Leeds red light district (Holbeck)

Red Light District Leeds

Leeds red-light district at Holbeck – Britain’s first legal red-light zone. A ‘managed approach’ to street sex work in Leeds. What does it mean?

Those behind the scheme seem reluctant to discuss how it operates.

What is the ‘managed approach’ all about?

Britain’s first ‘managed approach’ to a red-light district is in Leeds, West Yorkshire. It allows street sex workers in the Holbeck area of Leeds to ply their trade without fear of arrest. Providing they stick to working within pre-agreed hours.

Holbeck Leeds managed red light district
Holbeck in Leeds. Britain’s first ‘managed’ red-light district | Leeds, West Yorkshire

What are its aims?

  1. Lower the problems caused by street prostitution to residents and businesses
  2. Better engage with street sex workers
  3. Improve the safety and health of sex workers
  4. Help street prostitutes to exit from a life of prostitution
  5. Reduce the number of working girls in Leeds

An initiative introduced by the community safety partnership Safer Leeds. A group that includes Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police.

Street sex workers
Street sex worker in the Holbeck area of Leeds red-light district

Leeds received national media attention following the murder of sex worker Daria Pionko. Originally from Poland, the 21-year-old lived in Leeds with her boyfriend. She was a sex worker in the Holbeck area of the city.

The murder of Leeds sex worker Daria Pionka related article

How does the ‘managed approach’ to street prostitution in Leeds work?

Extra police officers patrol Leeds ‘legal’ red-light district enforcing the rules.

  • Offences will not be tolerated
  • Drug use, trafficking, organised crime, and coercion will be stamped out
  • Crime, public order, and anti-social behaviour will be stopped
  • Indecency of any kind will be treated as an offence

There’s a “three strikes” policy which means rule-breakers would receive a warning for a first breach. A caution for a second and any subsequent breach of rules would lead to arrest.

Four police officers and support personnel assigned to a ‘dedicated team’ oversee sex workers in the Holbeck area.

What’s the reason for its introduction?

The red-light district in Leeds effectively moved to an area around Water Lane and was creating problems for local residents. Plus various approaches focused mainly on enforcement against sex workers or their clients have failed.

Those in favour of the scheme say it is helping support services and charities to engage with vulnerable women involved in sex work. It has also led to the successful prosecution of crimes committed against sex workers.

What support is available to street sex workers?

The charity Basis Yorkshire has a worker who supports a small number of street prostitutes with complex needs. Many sex workers lead chaotic lives and benefit from professional help and support.

Other agencies, including the Holbeck-based “Joanna Project” and alcohol and drug service “Forward Leeds” also give much-needed support to street prostitutes on a regular basis.

Some support is also provided by the city’s commissioned sexual health service, Housing Leeds and West Yorkshire Police’s designated sex worker liaison officer.

Has the council simply created a legal red-light zone in Leeds?

Safer Leeds say not. Citing the purpose is to manage and lessen the impact of existing sex worker activity, and not to introduce something new.

It stresses that the strategy and partners involved do not have the power to change the law, nor to legalise offences related to sex work.

What do people living nearby think?

The murder of sex worker Daria Pionko resulted in a comprehensive review of the future of the ‘managed approach’ to sex workers in Leeds.

The findings of a comprehensive review concluded the scheme should continue, albeit with some changes.

A third of residents and businesses who responded back wanted to see the scheme shelved, but the majority felt it should continue in some form.

Complaints from residents increased prompting a series of street protests against the red-light district.

Article: Leeds Red-light District (Holbeck) by Emma Valasco.

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Cited sources: The Yorkshire Post and BBC