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STREETS BEHIND: What happens with UK kerb crawling law

by on February 16, 2009

IN THE WEE hours of the morning here in the UK at present, Channel ITV3  hosts a programme known as ‘Nightwatch with Steve Scott.’ On at least two occasions recently, this has featured the strange shenanigans of the Nottingham vice squad, as they chase around after street prostitutes and punters for loitering and so-called ‘kerb crawling’ in the city’s red light district.158177791_6f98045a961

As an example of unctuousness, Scott leaves little to be desired, the whole series being an unquestioning, uncritical endorsement of the fine actions of our boys and girls in blue.

Two police officers – Andy Coles and his partner Dav Singh – steal the limelight in Nottingham, lying in wait in plain clothes in their cars waiting for punters to strike up liaisons with the ladies of the night, then following the couples to catch them in flagrante in parks or down back alleys and render their coitus well and truly interruptus.

“That’s outraging public decency!” they cry, above the sounds of hasty rezippings and background traffic, before blinding their embarrassed captives with references to sections this and that of whatever Act.

This, then, is how Nottingham’s police officers spend their time. And it may go some way to suggesting why this city, once renowned for its lace, is now regarded by many as the crime capital of Britain, recently ranked No 1 in England for murders, burglaries and car crimes by action group Reform.

It has twice the violence of the English average, four times the burglaries, and some three times the sexual offences and car thefts, a position that has predictably left the authorities there in a state of denial.

So let’s ask a few questions that need asking – (as Steve Scott would be the last person on earth to think of them).

WHY, with so much other work to do in the way of unsolved murders, violence, burglaries etc, are Notts Police preoccupied messing around with consenting adults doing what comes naturally at night in parks and back alleys – the police equivalent of litter picking in the middle of the Battle of the Somme?

(“What did you do in the war, Daddy?” “Well, I were out on the streets of Mapperley, lad, arrestin’ them filthy kerb crawler lads and givin’ them lasses a right talkin’ to…”)

The answer, it appears, is cash. While there seems to be no extra dough for solving murders, GBH, burglaries etc, according to Councillor Michael Edwards of Nottingham’s Mapperley Ward, the police received nearly £100,000 from the Home Office to finance just his local anti-kerb crawling measures way back in 2001-2 alone.

Writing in early 2006, the councillor proudly boasted that 238 kerb crawlers had been arrested in 2005, along with 124 sex workers. Meanwhile, just five women had been “successfully supported” to exit prostitution.

Letters had been sent to 214 kerb crawlers’ homes, causing heaven’s knows how much unnecessary suffering, and 138 men had been successfully coerced into forking out £200 to attend John School (known in Nottingham as the ‘Change Program’) to teach them the error of their ways, with another 31 on the waiting list. Their option had been to find themselves in court. Whatever happened to ‘due process’?

In the programme, and in their John School, some strange statistics emerge. One is the high level of class A drug addiction among street prostitutes, a fact well confirmed by a number of studies of communities of inner city street prostitutes.

But another is the average age given for starting prostitution – just twelve . This, frankly, is stretching the bounds of credibility a long, long way. There was no suggestion that any of the street prostitutes in the two programmes were under age (now 18 for prostitutes) and while there are plenty of studies of communities of street prostitutes in the world, such a low age in the UK would raise academics’ eyebrows.

There’s Stephanie Church’s study of indoor and outdoor prostitution in Glasgow, Leeds and Edinburgh, for example, which found an average starting age of 19.6 for outdoor workers and 22.7 for those indoors. So where on earth does Nottingham get its twelve from? Don’t ask Steve Scott – the police say it, so it must be true.

One elderly local resident on the programme is not too happy about the anti-kerb crawling drives, notably the signs put up around the area by the squad boasting of how many kerb crawling arrests they’d made so far this month. He’s worried about the affect on his house price.

If I were him, I’d be more worried about what the signs weren’t saying – the number of unsolved murders, assaults, burglaries etc. If the signs reported that information, a change of police priorities would no doubt sharply follow. “Bust the burglars and bugger the buggeries” might be a fitting sign for a placard or two.

So what happened, I wonder, to the 119 of the 124 street sex workers arrested who had not been “successfully supported” to exit prostitution back in 2005?

The academics would tell us that they – and others – were likely displaced. This means that they altered their patterns around the vice squad’s activity in one of three ways. 

