Sex workers return to the streets of Ipswich while off-street prostitution is also ‘thriving’
A decade after leaders vowed to eradicate street prostitution in Ipswich, new figures have revealed sex working in the town is on the rise.
Today, professionals have made a fresh pledge to ensure the problem does not return to the scale it was at in 2006 when Steve Wright murdered five women from the so-called red light district.
The number of calls Suffolk Constabulary has received reporting suspected street prostitution in Ipswich has more than tripled over a year, jumping from three in 2015 to 10 last year, according to data provided following a Freedom of Information request from this title.
Up until February 7 this year there had been two recorded sightings.
David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said plans for a new and independent system to make it easier for people to call in any concerns were being put in place.
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He added: “I would imagine that those reports to the police are a small proportion of what’s actually being seen because not everyone will report it.
“At the moment police believe that there are a very small number of women involved in street prostitution, but clearly they are not there all the time to be able to witness it. It’s members of the public who are going to be seeing this the most.“
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Brian Tobin, chief executive of Iceni Ipswich, a charity which was on the frontline when the killings happened to help women overcome addictions, said back then there were around 37 sightings a night.
He added: “When I look at where it used to be and I look at other towns and cities and see what problems they have got, it’s huge compared to Ipswich, but we can’t rest on our laurels.
“We have to be vigilant, of course we do, but I still truly believe that in any great shape or form street prostitution won’t return to Ipswich. There’s just too many stakeholders involved who won’t allow that to happen.”
However, the digital age has introduced a new trend in the prostitution trade, with women selling sex online and meeting clients in flats, houses, massage parlours and hotel rooms.
Mr Tobin said sex could be purchased from around 430 premises across Suffolk.
“In Ipswich there is quite a thriving off-street sex industry,” he added.
“There is early indication that street prostitution is dropping, and we think it’s because of the internet.
“People are choosing now to use online.
“I haven’t got an issue with off-street prostitution, if people are safe and they are not coerced, they are not under-age and they are doing it out of their free will, then who are we to judge them?
“In a massage parlour or a flat you’ve got more security. You can vet the people that come.”
Mr Ellesmere said in some cases there were problems of trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
He added: “Everyone recognises that there is an issue with off-street prostitution that needs to be tackled, in particular with the exploitation of very vulnerable and quite often young people that are involved in it.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “It is very worrying to hear of the growth of sexual exploitation in Ipswich - not just for those women who are working on the streets, of whom there are few, but we must do all we can to help, but also for the growing number who are being exploited in hotel rooms and rented accommodation across the town.”
Although prostitution is legal in England, a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling and managing or keeping a brothel, are crimes.
The law states that a property only becomes a brothel when it involves more than one woman, therefore a woman selling sex from an indoor site alone is legal.
Mr Tobin said this rule was “ridiculous” because “the security and safety will be more enhanced if you have two or three women working from a premises”.
According to police, women have been seen working as prostitutes in the following Ipswich streets since 2015: Barrack Corner, Norwich Road, Portman Road, Burlington Road, London Road, Old Norwich Road and St Matthew’s Street.
Suffolk County Council, Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk NHS have all reaffirmed their commitment to tackling street prostitution in the town.