Will making red light district official work?

Mick Gradwell
Mick Gradwell
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Superintendent Sam Millar, of West Yorkshire Police, called it a brave and pioneering decision when he announced the first official permanent red light district in the country.

The ‘managed’ area, which is in Leeds, allows street sex workers and their punters to conduct ‘business’ between the hours of 7pm and 7am, without fear of arrest. I agree with Mr Miller, it’s a brave decision and one that has been taken in partnership between the police, academics and the local authority.

It’s also a risky decision, as just three weeks earlier a sex worker was murdered in the same area. Unsurprisingly, there has been some vocal opposition to the scheme from people who work, live and travel through this particular area. I imagine it must be rather off-putting having to travel through this area during ‘business’ hours for an unrelated purpose, as there are those who will be weighing up to see if you are a potential punter or worker.

Now this scheme has been made permanent, I hope the West Yorkshire authorities continue to publicise a wide range of information that makes clear whether other areas of the country should go down this route. It will be interesting to see if it has any health benefits because Leeds, reportedly, has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the country and recently had a large outbreak of untreatable super-gonorrhea. Will this area simply go downhill, with streets littered with used condoms and drug paraphernalia? Will crime increase, as even more pimps and other undesirables choose to frequent the area?

My suspicion is that nothing much will change because this area was, apparently, already an unofficial red light area. One potential positive change may be that the sex workers may be more willing to report criminal offences against themselves, as they can do that without fear of prosecution. In any event, strong law enforcement tactics on red light areas tend only to have a short-term impact and simply moves the problem elsewhere.

In these austere times, West Yorkshire Police’s main motivation for ignoring the activities taking place in this area, rather than enforcing the law within it, maybe simply because it frees up valuable resources. A UK police force officially stating they are not going to enforce a particular law is fairly new territory. This unfortunately could be the sign of things to come and one inevitability of having an under-funded police service.