ACPO exec wants 'ugly mugs' database to protect sex workers
All part of 'rational debate' on prostitution
Society needs to be having a radical debate about the laws on prostitution – and the answer, according to Deputy Chief Constable Simon Byrne, ACPO's lead on prostitution and sexual exploitation, involves funding a national database of "ugly mugs".
That is, a database of dodgy punters – or men suspected of attacking sex workers.
Such a scheme has been pioneered in Liverpool since October 2006 when the Home Office awarded a grant to the Armistead Street outreach centre to employ an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA). One activity undertaken by the ISVA has been co-ordination of the Armistead Street "Ugly Mugs" scheme, which enables sex workers to report crimes committed against them to the project.
The project can then alert other sex workers to potential attackers, whilst the scheme is also seen as a way to encourage sex workers to report crimes to the police.
Ugly Mugs schemes are also run in a number of other cities across the UK, but unlike the Liverpool scheme, they are not supported by government funds, and they are separate schemes: information is not shared between the different projects.
Whether the government – which has made much of cancelling a number of similar big database projects connected to crime and policing – has any appetite for this suggestion remains to be seen.
DCC Byrne delivered his views off the cuff in an interview with the BBC in respect of another matter - the murder of three sex workers in Bradford earlier this month – before jetting off to Switzerland for his winter break.
That left the ACPO press office ever so slightly up in the air as to whether this was a new initiative – or merely support for an existing one. However a spokeswoman did suggest that she believed that there was to be a wider-ranging consultation on issues around prostitution by the Home Office in the New Year.
The Home Office were even less sure. A spokesman there pointed out that although they had provided support for the Liverpool scheme, this was an area in which ACPO had the lead. They then added that: "The Government is committed to tackling the harm and exploitation associated with prostitution" and that "we want to see the police use the law, where appropriate". So no surprises there!
Critics of the government approach to sex work, were less supportive. They point to what they see as inconsistency on this issue, with the last government, in the person of the then Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, vociferously committed to closing down punternet – an online resource that is used by sex workers and clients to discuss issues arising from sex work and to alert individuals to known ugly mugs.
The main difference between this approach and that proposed by ACPO is that punternet is in effect compiled and run by sex workers and their clients: a central ugly mug scheme would be compiled and run by the police.
Government may have changed – but the approach to sex work, based in many areas on a "zero tolerance" approach has not. The issue then becomes one of trust: if government and police, through legislation such as the Proceeds of Crime Act, which gives the police a financial stake in criminalising sex work, take a punitive approach to sex work, it is less likely that sex workers will co-operate with police in bringing ugly mugs to book.
It may be that that is the debate that DCC Byrne had in mind – but we will have to wait until he returns to find out. ®
It's a start, but it's a long way from proper decriminalisation
We don't "need a debate" on this, the facts are already out there and the arguments boil down to a) As long as it doesn't cause problems for anyone else, it's their life and their business b) We don't like it, so they shouldn't be allowed to do it and c) The NIMBYs
Of those only one argument really makes any sense and, properly implemented, would deal with the NIMBYs as well.
So first of all get rid of the ridiculous law that say that two or more women working in the same building for their own safety counts as "running a brothel".
Secondly allow them to employ security staff who *won't* be classed as pimps "living off immoral earnings" (in fact get rid of that stupid phrase altogether)
Thirdly ensure that women (and men) working in the sex industry get the *full* protection of the law that they are entitled to, such that violence and other unacceptable behaviour against them isn't just considered to be "a risk of the job"
Finally just get rid of the attitude that these women are automatically "victims" and "need help to get out of prostitution" whether they have got into it of their own free will or not. By all means protect those who are forced or trafficked into it, but if not, we don't need ham-fisted efforts like those from Harriet Harperson to close down sites like Punternet or criminalise men for failing to prove that a woman hadn't been trafficked (an impossible task)
... you could just legalise and license it, allowing girls to work in brothels guarded by a couple of blokes built like brick shithouses who would swiftly sort out anyone who tried any violence, rather than them having to brave what happened when parked up in the middle of nowhere.
But no, let's set up a really expensive and probably ineffective database instead.
Why do we need databases of everything?