridging the Gap Between Scholarship and Policy, The Policy Press.
You can learn more about National Ugly Mugs here, make a donation to support the continuation of the scheme, and find out how you can support this vital service. Rosie is undertaking the Great North Swim to raise funds for National Ugly Mugs. Click here for her JustGiving sponsorship page.
Please support our petition on Change.org to make the Merseyside model the standard policing approach for the UK.