SEX workers in Swindon will no longer be slapped with a fine and sent on their way due to new initiatives launched this month to support prostitutes in the Broadgreen area.
A dedicated sex outreach worker has now been employed through a grant from the Police and Crime Commissioner Innovation Fund to focus on sex workers in the area, which has historically seen a problem around Manchester Road.
Police also have new options to deal with sex workers and kerb crawlers by referring them to support programmes rather than sending them to court, which has historically proved counter-productive.
Sue Lee, the new Swindon sex outreach worker, was a drug and alcohol worker for 14 years, having been first contact for many offenders coming through Gablecross or Dartmoor prison.
In her new role she will engage with sex workers in the area during the night-time hours in the safety of a van.
“My main focus is on pro-active outreach,” she said. “It is a way to offer intervention to the girls to be able to sit in the back of the van and chat to us.
“A lot of the work is around sexual health and getting them into a drug and alcohol unit. They are entrenched in their lifestyles, and there is a certain thinking and behaviour pattern that goes alongside that.
“The key to tackling that is assertive outreach out of hours in the van, building a trusting relationship with these women. If you do not have that it is not going to work. I could probably name most of the sex workers in Swindon.
“I need to get a good snapshot of what is going on, and work out what needs to be done tomorrow.
“The women are often quite suspicious and it can take quite a while to build up a rapport. They are very vulnerable and at risk of serious harm. Many of these women have endured significant trauma, and their lives are often chaotic.
“People can only make changes from places of safety and that is what we are trying to offer them.”
Since taking up the post on June 30, Sue has been on four outreach sessions, reaching around 40 girls.
“There is quite a concerted effort at the moment to tackle this in the Broadgreen community from the police and other agencies,” she said. “If someone goes to court they can get a £100 fine and be back on the streets the next day, but this is about looking at the attitudes and impact in the local community.”
Rose Mahon, Nelson Trust Women’s Services Manager, said there is now a new support network in place for the police and other agencies to tackle the problem.
“When we were successful with the funding what happened was a bit of a shift in policing policy,” she said. “The vice officer has now initiated a conditional caution, so the police will give two warnings to the women on the street. On the third occasion they get a conditional caution, which means they have to engage with ISIS and the outreach worker three times, and will attend our clinic on a Wednesday. It is about getting them plugged into the services to try to start them getting back into a more stable life.
“What we hope to achieve in a year is to demonstrate that this post is imperative as part of the support services for people in Swindon, so that we have a positive impact in the local community.”