Leeds' sex workers will "continue to be supported" throughout the lockdown, council says

The safety of sex workers in Leeds remains a priority during the lockdown, council chiefs say, as campaigners call for the managed approach to be reconsidered in light of the crisis.

Street sex workers were temporarily banned fromtradingin Leeds' managed approach zone when the lockdown was announced. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

Street sex workers were temporarily banned from trading in Leeds' managed approach zone when the lockdown was announced, and are being supported by third parties to ensure everybody stays indoors.

But a campaign group based in the nearby residential area says it wants authorities to reconsider its approach to the city's sex trade once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

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In an open letter to Leeds City Council, the Save Our Eyes Group said it had seen a reduction in certain types of crime and litter in recent weeks, but that the lockdown would be an opportunity to support those working on the streets out of sex work.

Leeds' managed approach zone in the industrial area of Holbeck

The council meanwhile has maintained that the welfare of sex workers would remain their priority.

In the letter, the campaign group called for council chiefs to "permanently ban all kerb crawling and punters on foot", "repatriate trafficked women back to their families" and "continue to help women exit prostitution and access support services so they can rehabilitate".

The group also called for clarity on whether an independent review into the managed approach, launched earlier this year, would have its timescale impacted by the outbreak.

The letter continued: "The unexpected Covid-19 lockdown has created the opportunity to reduce the on-street sex trade in Leeds. Following that, we hope the women can continue to be helped to break the cycle of addiction and exploitation.

Street sex workers were temporarily banned fromtradingin Leeds' managed approach zone when the lockdown was announced. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

"Therefore it leaves no justification to encourage sex buyers back to South Leeds when lockdown measures are lifted.

"We appreciate the time and money spent on an independent review but we feel the Covid-19 measures have superseded all previous models of managing street prostitution in Leeds."

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said it would "absolutely not" be stopping or reducing support services for sex workers in this time, which included providing "additional accommodation support".

The spokesman added that the reduction in sex work in the zone meant they had seen fewer levels of associated crime and litter.

The Save Our Eyes group has called for council chiefs to "permanently ban all kerb crawling and punters on foot" following the lockdown. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

He said: "Current intelligence has seen significantly less sex work activity in the area. Calls for service and associated crime has reduced, along with sex-related litter picked up by Leeds City Council’s cleansing team."

Leeds-based charity Basis Yorkshire, which supports sex workers, last month called for the Government to make marginalised women and girls "a priority" during the lockdown, signing a letter which urged Boris Johnson to ensure vulnerable females were not "excluded from planning" or "exposed to the very worst consequences of the pandemic".

Coun Debra Coupar, the council's executive member with responsibility for Safer Leeds, said: “The government has set out steps that everybody must take to tackle the spread of coronavirus. From a Managed Approach standpoint, we are continuing to utilise every power at our disposal to make sure that these measures are properly adhered to with regarding to street based sex work. Just as importantly, we are also ensuring that the variety of meaningful support which has been put in place through the initiative to protect the health and welfare of all sex workers continues. This will continue to be our priority at this time.

“Any further announcements which are made regarding strategic or operational changes to the Managed Approach will be made as appropriate and guided by government guidance regarding coronavirus.

Leeds-based charity Basis Yorkshire last month signed an open letter to the Government calling for vulnerable and marginalised women to be supported throughout the lockdown

“In terms of the Independent review, the findings of the report are still expected in the summer as per the original timescales. We gave a firm undertaking to local residents and businesses, along with all stakeholders, that such a review would take place and this is a promise that we remain fully committed to providing in full. With that in mind, I believe it is vitally important that both the findings and recommendations of the Independent Review are taken fully into account and considered as part of any future decisions that are made regarding the Managed Approach scheme.”