In recent years, however, the city`s willingness to work with street sex workers and provide them with a safer environment has surfaced in the form of the Holbeck managed approach. Sarah agrees. She tells us that one of the dormitory residents has recently been linked to a series of assaults on women in the neighborhood, a woman who has prostituted herself, the other residents. The so-called „managed” approach to prostitution was presented by local leaders as an attempt to provide a safe haven for sex workers when it was introduced in 2014. But it quickly became a cesspool filled with sex and drugs. We continue, passing several stores that have recently closed. People stopped coming to the area because of their reputation, so the people who ran these businesses retired early. We hear about a local seamstress who also has problems because women don`t want to come for a fitting once they know where she is. I think of the taxi driver`s face when I told him I was coming to Holbeck. „It also affects local residents when they apply for jobs and what you have,” says Claire. Local residents have spoken to many women who advertise in the area, and not a single one they have spoken to wants to be there. Of the approximately 140 women involved in street prostitution in the region, about 95% are drug addicts.
Spencer Place in Chapeltown had become the epicentre of sex work in Leeds at the time, but in 2001 a group of residents led a protest after prostitutes were often seen on a number of surrounding streets. This led to the introduction of a £200,000 vice squad to stamp out the illegal activities of prostitutes and clients. Although prostitutes still worked in Chapeltown, in 2004 there were 170 sex workers working on the streets of Holbeck between Water Lane and Holbeck Moor. The successes of the Chapeltown Morality Squad had simply moved the city`s red light district elsewhere. „When it was suspended, the problem simply migrated to residential streets. Supporters of the area point to the lack of arrests of pimps or traffickers as evidence that crime is not taking place in the area. But Kevin Hyland, the former anti-slavery commissioner who headed the Metropolitan Police`s anti-trafficking unit, says that doesn`t mean it won`t continue. According to an all-party parliamentary group on prostitution and global sex trafficking in 2018, sex trafficking takes place across the UK on an „industrial scale” that goes undetected by police and is ignored by gamblers. He points out that the strategy and the partners involved do not have the power to change the law or legalize crimes related to sex work. To put the numbers in context, there are many more players using the area than there are women engaging in prostitution.
As a result, the police target a much higher proportion of women than men and punish them much more severely. For women who work in the area at night, the biggest change is that they no longer face the prospect of being arrested. Sarah* worked „three or four times a week” on the streets of Holbeck until last December to fund her heroin and crack cocaine use as well as that of her boyfriend. Leeds` managed area for prostitution was supposed to make life safer for women, but who benefits from this radical approach amid an opposition firestorm? But at night, this industrial area becomes something completely different. It is turning into the UK`s first designated red zone, where street prostitution takes place openly between 8pm and 6am, without women or sex buyers being prosecuted. There was something about the way the taxi driver said „Holbeck” when I gave him the address that focused me. I was on my way to a small group that was driving through Holbeck`s red light district, Leeds – officially known as the `Managed Approach` and locally as the `Zone`. It consists of designated streets in a business district adjacent to a working-class residential area with mostly dilapidated Victorian terraced houses. On a street outside the area, a lone man sits in his car with his hazard lights on. I asked him if he would be happy to talk to me about coming to the area to pay for sex. I explained that I was a journalist, and he agreed to speak. However, complaints from local residents have steadily increased over the past year, triggering a series of street protests.
Women give their income to their pimps and drug dealers and many have nothing to feed or shelter. „That`s why tell us modern slavery,” says Sarah. „We see women looking in street bins for leftovers and cigarettes. They make a fortune, but within hours, the pimps have taken it. The associations feed them and give them a drink every night during their missions. „For Basis, the advantage of the zone is that women are no longer arrested and stigmatized, have better access to their services and can be helped to find alternatives to prostitution.