Police crackdown on Swansea prostitution prompts criticism

Prostitute working
Image caption South Wales Police's operation targets sex workers and those exploiting prostitution

Police have been criticised for warning prostitutes they could be prosecuted in a clampdown on city centre sex workers.

South Wales Police said sex workers who "refuse to engage" with support services in Swansea could face action.

Swansea Women's Aid, which helps vulnerable women, said it was "very concerned", adding the move could stop them from engaging with its support project.

The force said: "Those that exploit sex workers remain our focus."

Ch Insp Geraint White said police know of "in excess of 100 sex workers" who are operating in the city.

"It is not a problem that can be solved overnight, nor is it an issue that can simply be solved by prosecuting and moving people on," he added.

After police announced the "stringent enforcement", Swansea Women's Aid said the action "flies in the face" of protection for people under the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.

The charity is concerned the move could stop women from engaging with the SWAN project - run by Women's Aid, Swansea Neighbourhood Policing Team and others - which aims to divert women away from sex work and give them support.

It said about 60 women currently receive support from the project.

"That a woman could face prosecution due to a lack of engagement with the SWAN project both angers and saddens us," the charity added in a statement posted online.

Chief executive Lynne Sanders said: "The solution to stopping the abuse of women is not by criminalising them. It is by holding the abusers to account.

"We have real concern... these are amongst the most vulnerable women who are exploited and coerced and the police approach could alienate them."

Image caption Lynne Sanders said police should be "targeting customers, not women"

Operation Jaeger targets men and women engaging in sex work and those who exploit people selling sex.

South Wales Police said those found engaging in sex acts would face prosecution and dispersal notices, which ban people from a specific area at certain times.

They said "kerb-crawlers" - people who drive to the area to pick up prostitutes - could also expect a "range of enforcement action".

Akam Zadeh, the owner of Figaros Barbers on Swansea High Street, told BBC Radio Wales he has been approached by sex workers a number of times.

"Police are doing what they can, but no one is chasing the problem. As soon as it gets to six, seven [o'clock in the evening] they're everywhere," he said.

"I've heard little kids say 'mummy, daddy, I'm scared'. People are drinking, swearing."

Supt Cath Larkman said: "We continue to support vulnerable women and men and recognise that many engaged in sex work are extremely vulnerable, therefore every effort will continue to be made to protect, support and divert women and men away from this activity.

"Those that exploit sex workers remain our focus, however, it is clearly not acceptable for members of our community to be avoiding any particular area out of fear. Neither is it acceptable for sex acts to be carried out in public.

"In instances where sex workers continually refuse to engage with the wide range of support on offer and flout the law, one option we will consider is enforcement."

Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West, said the city needed "investment like Cardiff".

He added: "There isn't enough opportunities for young people in Swansea, if there was more investment, women wouldn't turn to sex work."

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