On the day Stephen Griffiths starts a life sentence for the murder of three women who had been involved in street sex work, the UK Network of Sex Work Projects calls on the government to fund a UK wide “Ugly Mugs” scheme to enhance local schemes and improve intelligence sharing about perpetrators of crimes against sex workers across the UK.
Sex workers are often hesitant to contact police directly due to fear of arrest or public identification and other effects of stigma. “Ugly Mugs” is a system, originally developed by sex workers, which many UKNSWP member projects have adapted to enable the sharing of information about violent offenders, robbers and others who commit crimes against people in the sex industry.
Sex workers can report crimes against them to sex work projects, providing detailed descriptions of the incidents. If the sex worker gives permission, this information is also passed to local police. However, some areas do not operate “Ugly Mugs” schemes, and there is no mechanism for intelligence to be shared UK wide even though offenders may move from one area to another and some sex workers work across different parts of the country.
A new BBC documentary examines safety issues for people who sell sex in the current legal context. It looks at the barriers sex workers face in reporting crimes committed against them and points to a UK wide “Ugly Mugs” scheme as one important way in which local “Ugly Mugs” schemes could be linked so sex workers are more effectively protected and perpetrators caught sooner.
The introduction of a UK wide “Ugly Mugs” scheme has support from amongst the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The documentary, to be screened on the BBC News Channel on December 31st, looks at safety, violence and policing issues in the UK sex industry. Women from Bradford, Liverpool and Blackpool share their experiences of sex work. The programme examines the support that exists for individuals in the industry and looks at the different approaches to policing sex work around the country.
The UKNSWP welcomes the BBC investigation and calls for a re-examination of current legislation.
Georgina Perry of UKNSWP said: “The Policing and Crime Act 2009 continues to criminalise sex workers, creating a culture of fear and distrust of the authorities and preventing the reporting of violent and serious crimes against these vulnerable people. Current legislation fails sex workers, who should be able to receive the same level of support from the police as other members of society.”
“Liverpool has introduced a supportive model of policing where sex workers are protected and intelligence about crimes against them is shared. This has led to a dramatic rise in convictions for those who commit crimes against this group. We hope that this model will be rolled out UK wide. We are also calling on government to implement a UK wide “Ugly Mugs” scheme so that intelligence about violent offenders can be shared between police forces.”