  • Firstly, they alter the times they work to those when they do not believe the squad is operating. This normally means they have to work longer, often more  anti-social hours, increasing their exposure to danger.

  • Secondly, they alter their area, sometimes to parts of the community more poorly lit, sometimes to ones with which they are less familiar and often further away from their homes. All these further reduce their already tenuous safety. This aspect has caused untold problems in Aberdeen recently following the Scots’ unwise adoption of English kerb crawling laws.

  • Thirdly, they may cease prostitution temporarily and seek some other means of income – generally to support drug habits – often through shoplifting, handling stolen goods or other forms of crime. 

Guardian writer Diane Taylor summed up the situation street sex workers are left in back in Leeds during a kerb crawling operation in 1999, where the UK’s first John School was being pioneered by the notorious Julie Bindel, no less. One street prostitute, Julia, was quoted, saying:

“It used to be £20 for straight sex in a car but now the going rate is £10. I used to be out from 7-10.30pm and could earn £130. Now I can be out from 5pm until midnight and I might go home with just £40. It’s too easy for men to get caught on the well-lit main roads now, so we’re forced into dark side streets where we can’t take car number plates or get a good look at a client before we decide whether or not he is safe to get into the car with. And there’s a lot of tension and hostility between the women that just wasn’t there before.”

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s latest perpetrations include making life tougher on the streets for both punters and prostitutes. Kerb crawlers will lose their warning (the offence at present has to be persistent) and the sex workers can be sent for compulsory rehab, this despite much academic evidence suggesting she’s doing nothing but making a bad situation worse

To quote Dr Teela Sanders, Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Crime and Deviance at Leeds University:

Levels of violence and vulnerability on the streets have been linked to dangerous working conditions and environments that are exacerbated by intense policing.

It has been documented how policing affects how women involved in prostitution use public space and that increased surveillance means that traditional ‘red light districts’ are dispersed across a wider area.

Not only does geographical dispersal reduce the protection that women are afforded by working together, but women increasingly change their strategies of safety.

They work in dark, unlit areas away from places of visibility that can be of assistance if attacked and often work later into the night.

They are keen to find a customer and move from the public street as quickly as possible for fear of arrest. This means that the stringent screening strategies women apply to judge whether the potential customer will be trustworthy are abandoned as women jump into strangers’ cars without checking for vital signs.

Equally, where there is visible policing there are less customers because of the fear of arrest. This increases competition, drives down prices and encourages women to sell sex unsafely and have encounters with more men to make the same amount of money.

Women who use street prostitution as a means of making money are not deterred by the police but instead adopt a set of strategies to avoid detection.

In Birmingham, which has been a heavily policed area (also by community residents through the Streetwatch group) for over a decade, prostitution continues and women continue to evade arrest.

The effects of policing essentially push the most vulnerable and marginalised women into an invisible ‘underworld’ which is difficult to locate for key harm reduction services.

With migrant women (of both legal and illegal status) starting to appear on the streets in UK cities (London, Manchester,) target hardening against women involved in street prostitution will further marginalise this group. This in turn causes more dispersal and, in the absence of containment, more communities experience problems associated with prostitution.”

Sanders adds that kerb crawling operations are enormously expensive in terms of police resources: “Approximately 12 kerb-crawler crackdowns are initiated each year in London and each operation yields between 25 and 35 arrests. To obtain these small numbers of arrests, 20 police officers are needed for operations that each last a week.”

“The content of the rehabilitation programmes is significantly bias towards the extreme view that prostitution is violence against all women and provides only very cursory information that can assist men to make more responsible and safe choices about buying commercial sex. Van Brunschot evaluated a Prostitution Offender Program in a Canadian city and highlighted how the John’s school did not provide a balanced view of prostitution or give the other side of the exploitation story but re-told ‘worse case scenario’s’ that are not the whole reality. “

Maybe that explains those Nottinghamshire 12-year-olds.

Furthermore,  she says, John Schools can actually be dangerous if men’s complex motivations are uncovered but not addressed

It’s high time Nottinghamshire Police started tackling, rather than creating,  Nottingham’s real problems, and that Steve Scott started asking real questions rather than bidding for the title Sycophant of the Year.

