With nearly 65,000 signatures, our Change.org petition calling for Theresa May to make the Merseyside hate crime model law is gathering momentum. We've yet to hear from Mrs May, but as Home Secretary responsible for freeing up the police to fight crime more effectively, I hope we do. However, we did hear recently from Assistant Chief Constable Chris Armitt, the National Police Lead for Prostitution, and he met with me, Jackie Summerford, mother of Bonnie Barratt who was murdered at age 24 in the sex trade, and Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs, to discuss our campaign.
Based in Merseyside where he is Assistant Chief Constable for People Development, ACC Armitt sees first-hand the benefits to people in the sex trade, the police and the wider community of the hate crime approach. Since 2006 when they adopted the model, reporting of crimes against sex workers has increased and their conviction rates for rapists and other violent criminals are astounding, making all of society safer. Here he explains why he advocates for the Merseyside model of policing prostitution.
What do you see as the benefits of the Merseyside hate crime model?
It forms only a part of an overall approach that focuses on the vulnerability of those involved in the sex industry. The Merseyside model aims to build trust and confidence amongst sex workers to report when they are attacked, which allows the police to identify and arrest dangerous people who pose a threat to the whole of society. It also means that when sex workers are operating in a manner that is causing public concern then influence can be used to quickly modify behaviour and reassure communities.
Would you agree the hate crime model for policing prostitution should be made law in line with other hate crimes which are monitored by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers?
I think any steps that are taken that enhance the police response to attacks on vulnerable groups such as sex workers are important. By treating such attacks as a hate crime it helps to reassure the victims that the Police Service are taking their crime seriously and it ensures that the subsequent response and investigation will be as comprehensive as possible.
What are your thoughts on the hard line policing approaches to on-street prostitution some forces have adopted, such as Operation Clearlight in Redbridge, London, and the Safe Exit operation that ran in Medway, Kent?
The operational challenge facing respective forces is diverse and challenging and ultimately each force needs to decide what operational tactics it employs to deal with any issue that is of concern to the communities it protects. The national guidance we promote urges forces to work in partnership to achieve long lasting solutions to benefit communities and sex workers.
Do you know why no other police forces have taken on the 2011 Association of Chief Police Officers' guidance recommending the adoption of the Merseyside approach?
It might be that some forces see it as a big step to take, ultimately change takes time and all we can do is to continue to promote what we believe is best practice. That is exactly what I will continue to do.
Please add your name to our Change.org petition, hopefully bringing us closer to hearing from Theresa May and making the Merseyside model the national standard policing approach for prostitution.
Follow Ruth Jacobs on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RuthJacobs