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Police must keep working to keep people safe

Dan V.jpgThe sex industry is complex. It is constantly evolving and is largely hidden from public view. That means sex workers are some of the most vulnerable people to violence in our society. All too often they are abused, exploited and profited from. Sadly, many of these crimes will go unreported and unpunished, because sex workers still fear they won’t be believed or will themselves face investigation.

Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers and for me, as national policing lead for sex workers, it’s a time to reiterate our commitment to improving the consistency of our front-line response and increasing trust, so victims have the confidence to report crimes to us. It’s also about sending a message to perpetrators who specifically choose vulnerable people as their victims because they expect to get away with it. We will investigate all allegations and take action against you.

Society has mixed views on sex work and the issue can polarise opinion, with some believing it should be challenged at every level, and others saying it’s a personal choice for individuals who deserve police protection like anyone else. Many people would support elements of both sides.

It is not for me, or for policing, to pass judgement on the personal choices people make within the law. It is for policing to keep people safe, investigate crime and bring criminals to justice. That applies to everyone in society and the focus must always be to target those who abuse, exploit and commit acts of violence against people they know to be more vulnerable. The only people responsible for violence are those who commit it.

In January chief constables across the country agreed a refresh of our national guidance that makes it clear officers will not start from a position that treats sex workers as criminals, but rather focus on those who are committing violence and exploitation against them. In some cases that could be punters who are using violence, but it also extends to the organised crime groups who we know are involved in the sex industry. It is our responsibility to robustly investigate and bring those involved to justice.

We are working with groups representing sex workers, like the National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a charity which aims to end violence against sex workers. They take reports and share them anonymously with police. We also work with the charity to reach some 25,000 sex workers in the UK with safety information.

Police forces are working to better understand their local picture and identify and engage with partners and support services, so we can gain the trust of the community. We also recognise that some victims will not want an investigation and are seeking only to warn others. We’re working to make sure officers know of the appropriate agencies to refer victims to when police action is not possible.

Working closely with charities and the sex worker community is the key to increasing confidence in the police, so we can do everything we can to keep them as safe as possible. Just as the sex industry is constantly evolving, so too is the policing response. I am committed to making sure our procedures and guidance are the best they can be to protect the vulnerable and bring criminals to justice, so that we can all work towards an end to violence against sex workers.

National Police Chiefs' Council lead for Prostitution and Sex Workers ACC Dan Vajzovic