South of the River – Roxanne

Compass-SouthComment logo 2When is a story not a story? Or to put it another way, when is it better not to publish a story?

I’m referring to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s coverage of the ‘managed red light zone’ in Holbeck. In case you missed it, they reported on a scheme where prostitutes are allowed to ply their trade in the industrial part of Holbeck and away from people’s homes if they stick to certain conditions. As the YEP reported it was “quietly” introduced last October.

That word ‘quietly’ is quite important. It was a pilot project, it was trying to test out a different approach to a very old problem. It was a 12 month trial that received a lot of publicity before it had run its course. I gather senior politicians in the city were seething, with phrases like “two year’s work down the drain” being bandied about.

How come South Leeds Life hasn’t reported on this? Well I can assure you that it wasn’t ignorance of the scheme that stopped us. We don’t know everything that goes on in South Leeds, but we were aware of this.

We talked to some of the decision makers when the scheme started and they asked us not to report on it. We agreed not to. Were we right?

South Leeds Life’s mission is to inform residents of important issues, our motivation to inform is in order to make South Leeds a better place to live. Most of the time this is straightforward – tell good news stories, let people know where to get help when they need it. But sometimes there is a tension.

Prostitution is a very tricky problem. If it was easy to solve it wouldn’t still be blighting places like Holbeck. What should be done?

If you round up all the women, the pimps would soon replace them. Unfortunately there is a large supply of vulnerable young women who can be offered a cocktail of affection and drugs before they find themselves selling their bodies every night for someone else’s gain. Prostitutes may be part of the problem, but don’t forget they are victims in this too.

Could we round up all the men, who actually, by the way, are the cause of the problem? I’m not sure there could ever be enough prison cells to hold them. It’s a big problem.

So what was this pilot scheme trying to do? It was aimed at moving the problem away from people’s homes. It’s not nice finding evidence of it having taken place outside your workplace, but it’s a lot worse having it happen outside your home. So that would seem to be worth trying to achieve.

Has it worked? Not entirely, some women are still working outside the zone. But there are two very powerful pieces of evidence that suggest to me that it represented an improvement. Firstly the subject had dropped off the agenda from many residents groups. That doesn’t mean people thought it had gone away or weren’t concerned about it any more, but it wasn’t in your face every day and night.

Secondly, the relationship between the prostitutes and the Police has improved. Now if you think they should all be locked up this may be of little interest, but if you think they are victims too then this is important. In fact reports of assault and other crimes against prostitutes have risen. To my mind this must be a good thing too. Men who attack prostitutes are likely to attack other women too.

So South Leeds Life didn’t report on what I think is a good news story. Why not? Because we wanted to let the pilot run its course. Giving it lots of publicity would ensure it didn’t drop off the residents’ agenda and might even of encouraged more men into the area.

We will report on the problems of prostitution and any other issues and what is being done about them locally, but not if it will make the problem worse.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

19 Replies to “South of the River – Roxanne”

  1. By not reporting on it you are being the judge and your job is to report to others who can decide for themselves as its in the public interest… But I’m sure it gave you a warm fuzzy feeling when the “decision makers” asked you to cover it up

    1. This feels like a bit of a no-win situation. You have to use your judgement whether you publish or not. If SLL had reported they may have been accused of it not being in the public interest. RB why not get involved in SLL and help with the decision making?

      1. Hi Lindsey. Personally, in these matters, I have a real problem with understanding how keeping people ignorant of what is being planned can be considered to be in the public interest.
        However, I can easily see how keeping people ignorant can be very much in the interest of those making the decisions!
        Keeping such things quiet removes the need to expend effort in positioning and explaining the plans. It stifles any form of debate and makes it impossible for any alternative proposition to be considered.
        I suspect these may be the real motivation behind the effort to keep this all “hush hush”.

        1. Precisely.

          I’m all for a full open and honest, no holds barred debate about various solutions to tackle this… but these solutions need to actually be on the table for consideration, through liaison with members of the public and businesses that trade in the area, rather than launching what is basically a pilot scheme on the quiet.

  2. I’m sorry, but this entire piece is absurd.

    The website and newspaper are supposedly non-political, yet we have an instance of the content that is distributed being influenced by representatives of political parties, clearly with the intention of minimising the ridicule that they would face as a result of the decisions that they have made.

  3. ”South Leeds Life’s mission is to inform residents of important issues”


    So why the hell wasn’t this the case?

  4. Well done Jeremy for your sensitive handling of this. I feel deeply sorry for these young and vulnerable women. What I do wish is that our local authority would provide safety, advice and a way out of this appalling trap. These young women need to be told about survivor groups and any support available. Sadly Austerity Britain and Leeds will not care for them at all.

  5. It’s good to see responsible reporting exists at one level in the press. Clearly the difference between SLL and the YEP is the need to sacrifice valuable initiatives at the altar of profiteering. You are to be commended for a gutsy decision not to publish.

