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The Merseyside Model Saves Lives

So why is it not being rolled out nationally?

 

In the UK the conviction rate for rape is an alarmingly low 6.5%. However, a 90% conviction rate was achieved in Liverpool in 2009 for those who raped people in one particular social group, and in Merseyside in 2010 the equivalent conviction rate was 67%. These substantially higher conviction rates were the result of a strategic change in policing that engages with support services working with this particular social group and that respects the human rights of all people equally, ensuring all victims of crime are treated as victims and have recourse to justice. You might have thought this would be the norm but sadly it is not – for this group the “Merseyside Model” is still a unique exception.

 

Throughout the UK, there are an estimated 80,000 people within this group. Whilst it includes women, men, transgender people and children, it is predominately female.

 

The people within this group are stigmatised and often excluded from mainstream society and so are at a far higher risk of rape and other violence than the population as a whole. 70% of these women have suffered being raped multiple times; 75% have suffered physical and sexual abuse in childhood and 67% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Their mortality rate is far higher than the rest of the population – in London these women's mortality rate is twelve times the national average. And these people, who face this high risk of rape and violence, are the least likely to report crimes committed against them to the police.

 

All women face barriers to reporting sex crimes committed against them: Many women fear being judged or blamed, and attitudes within society confirm the validity of those fears. Surveys and research conducted by the UK Home Office, Amnesty International and other organisations have found disturbingly that even today, some people believe a woman is responsible for being raped if she is wearing certain clothes or if she is drunk.

 

But everyone in our stigmatised, excluded social group faces additional barriers to reporting sex crimes and any other crimes committed against them, including the risk of losing their livelihood, their home and their status within their wider community, as well as the risk of being alienated by family and friends and the risk of losing custody of their children. Most often these fears are validated either by previous firsthand experience or by knowing others within this group who have had these experiences.

 

If a particular policing approach was known to be achieving a 67% conviction rate for those who rape people in society in general, and yet it was only being used in one part of the country, there would be public uproar. Most people in the UK want to live in a just society that treats everyone equally. So perhaps one should presume that the lack of uproar is because most people are unaware of the Merseyside Model, rather than because the people in our stigmatised, excluded group are in fact in prostitution.

 

This approach is not only essential to ensure tens of thousands of people in prostitution in the UK receive treatment from the police that respects their human rights, giving them the protection of the law and recourse to justice, when they have been the victim of a crime – it is essential to protect the rest of the population too. There are well known cases where serial rapists and murderers have targeted people in prostitution before going on to attack others in wider society.

 

There were noticeable results within months of this revised policing approach being applied in Merseyside in 2006, with an increase in the rate of crimes against people in prostitution being reported. At that time, it would have been early for the scheme to be considered as a national model, but there was more than enough evidence after the results in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) recommended police forces across the UK adopt it. None did. And still, two years later, nothing has happened. Adopting the Merseyside Model is clearly not mandatory, but optional. London seemed close to rolling it out last year after Andrew Boff, a Conservative Member of the London Assembly, recommended it for the Metropolitan Police Force in a report commissioned by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. But nothing has happened in London yet.

 

This policing model is actually not unique to people in prostitution. The same police approach is applied to others when crimes committed against them have been motivated by hostility and/or prejudice: Towards their religion, race, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. These types of crimes are monitored by the Crown Prosecution Service and ACPO and this approach, treating those crimes as hate crimes, is a national decision, not left to the discretion, or bias, of each police force.

 

Bigotry is the most probable cause of the state abandoning people in prostitution, and bigotry is the primary motive of crimes committed against them. They are viewed by criminals as ‘easy targets’ because criminals know they do not have the protection of the law and recourse to justice. Their experience fits “various definitions of hate crime victimisation,” says Rosie Campbell, an expert in this field. This includes ‘othering’ and those that “define hate crimes as expressions of power, prejudice and hostility against groups that have been socially marginalised.” As such, not making the hate crime approach the national standard for people in prostitution is a hate crime in itself while women are being beaten, raped and murdered as the state looks the other way.

 

Bonnie Barratt, who was only 24 when she was murdered in 2007, might still be alive if the hate crime approach had been in operation in London at that time. Maria, Kate, and countless more women I know who have been raped but could not turn to the police would have been able to; more rapists would be off the streets, and fewer people would be being raped. In Brixton, Jayne Rogers would not regularly witness the police driving past women being beaten in the street in broad daylight. And people could no longer stand by watching, saying “it doesn’t matter, she’s just a prostitute” as if that untruth could excuse their inaction. That would be as false in law as it is in actuality. But currently the law tells society the lie and that is deadly.

 

People in prostitution are stigmatised and are vulnerable to higher rates of violence, rape and murder. What motivates the criminals who target them is the very same as what causes the injustice in the law. For these people to gain the human right of the protection of the law and recourse to justice, crimes committed against them must be declared what they are – hate crimes.

 

Please sign and share the HM Government e-petition to make all crimes against people in prostitution/sex work hate crimes throughout the UK. 100,000 signatures are needed before 22 October 2013.

 

 

Interviews with Maria, Kate, Jackie Summerford, who is Bonnie Barratt's mother, Rosie Campbell, Jayne Rogers and Andrew Boff can be read here along with others, demonstrating the urgent need for the Merseyside model to be made mandatory UK wide.

Ruth Jacobs

About the Writer

Ruth Jacobs is the author of Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, a novel exposing the dark world and harsh reality of life as a drug addicted call girl. The main storyline is based loosely on events from her own life. In addition to fiction writing, Ruth is also involved in journalism and broadcasting, primarily for human rights campaigning in the areas of sex workers’ rights, anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking. Her websites are www.soul-destruction.com and www.ruthjacobs.co.uk.

 

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