The Leeds managed approach is innovative and forward thinking, but also a controversial system to manage street sex work. One of the aims was that the women would be more visible with the outcome of increased safety, but at the same time, it also makes them very easy to be spotted, filmed and sometimes harassed by the media.
I’ve been watching the current BBC3 documentaries named “Sex, Drugs and Murder” with frustration. I know these women well. I can see how one sided their representation is. I know how what they say is edited so they sometimes come across as heartless, greedy or aggressive. That’s really going to support the plight of eradicating sex worker stigma!
I can see in the girl’s eyes whether they are rattling or having just taken a shed load of Heroin. I can see their pain and suffering and I wonder how the filmmaker can point a camera in their face, and what exactly goes through his/her mind. I personally find it difficult viewing and morally totally disgusting. Just like a client, the filmmaker pays the sex worker for her time. Unlike a client, who pays specifically for a service, the filmmaker pays for her soul, with a total disregard for her any of the consequences. And at what cost? Well reports from the women indicate it’s anything from £30 to £300, depending on what theycan get away with. They get consent and assert that the girls have mental capacity, which of course is true, but the women are a followed around, getting in the way of their business and catching them when they desperately need more drugs, thus taking away any real choice. Participation seems to be the result of the filmmaker’s calculated manipulative behaviour.
The potential damage thiscould cause is significant. At the time of course, the subject is happy or desperate to accept money in order to score, then feels obliged talk on camera, or more realistically that’s the last thing on their mind whilst they are feeling poorly and sick. Afterwards though, they sit on our outreach bus, have time to reflect over a warming cuppa and their heart pours out in disbelief, horror and embarrassment about what they’ve said. My heart breaks to see them watching the footage off my mobile phone as they have no access to it personally, with tears rolling down their faces and fear in their eyes knowing what they have revealed. Some have even talked on film about crimes committed or their children taken into care all edited with a smile on their face or indifference, along with an edited catchphrase that will make even the most empathetic viewer disapprove.
One public opinion is that women need saving from sex work and that sex work is inherently abusive to women. One of the initial points for this documentary story was to get these women’s voices heard and let them tell their story. My feeling is that yes we are hearing a voice, but it’s a very one sided one. Why have they chosen to target just the most chaotic cases, all drug users, all vulnerably housed, all with mental health issues (although nothing official), and not any other examples of women that we also know from outreach? My opinion is that women don’t need “saving” from sex work, they need saving from voyeuristic, sensationalist and exploitative media programs.
Emily Turner- Senior Outreach Worker Basis Sex Work Project (Leeds)