  6. Austerity Britain?

    Anyone would think that there wasn’t an issue with prostitution in South Leeds until those evil Tories got back in to power in 2010…

    Oh wait…

  7. What is absurd about the sensitive handling of a sensitive matter? Jeremy points out that it is vulnerable women at risk from powerful men. The fact that a pilot was tried is at least something. If those local politicians have shown some concern then this can only be a good thing. Women die at the hands of men known to them everyday in this country and often it is these “sex workers”. Rather than attacking the SLL reporter as some are on here, why not get involved with helping these women to locate survivor groups such as Women’s Aid and others? What on earth has “hell” got to do with it?

  8. Hi Jeremy. I think it’s brave of you to write this article and admit there was a concerted effort to obfuscate and hide what was being planned in Holbeck.

    You write “We talked to some of the decision makers when the scheme started and they asked us not to report on it.”
    Are you prepared to divulge who these “decision makers” are?
    Who were the people who leant on South Leeds Life to stop this being reported?

    I feel this is a really important issue!!
    It drills right down to the roots of the relationship between the individual and the organisations of authority…

  9. Because during Austerity there are fewer resources available to help! And given that it is the man rich from pornography that backs a certain party financially well one wonders what is making some people so angry here – the plight of these vulnerable women or the SLL reporter..

    1. Hi Liz – which party is backed by a pornographer?
      and what has that to do with Holbeck &amp prostitutes? I’m confused :\

      1. RichB, UKIP is backed by Richard Desmond, pornographer and tabloid editor – The Express, famous for printing lies. Double standards is what is troubling me here which is why I have linked it to the matter of vulnerable women trapped into selling sex acts.

    2. Granted, there are fewer resources, but please don’t pretend that there hasn’t long been an issue with prostitution in the Holbeck area – Water Lane has long been known as a red light area, as has the area near the Royal Mail collection point.

      And policing in South Leeds has never been particularly good across a wide range of issues – break ins and such, indeed a local newsagent who I know personally was the victim of vandalism many years ago, he caught the people responsible and the police refused point blank to act… ‘blame the Tories’ isn’t really an option here I’m afraid, despite their questionable record on many issues – especially ones that you personally are concerned about.

      The suffering that vulnerable girls endure shouldn’t be ignored, I completely agree with that, and there are various potential avenues that could be pursued in order to help those currently trapped, and also prevent others in the future, but that shouldn’t detract from a decision by the council that has had an adverse effect on people living locally and also businesses that trade there.

      Of course there wasn’t a full and open consultation process, because it would have been rejected immediately by those concerned.

      I think that a local news outlet should be looking to report ALL matters that could potentially be in the public interest, rather than being selective based upon requests from ‘certain people who make decisions’, irrespective of views on the matter in question, be it political or otherwise.

      If he was asked not to report anything by the police, then I suppose he could be given a pass, but if he has been asked by members of the council executive (or councillors themselves) to keep a lid on something because they were worried about the inevitable negative publicity… I’m not keen on that personally.

      Councillors ought to be big enough to explain their decisions and the reasons behind them – if asked to do so by the public, and face the consequences if people disagree.

  10. Thanks to everyone who’s commented, it is an interesting discussion.

    For me this isn’t a story about political cover ups, but responsible journalism. As far as I understand, our local Councillors were not responsible for the decision to trial this approach. The decision was taken by Safer Leeds which is a partnership between the Council, the Police and other agencies.

    I think our Councillors should be commended for what they did, which was to badger the Police and Safer Leeds to do something positive. The easiest option is to do little or nothing – prostitution is an intractable problem, let’s have a crackdown every now and then, then throw our hands in the air and say “what can you do?”

    I wasn’t asked not to report because Councillors had made a controversial decision that they were embarrassed about. They didn’t want publicity to jeopardise the trial.

    1. All very interesting.

      Then why is it not covered in safer Leeds 2015/16 plan?

      Or have I missed a page?

      And why is it that Mr Morton gets to find out about all this and noone else? (Whilst getting to decide if in the public interest or not.. Which in my opinion it clearly is)

      It puts noone else at risk that wasn’t already at risk before this decision.

      If we can’t rely on a local source of community ‘news’ to provide…who do we turn to.

      A poor show all round.

  11. To those getting in a lather about the decision to be a responsible source of journalism as Jeremy has tried to do around this matter may I say that what should concern us is the plight of these vulnerable young women. Can we remember the hundreds of women who have been killed because of the work they are forced into? Talk of the disgrace of red light” districts is false moralism to say the least. Local authorities cannot stop it as the law is so full of double standards in this regard what is the crime and who are the criminals? What they can do however is to provide advice, support and funding for safe havens etc. Austerity imposed upon society has already made the lives of many unbearable and will continue to do so which is precisely why it must be mentioned in this context. Funding for voluntary support services has been slashed into non-existence. What matters is that as a society we remember to have compassion for those in desperate situations and circumstances. And remember that it is mainly and mostly rich and powerful men that use and abuse women and girls and boys simply because they can consider the scandals slowly emerging since the exposure of Savile and those at the top of The British State etc. It is so easy to attack a voluntary local newspaper and website. Those who think they can do better then get on and have a go.

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