Annual Report 2007-08

We have managed to get to the end of yet another year at Scot-PEP, and sometimes we wonder how we managed it. In a climate of static if not reducing funding for causes such as ours, the Board has made every effort to control costs and raise funds where we can. We are very grateful for the continued support, both fiscal and moral, from our funders, NHS Lothian.

While our finances continue to cause us concern, we have watched a steady erosion of confidence and morale among the women whom we serve. The Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Bill duly passed into law and our pessimism about its provisions and effects have sadly proven to be more than justified. Criminalising the kerb-crawlers has ensured, predictably, that they linger as short a time as possible on the street, making arrangements to meet the women at some other place to conduct their business. This exposes the women to far greater risk of assault and injury, and indeed we have seen a sharp rise in these statistics. Vigorous enforcement measures by the police have ensured that the number of punters has dropped markedly, which means that the women have to work longer hours and take more chances when earning their money. Needless to say this places the women in far greater danger – a trend which we predicted and which has now occurred. Life on the streets has become more dangerous, the women suffer increased vulnerability with a reduced number of clientele. It is not easy out there.

It is not appropriate to criticise the police for acting as they see fit, but we can comment on consequences. Operation Pentameter II, aimed at the indoor industry, caused havoc in the establishments. Two migrant workers were deported, and in an apparent effort to get to the owners, receptionists have been charged. The consequent anxiety has caused women to move into other areas of work such as internet advertising etc, where they are exposed to more danger. As an organisation, we remain to be convinced that the effect of this activity has been positive. Quite the contrary.

While we accept that the police have to enforce the law as it stands, that does not mean that the law itself is in any way sensible; nor will it necessarily achieve what the legislators set out to achieve. In its present form it ensures that no quarter is given to the women, and if it seeks to eradicate prostitution, I can only describe it as a senseless waste of time and effort. This is not the way to do it.

Looking from the outside in, the Edinburgh Sex Industry Interagency Strategy Reference Group seemed to become stalled in its deliberations. We understand that there is now a renewed will to ensure that the Council does have a strategy and we hope that we might be able to influence its provisions in a positive way in order to deliver a valued service to those who need it.    

So what have we been getting up to this year? Over the last year we have seen a marked reduction in the number of women working in the usual area. We have also seen a marked reduction in the number of women who are accessing our services, and this does not bode well for the future. We do not believe that activity has reduced – it has just moved out of sight.

Between 1st April 2007 and 31st March 2008, we worked with 490 individuals, recording 3,182 contacts. Support and services were provided to an average of 107 sex workers  per month.

97 were involved in street based sex work, representing a slight increase on last year. 78% of street based sex workers were known to be local, having provided EH postcodes. 36% of the women entered prostitution during this year, while 33% of the women engaging in street prostitution in 2006-7 are believed to have moved on from prostitution in Edinburgh as they were no longer in contact with SCOT-PEP last year. To date, there have been no migrants involved in street prostitution in Edinburgh.

367 were involved in indoor based sex work, representing an increase on last year. 53% of indoor based sex workers were known to be local, having provided EH postcodes. 45 of the indoor sex workers operated as escorts, while 258 worked in sex industry establishments. 55% entered prostitution during the year, while 47% of those engaging in indoor prostitution are believed to have moved on from prostitution in Edinburgh as they are no longer in contact with SCOT-PEP. 

We maintained contact with sex workers in 37 sex industry establishments, both licensed and unlicensed during the year. Establishment outreach was undertaken in 22 of those establishments.

We continue to have meaningful and fruitful partnerships with NEON SACRO and EWRASAC. Unfortunately, the partnership with Streetwork has proved less than successful. As it says in the annual report, we remain committed to our working partnerships with Lothian NHS Board, Lothian and Borders Police, the City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish MSPs and the Scottish Government in order to develop appropriate responses to prostitution.

Ruth continues to represent us in the wider arena with Tampep, a European network of sex work projects – she was actually allowed into America earlier this year without being arrested - and if you wonder at the origin of the multi-lingual leaflets in the display stand, Tampep provided the funding for them.

Turning now to staffing issues, at the beginning of the year we lost Rose who left us to join the American Peace Corps in Africa, and in the middle of the year we said a tearful farewell to Lesley, one of our project workers and for many years a stalwart of the organisation who went to sunnier climes. In their places, we recruited Andrea to admin, and Debra Anderson to replace Lesley. Other than that, our hardworking staff of Nine and Gill have coped magnificently in adversity, managing somehow to keep the boat afloat. We are indeed grateful to them. We are also immensely grateful to our small army of volunteers without whom we would flounder.

On behalf of our Board, I would wish to re-iterate our gratitude to our faithful staff and volunteers, without whose skills and dedication this organisation would be really struggling. And lastly, may I thank you for coming here tonight and demonstrating in a tangible fashion your support for our efforts. In a climate of political intransigence and vanishing support, we greatly appreciate it.