Ipswich: Five years after the murders of five sex workers in Ipswich we look at the debate, should prostitution be legalised?

ipswich: When five girls were picked up on the streets of Ipswich and murdered by punter Steve Wright the tragic lives of women walking the streets of Ipswich were thrown into the spotlight.

Known as the “oldest profession”, prostitution was in Ipswich like other towns across the UK, an accepted but forgotten reality. It lurked in the background, away from most people’s day-to-day lives.

Today, five years on from the horrific killing spree waged by Wright, street prostitution has been eradicated in Ipswich.

No longer do vulnerable women wander the streets, waiting to be picked up by men prowling under the cover of darkness.

After the initial successes of the town’s Prostitution Strategy, in the wake of the deaths of Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls, the focus has now shifted.


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The Make a Change team, made up of police officers, council workers and representatives from other agencies are turning their attention to what is going on behind closed doors.

Tackling off-street prostitution is now their goal.

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Today we look at the debate surrounding the legalisation of off-street prostitution.

On one side Brian Tobin, co-founder of Iceni, the drugs rehabilitation charity at the centre of helping sex workers tackle their addictions.

And on the other, Ipswich’s MP Ben Gummer.

YES - Brian Tobin

The idea of commercial sex in whatever form may be immoral and disturbing to many, however, it’s perhaps na�ve to believe that prostitution can ever be eliminated.

The demand will be met with supply one way or another, no matter what is legislated.

Whilst the future of off-street prostitution needs further debate, I am certain that every effort should be made to prevent people from entering into street prostitution and every assistance should be offered to help people exit.

Street prostitution, in my experience can be, if there is a will, eliminated, as it is a desperate, dangerous and abhorrent activity.

Iceni remain keen to share its experiences, and influence key decision makers at national level to spread good practice in the challenging area of drug misuse and how it perpetuates street prostitution.

I have taken part in a number of public discussions on prostitution across the UK and what is apparent is the ideological beliefs that permeate such debates with all sides bending any meaningful research or pertinent opinions to promote their agendas and more often than not disparage other views.

The situation of the individuals involved in the sex industry differ greatly, from escorts to lap dancers, working on the streets or in massage parlours.

It makes it impossible to say that a solution will follow easily, if at all.

I am bewildered by the huge number of arguments that raged long before 2006 and still rage today surrounding the sex industry and any attempts at a logical debate based on facts and research are often hindered by differing agendas.

Iceni were concerned only with providing realistic and safe opportunities for those wishing to exit street prostitution and Iceni will never turn its back on those who do this work and who seek help, this would be more immoral than prostitution itself.

NO - Ben Gummer

It is, as they say, the oldest profession.

And so, because we believe prostitution is inevitable, we have all but given up trying to stop prostitution ruining lives.

But as we know in Ipswich, something can be done. Not everything – but a lot.

There are very few women who sell their bodies for cash out of choice. They are a tiny number, however, compared with the vast majority of women and girls who do it to pay for drugs or because they have been forced into sex slavery.

We know from bitter experience about the role of drugs in our town’s own tragic prostitution story.

Less well known is the continuing scandal of women and girls in our town and across our country kept as sex slaves.

As we have seen in Ipswich, through the remarkable work done by Iceni and others, the key to helping women escape prostitution is effective policing and a co-ordinated effort to help those with drug problems.

But at the moment, the law is both bizarre and unhelpful: the women – the victims – are criminalised, whilst the punters are barely touched by the law.

I think we should swap that round.

We should make criminals out of the people who pay and de-criminalise the women and girls driven through desperation to sell themselves.

That would stop the silliness of rotating “working girls” through the police cells and magistrates’ courts and give them what they really need, which is help.

Instead, it would be the perverts who prey on such vulnerable people who ended up in the dock.

It’s what they’ve done in Sweden – and it works. Prostitution has declined considerably.

And an important message has been sent out: to take advantage of someone not in a position to make a free choice is much the same as rape – and those who do it will be punished the same way.

I want that kind of justice here. It would lay the blame where it should really be, and help us focus on the victims of this ancient but terrible trade.

- What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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