Sex in the Suburbs: Hundreds of cautions handed out in space of two years

Prostitutes on the streets of the West Midlands are only jailed as a last resort, say police.

In the two years since a crackdown was launched on sex workers almost 800 street cautions have been handed out in the West Midlands.

But officers in the region say that they want to encourage those in the industry to get out.

As part of Operation Scarlet, which has been running since 2012, sex workers are given street cautions and are only arrested if they are issued three cautions in 90 days.

Once arrested they are offered help from support groups, drug services, housing and benefits advice and support from GP and medical services.

If they refuse help but continue working on the streets then police can apply for an engagement support order - something that gives the courts the power to tell a prostitute to receive help instead of a fine.

If they still offend then a criminal anti-social behaviour order will be considered and if all else fails they could be jailed.

The operation runs across the Midlands including hotspots where there have been problems with prostitution in the past.

Sites where sex workers have been known to operate in the West Midlands include Calmore, Palfrey and Pleck in Walsall and Parkfields in Wolverhampton.

Superintendent Tim Godwin, from the Professional Standards department at West Midlands Police, said officers would only arrest a sex worker if other courses of action have failed to make a difference.

He said: “This type of action is a last resort but there comes a time when this is absolutely the right course of action.

“Being able to force sex workers to talk to us and partner agencies helps us understand their needs and their issues and will help us signpost them to the right organisation to give them the right help.

“In addition we can then fully understand the network of criminality that supports prostitution.

“Dismantling this network is essential to remove on street prostitution from the West Midlands. “

He added that many of those in the industry think it is the only think they can do to make the cash they need to get by.

He said: “A lot of sex workers think this is the only way they can earn money but Jo’s story highlights that people will employ former sex workers and will give them a second chance.”

And he added that, like Jo, the former prostitute that features in their training video to advise officers how to deal with sex workers, those in the industry have ended up selling sex for a number of reasosn.

“Sex workers are a very vulnerable group and, as Jo’s story highlights, the reasons why they fall into prostitution is a complex one,” added Supt Godwin.

“The women and men we encounter tell us that their work is not a lifestyle choice.

“They have been driven into this industry through factors that include, poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism domestic violence and other complex issues.

“It is important that our officers realise this and by sharing her story on film, Jo allows officers to appreciate the issues sex workers face and how a blanket approach does not work.”

Since 2012 sex workers have also been offered support to help them turn their lives away from street prostitution.

The have been helped by drugs and alcohol services, social housing, health workers, probation, mental health services, faith leaders and also by the police as well.

The aim of the support is to improve the quality of life for the community and reduce the vulnerability of sex workers who are plying their trade on the streets.