While media attention has focussed on the charging yesterday of a 48-year-old man with the murder of five women in eastern England, community organisations ‚Äì including projects and individuals identified with the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution (NCAP) ‚Äì say that the reality of sex work in Britain and its impact needs to be faced more honestly.
The bodies of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, who all worked the streets in Ipswich, were found over a period of 11 days this month (December 2006).
The deaths of the women prompted a massive murder investigation with officers sifting through a mountain of potential evidence. It has also reignited the debate about how best to respond in policy terms to the reality of prostitution, and to the needs of the women involved who live in an often harsh environment and face common stereotyping.
Says the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution: ‚Äú[Though] many people have yet to acknowledge it, prostitution is a major problem in the United Kingdom. While drugs, abuse and domestic violence are often contributing factors, people involved in prostitution come from a wide variety of backgrounds and bring with them an equally diverse range of issues to be addressed. Whether they are in flats, on the streets or in massage parlours, people caught in prostitution need to know that there is both hope and opportunity for change.‚Äù
All five of the murdered women were known to those involved in NCAP, a collaborative network of over 40 projects which work to provide routes out of prostitution to both men and women in the UK.
The network has appealed to the media to avoid stigmatising the victims in its reporting of the murders. It says that legalisation of prostitution is not the answer.
‚ÄúWith high levels of violence, abuse and exploitation involved there is no guarantee that this will improve safety and we would instead promote increased choices for vulnerable women and also moves to address demand,‚Äù it says.
But others, Christians included, believe that decriminalisation and safe zones have an important role to play in lessening the link with crime and drugs which makes life for many involved in sex work additionally dangerous and entrapping.
Katharine Raymond, special adviser to former Home Secretary David Blunkett from 2001 to 2004, argues that registered brothels and safe red light areas are the only way forward.
Mark Wakeling, director of the NCAP said, ‚ÄúIncreasingly in society we are seeing the responsibility being placed upon the consumer to ensure their purchases do not lead to exploitation. Here is a prime example of where it is essential that people who purchase sex reflect upon the vulnerability of the people involved.‚Äù
A campaign has been launched to remember the victims of the recent murders. Money has already been pledged to the ‚ÄòSomebody‚Äôs Daughter Fund‚Äô which has been launched by the local Evening Star newspaper in conjunction with Ipswich Borough Council. The proceeds will be used to help vulnerable young people in the area.
The National Christian Alliance on Prostitution says it is glad to support this. An NCAP spokesperson commented: ‚ÄúThere has been much debate over the last week or so, but it is essential we remember the lives of Annelie, Annette, Gemma, Paula and Tania. Each one was a special person and our thoughts and prayers go to all mourning their loss.‚Äù
Questions are also being raised about the media intrusion into the personal lives and circumstances of two suspects who were arrested and questioned, but not charged. Civil rights campaigners are appalled at the way they have been treated.
Information about the National Christian Alliance on Prostitution can be found here.