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Looking at the Merseyside model


photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin ccViolence against sex workers is a crime not an occupational hazard.

Should crimes against sex workers be classified as hate crimes?

In 2006, police in Merseyside said sex workers were a vulnerable group of people they wanted to protect and they declared crimes against sex workers to be hate crimes.

This is ‘the Merseyside model’.

In 2010, the results of the introduction of the Merseyside model brought about astounding results – the overall conviction rate in Merseyside for crimes against sex workers was 84 per cent, with a 67 per cent conviction rate for rape.

The national average conviction rate for rape is just 6.5 per cent.

In Merseyside sex workers are treated like victims not like criminals, but this proactive approach is not being replicated in other areas of the UK.

The Oath a police officer takes states that they: “do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”

So, no matter what your occupation, the police are therefore bound to treat everyone with equal respect and dignity.

Yet many sex workers say this does not happen.

Rising author Ruth Jacobs studied prostitution in the late 1990s undertaking a dissertation on prostitution, examining the psychological and social issues and theories of crime.

Part of her research involved spending time with, and interviewing, three women who worked as call girls.

Since then, she has continued to draw on her research, writing her debut novel ‘Soul Destruction: Unforgivable’ and campaigning for the Merseyside model to be introduced nationwide.

Ruth’s campaign, ‘A cry for the Merseyside model’ can be found on her website, where she publishes interviews she has conducted with exited prostitutes.

These interviews contain accounts from women who have been attacked and raped by clients.

They describe how they felt unable to report the incidents to the police for fear of being considered a ‘deserving victim’.

They describe how the police have made them feel like criminals rather than victims and how they have felt judged rather than supported by those they needed help from.

Kate, an escort in Ireland, talking about the times she was raped, explained why she did not report the incidents to the police.

She said: “I felt I would be judged by the police and [I feared] their detailed questioning.

“I felt [the rapes] would be categorised as ‘alleged’ rapes, with question marks over my reliability and circumstances … and that feeling would be too hard to handle.”

She went on to describe how that feeling of being unable to report the crimes against her has left a lasting impact on her life.

“It’s like I have to take responsibility for everything: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being raped, not fighting back, not trying harder to get away and now not letting it happen to anyone else.

“If I stop and think about it for too long, all my energy disappears.

“So I have placed both episodes in the back corners of my mind for now.”

Maria, a prostitution survivor who was also raped, described how she too felt unable to report the attacks to the police.

“I was raped and I was beaten up on more than one occasion. One time, I was drugged and left in the car park of a nightclub.

“When I came to, I was bruised on my waist, legs, and breasts.

“I was too frightened to go to the police… there was lack of trust. You didn’t know which policemen to trust.

“Half the girls were being touched up by them. It was a vicious circle. There was no one to help you.

“It would be like you chose to do this job: get out and do it, or get a life.”

Maria continued: “…[the police] don’t take crimes committed against [prostitues] seriously, not when I was working.

“They have the attitude that you’ve put yourself in danger and you need to get yourself out of it.”

No one deserves to be raped; no one puts themselves in the position of being raped.

Rape or sexual assault of any kind should not be considered an occupational hazard of sex work.

If sex workers report a crime and seek support from the police they should be treated like victims, like any other victim of a crime.

The Merseyside model seeks to do this.

It also seeks to provide sex workers with the support they need to leave the sex industry if that’ i what they want to do.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have a nationally agreed definition of hate crime.

Hate crimes are taken to mean any crime where the perpetrator’s hostility or prejudice against an identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised. This is a broad and inclusive definition.

A victim does not have to be a member of the group. In fact, anyone could be a victim of a hate crime.

The CPS and ACPO have, however, agreed five monitored strands of hate crime; hostility or prejudice in relation to disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity.

So, presumably under the current law relating to hate crime, a sexual assault or rape against a transgendered sex worker or homosexual sex worker could be considered a hate crime.

But this leaves a massive group of people not protected by hate crime.

Hate crime is currently high up on the agenda for the police and criminal justice sector.

If crimes against sex workers were defined as hate crimes, as in the Merseyside model, and sex workers were treated as victims of hate crime, this would help bring this abhorrent crime into the spotlight.

Defining crimes against sex workers as hate crimes is hugely important to the lives of sex workers.

Police would be forced to record the crimes in their annual reports and perhaps this would suffice as the evidence required to ensure all areas bring into force new policies which actively seek to protect sex workers.

The general population tends to be repulsed by hate crime – by classifying crimes against sex workers as hate crimes, the general public will be made to stop and think.

As Kate said: “I would like to think that no matter which part of the spectrum you belong to – pro or anti, the actual health and safety of those working in the here and now [should] be uppermost.

“The Merseyside model should not be allowed to become part of the sex trade debate – it’s more important, more urgent than that.”

Introducing the Merseyside model nationwide would encourage sex workers and prostitutes to report crimes against them to the police.

It would help to ensure the police took these reports seriously and to ensure the police offer the right level of support to an extremely vulnerable group of women.

It would help to increase knowledge of those ‘clients’ who are dangerous.  The police could actively seek them.  Women could actively avoid them.

Lives have been lost. Prostitutes and sex workers are not only raped; some are killed by ‘clients’.

A nationwide Merseyside model could significantly reduce these risks.

You can support the campaign to make all crimes against people in prostitution and sex work hate crimes throughout the UK, by signing the petition.

If you have a blog or website, you can help support the campaign further. See here for details.

You can follow Ruth Jacobs on Twitter @RuthFJacobs.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    I think it telling that violence against women isn’t classified as a hate crime full stop. The men’s media called pornography is filled with descriptions of us as female dogs and whores, rape victims are portrayed as liars and described as sluts etc, rape itself is laughed at and rapists applauded, 1 in 3 girls suffer gender attacks at school and still this level of violence is treated as not ‘hatred’. So WTF is it?

  2. Unfortunately, women have always been treated as second in the pecking order to men. Thankfully, women are getting wise to this now and finally finding their voices and speaking out about it. Sex workers and prostitutes are extremely vulnerable. In my mind, crimes against them can be considered as nothing but hate crime, but for prosecutions to be successful and for such offences to be classified under hate crime, parliament needs to take swift action amend the legal definition.

    If you want to support the cause, please sign the petition and spread the word. The more signatures received the more likely it is that some positive action will be taken.

    Thanks for commenting Vicki.

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