We spoke to Police Community Support Officer Fairbanks from Humberside Police about the work she does to promote safety for sex workers in her area, and the innovative diversion course for clients of sex workers that she devised.
PCSO Fairbanks has worked to support sex workers in Hull for a long time and has developed and strengthened the Sex Worker Safeguarding Partnership throughout this period. Recognising the difficulties and hardships that many sex workers face, the partnership was established to try and improve outcomes for sex workers and champion their rights and safety. Alongside this, PCSO Fairbanks has established a diversion programme for clients of sex workers, specifically those found kerb crawling. The diversion programme serves to educate participants on the circumstances of sex workers, teach basic feminist principles and humanise sex workers to clients, while offering an alternative to prosecution and court. Previously, this had been the standard outcome for those found kerb crawling, but it was clear that this was not preventing the problem as reoffending rates were high.
Hence, the course was established to reduce reoffending rates and redundant punitive measures against the clients, whilst educating them in a way to promote the safety of sex workers. PCSO Fairbanks devised the course after having met to discuss with and learn from multiple people and groups, from professionals in the field to prisoners and sex offenders.
The police operation: how the clients of sex workers are identified and referred to the diversion course
The operation involves police, led by PCSO Fairbanks, visiting areas synonymous with sex work. Firstly, PCSO Fairbanks will go to the area and speak to the sex workers. Having worked in the area for a long time, PCSO Fairbanks has built a really good relationship with the sex workers in the area. PCSO Fairbanks will engage with the women to see how they are and will find out who is working. Plain clothed police officers will also attend to look out for those kerb crawling. If someone is identified, plain clothed officers will alert PCSO Fairbanks who will speak to the sex worker to gain more information or further details. All officers wear body worn cameras, meaning there is evidence to substantiate accusations of kerb crawling immediately. The sex worker clients are given the option to have a roadside interview under caution or a voluntary interview where they can come into a police station and have a solicitor present. If they maintain their innocence here, they will go to court. Once interviewed, an ERO decision is made (decision made by Sergeant / gatekeeper) as to whether the person is suitable to take part in the course, looking at the evidence and outside factors. If suitable, they are given a letter with details of the course and how to book onto it. This is through the Central Ticket Office, who complete all relevant admin relating to the course. The person pays for the course themselves which costs £225 (£25 for the admin fees with the remaining towards police and agencies involved in the sex worker support partnership).
Diversion programme for clients of sex workers
The diversion programme is a full day course running from 9.30am – 3.00pm and takes place in a neutral location rather than a police station. It is delivered to a maximum of 10 people at once, to ensure everyone can be engaged. The course is based on CBT and is very interactive, comprising of prompted discussion led by the participants. It aims to address all the many layers relevant to sex work and buying sex. It has a strong focus on humanising sex workers and encouraging those undertaking the course to consider the sex worker’s wider circumstances and lives, but also covers implications and consequences for those charged with kerb crawling and buying sex generally.
Support for Sex Workers
In addition to diverting clients of sex workers, Humberside police work to safeguard the women engaging in sex work. The police lead a multi-agency network with agencies that work to offer support to sex workers in the area. Part of this work is the “On-Street Tactical” meeting; this is held every 6 weeks to discuss the safety and safeguarding of the sex workers they work alongside, and the hard-to-reach sex workers.
When Humberside Police go out to complete operations, safety packs are distributed to the women, as well as panic alarms. Police will speak to women during operations to ensure that they are feeling safe and to gauge their circumstances; with a focus on ensuring that they are not being forced into sex work and are engaging in it autonomously, whilst also encouraging sex workers to report sexual assault.
Other agencies involved in the partnership are:
- The Lighthouse Project: a charity that supports women who are affected by sexual exploitation including those who are soliciting on the street and those who have exited sex work or trafficking. Lighthouse complete outreach work including visiting areas to speak to women and offer advice and support. This includes supporting sex workers if incidents have occurred and helping to report it. This is generally to police, or if the sex worker doesn’t feel comfortable with this, they can report it to the National Ugly Mugs.
- Adult Social Care
- Mental health teams
- Renew: an intervention agency offering support around addiction and substance and alcohol use. They have two strands; community support and support for those involved in the criminal justice system.
- DAP (Domestic Abuse Partnership)
- Humbercare: a local housing provider and support agency. They have two premises available for women with complex needs who have experienced abuse. This is essential as prior to this service it had been difficult to find accommodation for the sex workers and so they often had to sofa surf. In addition to securing accommodation, sex workers receive wrap around support.
- Blue Door: a domestic abuse agency
- Preston Road Women’s Centre
- Together Women Project
- Conifer House: a sexual health support service. They are mobile and go out and offer health and support services to women where they are.
- Mesmac: a service offering support both to on-street sex-workers and those working in massage parlours.
- Pause: a service offering support to mothers who have had two or more children removed from their care. This service does not attend the multi-agency meetings but work in close collaboration with the multi-agency partnership.
- Hull City Council: The multi-agency partnership works closely with Hull City Council if there are issues relating to housing and anti-social behaviour, though they don’t generally attend the multi-agency meetings unless their properties are being used as massage parlours.
Evidence of Success of the Diversion Programme
As the programme is still in its infancy it is yet to be evaluated, though this is due to be undertaken by the University of Hull and will start once the programme is more established. However, despite the early stages, evidence of the course’s success is clear- in the year since the course’s inception no one has gone on to reoffend. Regular feedback routes are currently incorporated in order to adapt the course where appropriate and to ensure it is effective and fit for purpose.
For developing the programme, PCSO Fairbanks has recently won Policing Violence Against Women and Girls national recognition for Behaviour Change in Perpetrators. In recognition of her work in safeguarding sex workers and developing an out of court disposal, PCSO Fairbanks was also a runner up in the Humberside Excellence in Policing award and a finalist at the National PCSO Awards for Innovation.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, who can provide you with PCSO Fairbank’s email address.