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17 May 2006 PR 06/53

Tactics to ease community conflicts in street sex work areas identified through Joseph Rowntree Foundation study

Coexistence between local residents and street sex workers could be improved by better management of public spaces and more integrated responses, according to a report by a team of researchers, which included Dr Phil Hubbard and Dr Maggie O’Neill from Loughborough University.

Capturing the attitudes and concerns of local residents, female street sex workers and project staff working with them, the study – commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – provides an important body of evidence to inform current debates in this area. Researchers examined the issues in five areas of street sex work across England and Scotland, identifying effective policies and how public spaces might be better managed.

For many residents, street sex work in their neighbourhoods did not significantly affect their overall quality of life. Where people had concerns, these centred on the visibility of sex workers and associated nuisance such as resulting debris and noise. Street sex work also impinged on some residents’ use of public space and some associated it with drugs and crime.

Community views and responses to street sex work varied, ranging from sympathy and engaging with the women, to action to displace them from local streets. Coexistence appeared greatest where integrated responses to community concerns had been developed with a range of partners, including sex worker support projects. In contrast, residents’ anxieties about sex work appeared higher when such initiatives were absent or if there was a sense that no one was managing the public realm. Mediation and awareness-raising were found to be crucial elements in the transformation of one area from intense hostility to a more harmonious coexistence.

In some cases, enforcement action by the police and local authorities, such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, were used to deal with the concerns of residents. However, this was identified as being of limited use to address long- term issues, particularly if no support package was offered to sex workers.

Sometimes ASBOs distanced women from areas where they could access vital services or forced them to operate in unsafe areas in attempts to avoid being arrested, often increasing their vulnerability. In such cases, problems often moved elsewhere.

Sex workers’ greatest concerns were around creating a safer working environment, with physical violence an anxiety for most of the sex workers interviewed. Many had experienced violence, particularly from clients but also from residents or passers-by. Low-level abuse from members of the public was common for most of the sex workers.

Researchers found much support for the introduction of managed areas, but felt it to be an issue in need of further exploration.

Jane Pitcher, lead researcher on the project, said: “An integrated response to sex work involving all parties is essential. Tense situations can often be diffused once residents, agencies, sex workers and staff from support projects all start talking to each other. We found that sharing different perspectives and having opportunities to air concerns and then identify potential solutions together was a more effective approach than isolated enforcement action.”

The study was funded from the JRF’s public spaces research programme, which aims to inform policy and practice on how such areas are used.


– Ends –

For further information contact:

To speak to one of the Loughborough researchers, Dr Phil Hubbard or Dr Maggie O’Neill, contact:

Notes to editors

  1. This press release has been adapted from the one issued by Nasreen Memon, JRF Head of Media Relations: 020 7278 9665 / 01904 615 958 / nasreen.memon@jrf.org.uk

  2. A summary of the report findings and the full report can be downloaded from the web at www.jrf.org.uk/pressroom/releases/150506.asp

  3. Living and working in areas of street sex work: From conflict to coexistence by Jane Pitcher, Rosie Campbell, Phil Hubbard, Maggie O’Neill and Jane Scoular, is published by The Policy Press and available from www.policypress.co.uk or Marston Book Services, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN (tel: 01235 465500) price £9.95 plus £2.75 p&p.

  4. Dr Phil Hubbard is Reader in Urban Social Geography, in Loughborough’s Department of Geography; Dr Maggie O’Neill is a lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences.

  5. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

    In 2006 Loughborough celebrates the 40th anniversary of its University Charter, awarded on 19 April 1966 in recognition of the excellence achieved by Loughborough College of Advanced Technology and its predecessor Colleges. Loughborough University of Technology was renamed Loughborough University in 1996.

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