A red-light district has been made a permanent part of Leeds a few weeks after the murder of a sex worker in the area designated for legal prostitution.
Leeds City Council decided to continue with the decision to allow a ‘managed zone’ in the Holbeck area of the city despite the death of 21-year-old prostitute Daria Pionko last month.
Sex workers working in the area between 19:00 and 07:00 face a lower likelihood of arrest, for offences of loitering, soliciting and kerb crawling, on the condition that they comply with a number of specified rules.
The idea behind the move has come as a response to ten years of an enforcement approach that failed to reduce incidents of prostitution and did little to improve the area for residents.
It is hoped that it will also help to improve communication and trust between sex workers and the police, which could lead to more offences being reported and better protection for the women involved.
Cllr Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Safer Leeds, said: ‘I accept that there are people who will always have a moral objection to the issue of prostitution. I’m of the opinion that it is an industry that’s as old as time and it isn’t going to stop and, as a city that is responsible and cares about the people who live here – including the women who work in this industry – we have had to take a pragmatic approach to keep them safe.
‘The managed area isn’t a universal cure-all. Sex work remains – as last month proved – an extremely dangerous and fraught occupation. But it’s incumbent on us to make it as safe as possible.’
Superintendent Sam Millar, who heads the city’s community safety partnership Safer Leeds, said: ‘The issue has existed for many years in the Holbeck area and the previous enforcement-based approach did little to change the situation. There was agreement across the city’s partner agencies that we needed to do things differently.
‘The managed area, which is part of a wider strategy, has significantly improved the relationship between sex workers and the police, giving them the confidence to report offences. This has directly led to the convictions of dangerous offenders who present a risk not just to sex workers but to the wider community.’
‘It has also reduced the impact on residential communities and increased the number of sex workers accessing support from third sector agencies that can help them to break the cycle,’ he added.