Ipswich prostitution strategy works, says ex-sex worker

Jacci Goldsmith
Image caption Jacci Goldsmith said the prostitution strategy had helped women turn their lives around

When Steve Wright killed five sex workers in Ipswich, Jacci Goldsmith was regularly out on the town's streets to earn money to feed her drug habit.

The notorious murders prompted police and social workers to develop a strategy to eradicate the sex industry from the Suffolk town.

Nearly five years on, Ms Goldsmith, 39, said it helped to turn her life around and success stories like this has led to the scheme being extended recently.

Now off the streets and off drugs, she is helping other women follow suit.

"I got into class As when I was 13," said Ms Goldsmith, who moved to Ipswich from Sunderland in 2002.

"This girl I knew at the time took me down to the street. It was easy money, too easy."

Those decisions would later lead to her three children being taken away from her and enduring a violent relationship.

In Ipswich, she needed £40 a day to feed her drug habit, but was making up to £200 a night working the streets.

However, when the strategy to tackle kerb crawlers was launched it removed street workers' customers and their source of cash.

Authorities were forced to act after Wright murdered Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls - who had all been working as prostitutes in the town - in 2006.

"[The strategy] used to anger us, but I could see the point at the time as well," said Ms Goldsmith.

Men found paying for sex were arrested and the women were offered support by organisations including the drug rehabilitation charity, Iceni Project.

Police made 138 arrests for kerb crawling, between March 2007 and March 2008, in the first phase of the clamp-down.

Ms Goldsmith said the tactic helped her quit prostitution after three years on the street.

But as the police had cut off links to clients, Ms Goldsmith and others needed alternative sources to fund drug habits.

Image caption Ipswich's prostitution strategy was prompted by the murders of five women by Steve Wright

"I ended up shoplifting instead," she said. "At one point I was banned out of the town centre, so that was hard - really frustrating.

"Iceni tried to help us at the time, but it was too chaotic - [I was] too out of control to want help at the time."

But, in December 2008 she decided to take up the offer of support and spent seven months at a rehabilitation centre in Hampshire.

"I woke up one morning and thought, I need to sort myself out," she said.

Ms Goldsmith said she has been off drugs for three years and is now working alongside the prostitution strategy.

She has her own flat, sees her children and gives talks to women who are going through what she did.

'Sexually exploited'

"I'm loving life at the minute," she said.

Ms Goldsmith was one of 30 women believed to be regularly working in Ipswich in 2006 - police claim the number is now zero.

Supt Alan Caton, one of the senior police officers involved in enforcing the strategy, said: "I have to think as a partnership we're extremely satisfied with the way the strategy has unfolded.

"We now don't get reports of kerb crawlers on the streets of Ipswich, or women working on the streets as prostitutes.

"And we've not had reports of women who have been raped, seriously assaulted or robbed who worked as prostitutes on the streets."

The strategy was due to run for five years but in October was granted further funding so that it could continue.

"There's a lot that needs to be done," said Mr Caton.

"We're looking at the more hidden areas of this type of activity - particularly around children who may be sexually exploited.

"We've got adults who are being trafficked and sexually exploited."

Brian Tobin, co-founder of the Iceni Project, worked alongside the police to support the women who were battling a drug habit.

"The police are much maligned but on this occasion they did a terrific job," he said.

"They were fantastic in helping us start relationships with these women who we never had the opportunity to do before."

But although Mr Tobin believes the strategy has been successful, he does not think it should continue.

Suffolk County Council spends £250,000 a year on the initiative, but Mr Tobin said existing groups, such as the NSPCC and Iceni, are capable of providing the same service more cheaply.

He said: "There are already organisations working with families that are aimed at preventing future generations of becoming tomorrow's addicts, offenders and prostitutes."

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