Medway sex worker help scheme branded 'a PR stunt'

image copyrightAFP/Getty
image captionThe project helps sex workers trying to get out of the industry with housing and education

A scheme credited with tackling prostitution in Medway has been described as "ill thought out" and a "political PR stunt".

The claims were made to BBC Inside Out by two public servants associated with the Safe Exit project.

The programme aims to help sex workers trying to escape the industry by providing housing and education.

Kent Police said there is a "fine balance" between enforcing the law and supporting sex workers.

The project is run by the police, Medway Drug and Alcohol Action Team, Medway Council and NHS Medway.

Launched in August 2009 in a response to complaints, it was hailed a success after seven months having reduced the number of sex workers on the streets from more than 100 to fewer than 20.

'Ill thought out'

In 2010, the number of women arrested for soliciting rose from five to 14, and the figure increased to 29 women in 2011.

But critics say the project did nothing to support the women who were taken off the streets.

One of the public servants who worked on the scheme, speaking anonymously, said: "It seemed more like social engineering, where they thought they could put a quick and dirty, ill thought out programme in place, put the women through it and they would all exit prostitution and lead happy, safe lives thereafter.

"But there was no real extra funding for this, and it was ill thought out.

"What was happening was that the women we had been working with suddenly stopped talking to us, so we weren't able to help them keep them safe on the streets."

He added: "For all of the furore about how successful this scheme was, it has had absolutely no impact on the lives of women working in the sex industry in Chatham.

"It was just a big, political PR stunt."

Another worker added: "It was very much a police initiative, I remember there was no after care.

"There was one girl who managed to get clean and stay clean but, unfortunately, she died."

Community Safety Unit Insp Joy Dean said Kent Police had to balance what is best for both the sex workers and the community at large.

She said: "Soliciting and kerb crawling are both criminal offences and Kent will always take a strong hard line approach to any criminal offences.

"But what we must not lose sight of is the fact that the sex workers are themselves vulnerable.

"It's a fine balance between enforcing the law, but also providing support."

Inside Out South East is broadcast on Monday, 13 January at 19:30 GMT on BBC One and nationwide for seven days thereafter on the iPlayer.

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