  1. Belinda BG permalink

    Also, the figures used about men paying for sex relate to historical behaviour over many past years. Ergo if a man went to a sex worker just once 5 yrs ago then he would have been included in this figure.
    Kerbie programmes don’t work. The British Psychological Society has repeatedly presented formal briefings about this.
    Coppers changing behaviour on a one-day programme is no more than wishful thinking of the moral minority.
    Such programmes flout ‘due process’ and have no place in criminal JUSTICE system (the clue is in the title).
    Notts is Vernon Coaker’s constituency so obvioulsy they would, wouldn’t they? The evidence is based on as much falsehood as that on WMD and the great City boom. All hot air and no hard evidence.

  2. Derek permalink

    unctuousness – I was looking for an adjective that best sums him up – perfect! Aberdeen is interesting as I lived there and was stunned by the easy going attitude to the girls that stayed within the “tolerated area” both by Police and locals who seemed pragmatic – I’ll guess they’ll suffer Liverpool’s fate now. Once upon a time in Liverpool (before operation Angel) the girls worked a square called Catherine Street in the town centre however clamp-down after clamp-down saw that area increase to what the local paper declared as 7 miles of streets scattered throughout the city making it even more impossible to police than before. Apparently it is now Europe’s largest red light area. I don’t think women decision makers are objective enough to be putting these laws in place! Yes, before anyone shouts I know the most effective policing of red light areas was Glasgow, and that was a women chief constable, however she wasn’t making national laws!

  3. Derek – I don’t know that the gender of the legislators has a lot to do with it – Kenny MacAskill is responsible for the chaos in Aberdeen, and whilst Jacqui Smith could be argued to be behind the current Policing and Crime Bill nonsense, much of the donkey work on it was done by Vernon Coaker, and much of the opposition in the Lords has come from three noble Baronesses – Miller, Stern and Howe, bless them, all of which have their heads well and truly screwed on.

    What you say of my old home city of Liverpool is interesting. I believe Liverpool has become the first city to catagorise assaults on sex workers as ‘hate crime’, which is good news.

  4. Simon permalink

    Just watched Nightwatch. Thing I noticed most was how polite the police were arresting mostly none violent people. Is this because they are being filmed? Not at all happy with the police at the moment because the other day I was pulled over and issued with a fix penalty accused of pulling into a bus lane when I did no such thing (police did not know it was a car lane) and their behaviour was attrocious, shouting, finger pointing, stroppy, irrational and changing stories when challenged. You don’t get treated like that for a hit and run offence. Took my complaint to the IPCC but don’t hold your breath.

    Regarding protitution. Why it is the oldest profession and should be legalised and managed rather than try and drive it underground making it more dangerous for the women. Criminalising the trade only wasting police time arresting mostly none dangerous people. Not all prostitutes are drug addicts and not all drug addicts are prostitutes, if the police has a problem with drugs either target drug dealers or legalise soft drugs, it is not rocket science. Like many public service funded by taxpayers these schemes of arresting punters and working women putting them through programs or fining them through the courts are just job creation, plain and simple.

    Frankly speaking what consenting adults do between themselves is no business of anyone else or the police. I’ve been to Red Lights areas in places like Amsterdam and MongKok in Hong Kong, these places are properly regulated and the working women are healthy and certainly the best looking and best dressed you are likely to see, then you come to this country you see walking zombies roaming the streets. This is the result of police clampdown on the trade and drugs is only a side effect because of this criminalising the pofession.

  5. Simon permalink

    I remember a documentary about physically handicap man in the UK recieving government money to travel to Amsterdam with his carer for sex because it was his basic human rights to do so.
    Now why cant this law apply to everyone else? If a man cannot settle with a partner his situation is the same regardless if he is handicapped or not. The fact that someone need to travel overseas to get a legitimate service is a sad reflection the UK find itself in.

  6. I do consider all of the ideas you’ve presented on your post. They’re really convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too quick for newbies. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

  7. I really seem to agree with every aspect that
    ended up being put into writing within “STREETS BEHIND:
    What happens with UK kerb crawling law An Anthology of English Pros”.
    Thank you for all of the info.Thanks for your effort-Myrtle

  8. Imagine you are a healthy 50 year old man, divorced after 25 years of marriage and hadn’t had any form of sex for over a year. You have been unsuccessful in finding a relationship, so where is the harm in payment for consenting adults .Regulate to avoid exploitation and stop driving it underground .ALL HEALTHY MEN HAVE NEEDS, AS DO WOMEN PROSTITUTION IS PROVIDING A SERVICE..

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