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.