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24 September 2014
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The oldest profession in the world...
Prostitution on the streets
Is the county's sex industry flourishing?
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire reporter Max Rushden has been busy investigating the county's sex industry. We didn't ask why or how...

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A BBC Radio Cambridgeshire investigation has found a flourishing and growing sex industry in the county.

Sex adverts

From adverts in the local papers and on the internet, we've found a total of 70 brothels, massage parlours and escorts, who are either based in the county, or who travel here in return for payment for sex. The number of adverts in the local papers has increased dramatically over the past few years - and there may be many more places we're not aware of.

BBC Cambridgeshire reporter Max Rushden explains:

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Why do this investigation?
I began to wonder whether adverts in local papers were really for brothels, and whether we were looking at one place with lots of phone numbers or if there was a significant number of places people were going to for sex. This isn't an attempt to sensationalise or moralise on the issue. It's up to you to decide whether you approve of it or not.

The aim of the investigation is to find the extent of the sex industry in Cambridge and to listen to the stories of the people involved in it - all we're saying is, it exists. Some of you probably know this already, some of you don't.

So, how many brothels are there?
I spoke to Steve, who used to run a massage parlour in the Mill Road and Coleridge Road areas of Cambridge:
"From the centre of Cambridge it would take ten minutes to find somewhere, and if you could get a cab it would be two minutes. As soon as you could knock on the door, that's how long it would take".

Money for sex...

After researching the local papers and the internet I've found a total of 70 opportunities to pay for sex in the county. This includes brothels, massage parlours, single women and men based in the county or prepared to travel here in return for payment for sex. It's obviously difficult to be sure about the numbers of prostitutes who work on the streets.

The Papers
I spoke to 34 massage parlours advertised in the local papers. A further 17 couldn't be contacted so are not included in the overall figure. These are advertised in the Cambridge Evening News, The Hunts Post, The Wisbech Standard, The Cambridge Town Crier and Weekly News and the Peterborough Herald and Post - and also in one National Paper - the Daily Sport. These phone numbers are changing all the time, and new ones keep turning up each week - and quite often different adverts will carry the same number. But we can be sure about the 34 I've spoken to.

The Internet
I spent about two hours on the web. When I typed "sex", "escorts" and "Cambridgeshire" into google, I found over 1,800 sites. Obviously not all of these were actual sites for massage parlours or escorts but I did find 36 sites that I could check were real.

On the streets
Unlike many cities around the country - there aren't specific areas, or "beats", where street prostitutes go. But there are small pockets of street prostitution in the county - particularly in Peterborough. Recently members of the City Council went to look at a designated red light zone in Northampton to see if it was a sensible way to deal with street prostitutes - that's a sign in itself that it's an issue that concerns a number of residents.

Trina, for example, lives in the centre of Peterborough. "Lots of the prostitutes are drug users, so there are syringes left in the street, which isn't very nice. We constantly get harassed and asked if we're doing business by curb-crawlers. It's happened to me when I'm just walking out with a friend. It's happened to other friend's children, who are just 12 and 13!"

Is prostitution illegal?
The law is complicated. The act of one consenting adult paying another for sex is NOT actually illegal. So, a woman who works on her own, in her own house and charges people for sex is NOT breaking the law.

But the laws that exist around it make it almost impossible to carry out prostitution legally.

To put it as simply as possible...
Brothels are illegal - that's a room where more than one woman works - even if they work on different days or at different times. A massage parlour is normally a classier name for a brothel.
It's also illegal to live off immoral earnings - that could include pimps, massage parlour managers, and receptionists.

It's illegal to advertise for sexual services - though not to advertise massage or escort services like those in the papers and on the internet. It's also quite likely that people renting a house and using it as a brothel are committing planning and tenancy offences. At a street level it's illegal to solicit for trade, and curb-crawling is illegal.

So, why don't the police close these places down?
People in the industry have told me the police are often compliant when it comes to the sex industry. "I had a reasonably good attitude from the police in the counties where I worked," says former massage parlour owner Steve. "At the same time, when I was finally arrested (in Hitchin) it was by a constabulary that had previously gone so far as to confirm their happiness - in writing - that I was trading in their town. I had a letter saying they weren't happy with me working in one location, but if I was to move the premises to a different part of the town they would be less concerned to the point of not having a problem and not disturbing my work."

Selestar is a former prostitute who worked in many towns in the eastern region, including Cambridge. She started work on the streets at the age of 15. "They (the police) did look out for the girls; they never used to move you on. They used to just say as long as you weren't using drugs or ripping off the punters then they were fine about it."

Money for sex

But the police do have powers to stop street prostitution and close down brothels. Steve Welby is the sector inspector of Peterborough city centre and central ward: "We have some new legislation under the Anti-social Behaviour Act using anti-social behaviour orders and we've taken two orders out on two very persistent prostitutes.

Steve says there aren't enough resources to deal with all the massage parlours: "The truth is, massage parlours are not a priority. The things that change it is whether there's a criminal aspect to the prostitution like girls being forced to work or underage girls - that would make it a priority, but the massage parlours that you see advertised in the papers are not a priority.

People talk about whether prostitution should be legalised - why?
There are lots of different views about whether prostitution should be completely legalised. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that prostitution is an industry of massive extremes.

Some women enjoy being prostitutes and providing a service, and they earn a good living from it. At the other end of the spectrum, there are underage women, and women trafficked from other countries who are forced into the industry. The question is, would legalisation, and the regulations that would come with it, benefit the industry and the people who it affects?

Pro-legalisation
The sex industry is a range of jobs that should be considered in the same way as other jobs women do. So, they should enjoy some level of protection, basic pay and conditions and union representation as any other profession. This would require a big shift from treating the selling of sexual services as a crime.

Against legalisation
Prostitution and other aspects of the industry can only be exploitative and abusive of women, and strongly marked by violence, rape and sexual assault. So we should try and stop prostitution altogether, perhaps by criminalising the men who seek to pay for sex.

What do you think?
It's a debate that has been raging for years. Why not join in on our
message board and tell us what you think...

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