Sex Workers in the UK's 'Legal Red Light District' Tell Us What It's Like

Leeds is the first city in the UK to allow sex workers to do their thing without fear of arrest. Trialled in 2014 and made permanent in January of this year, the pioneering scheme has seen sex workers able to operate in an industrial estate in the city's Holbeck district between 7PM and 7AM...

Photo credit: The Conversation

Photo credit: The Conversation

...and so far seems to be working out pretty well, despite calls for better street lighting, more CCTV and extra policing.

I visited Holbeck to ask a few of the area's regulars if and how the scheme has affected them – if they actually feel safer working there, and how much their relationship with the police has changed.

Anna*, 27, is dressed in black boots, a black dress and little else. She's only been using the Holbeck estate for a couple of months – a newbie compared to some – and worked all over Leeds before the scheme was started. She considers the area to be the safest place to work in the city, but says the police presence does little to reduce the crime rate in the area.

VICE: Do you feel safer now that the Holbeck area is regulated?
Anna: I don't think it's made much difference, really. The only thing I've noticed is that the drug situation is more secretive than before – but it hasn't been reduced at all. The police are round here most evenings but they can't do much. Selling sex is still illegal, but they're letting us sell it here. It's a bit confusing for everyone involved.

V: How did you end up in this line of work?
A: It was never going to be a long-term thing. The place I used to work at got relocated and I couldn't afford to get there every day. I tried my best to find a new job, but I have two young kids and I couldn't afford a babysitter either. I know a girl who does this, too, and I was shocked by how easy it is and how much money you can get from it – on a good night I can make about £700. I've been doing this for a few years now and it's more difficult to leave than you'd think.

V: Do you think the relationship between sex workers and the police around here has changed?
A: It's all very tongue in cheek. They know exactly what we're doing and we know that they know. Their main job now, I think, is to crack down on the other parts; I've been stopped and checked for drugs more times than I can count. They're also quick to stop us working in clients' cars – we're supposed to do that "off site", at their place or something. I feel a lot safer if they just drive round the corner, because I know where I am still. Another girl who works round here was taken to the middle of nowhere and just thrown out the car.

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