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Prostitutes quit streets with help of aid scheme

IAN SWANSON. 28 July 2007

A low-budget project has succeeded in helping one in three of the prostitutes it works with to quit Edinburgh's streets.

Another Way, set up two years ago by community safety group Sacro, costs just £20,000 a year to run. But in that time, five out of the 15 sex workers it has had contact with have given up prostitution. The project has now been recognised with a national award.

At a special ceremony in the House of Lords, TV gardener Monty Don presented Sacro with a "special merit" certificate as part of the Howard League for Penal Reform's 2007 Community Programmes Awards.

Another Way offers intensive one-to-one support to prostitutes, almost all of whom are selling sex to fund their drug habits.

Most of the women are put in touch with the project when they appear, charged with soliciting or similar offences, in court. If they agree to be involved with the scheme, the court will usually defer sentence for a period of three months, which can be extended.

Alastair Cattanach, Sacro's service manager, said the first issues that usually had to be tackled were drug abuse, housing and health.

If the women can have their drug situation stabilised by going on to a methadone programme, they will no longer need to "top up" with drugs bought on the street - one of the main reasons for turning to prostitution in the first place.

Sex workers often stay in bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation, and the project tries to find them their own tenancy and supports them in it. That gives them a permanent address, which then makes it easier for them to register with a doctor and have any health problems attended to.

Mr Cattanach said: "It's pretty basic stuff, but the big advantage is that we deal with it all, and someone with a chaotic lifestyle is not having to go round seven or eight agencies - they have one person to sort it out with them."

The project employs just one part-time worker 20 hours a week. Sacro did not know how much to expect from it when it started, but it has had impressive results.

Mr Cattanach said: "In the first two years, out of the 15 people we have worked with, five have left the sex industry and the others have reduced their involvement. One of the women who has left has now got a job in a supermarket." But he added the project was not a moral crusade. As some women left prostitution, others would inevitably take it up, Mr Cattanach said. "It's a problem that has existed throughout history, and it's not going to go away."

He said the courts were often pleased to have an alternative to prison sentences - viewed as inappropriate for vulnerable women - or fines, which often just sent women back out on to the streets to earn the necessary amount.

Presenting the award, Monty Don said: "As I discovered with my own work with young adults who have committed crimes, it takes hard work and real dedication to run successful community programmes that tackle the underlying causes of offending.

"Scotland is leading the way in terms of effective community sentencing, and the Sacro scheme is an inspiring example of just what can be achieved."

See also
Prostitute murders 14-12-06
Prostitution law rethink 09-01-07

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