'What you need at that time is what you're worth': the daily battle to help Northampton's six sex workers

"If you're short of a tenner for a bag and you're desperate then that's what you'll charge."

Thursday, 23rd March 2017, 12:41 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 11:10 am
Kirstyn Frost works for Cygnet whole woman's service to provide advice and condoms to sex workers in Semilong, Spencer and Spring Borough's
Kirstyn Frost works for Cygnet whole woman's service to provide advice and condoms to sex workers in Semilong, Spencer and Spring Borough's

This is the view of Kathy Saffrey, one of the outreach workers for Cygnet, which was launched two weeks ago to offer support and advice to prostitutes working the red light circuit.

It is made up of Oasis House, S2S (Substance to Solution) and the Bridge Project (a substance misuse programme) and aims to encourage the six known sex workers in Northampton away from prostitution.

It's difficult work, however, battling against a depressingly steady stream of men in the town looking for a sexual outlet, which is why the police find it most productive not to cut off the supply, but to disrupt the demand.

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Spring Boroughs

I went on shift on a Tuesday evening with PC Lee Stevens, who tours the red light district once a week to prevent kerb-crawling in Quorn Way, Grafton Street, St Andrews Road and the lorry park next to The Super Sausage Cafe.

It's understood that women become prostitutes for different reasons but it's obvious that they work out of desperation to feed either their addictions or, tragically, their children.

Lee patrols the circuit in an unmarked car in a bid to stop illegal kerb-crawling, the practice of driving unhurriedly alongside pavements to pick up a working girl. Not that the law is always logical on the matter.

"Lorry drivers can’t commit the offence of kerb-crawling if they are sleeping in the cab and the cab is not moving because it's classed as his home," Lee says.

The lorry park near the Super Sausage Cafe

"However, he doesn't own that home, the company does, so if I see a prostitute knock on the cab - because they will do - and the driver lets them in, then they commit the offence of kerb-crawling."

Many women who are embroiled in the world of drugs or find themselves homeless venture to lorry parks as they are the easiest places to find warmth and shelter, I'm told.

They are usually fed, watered and have a roof over their heads for a night.

Due to the dismal weather on Tuesday night (21 March) and two hours of failed loops around the red light district, there was one sighting of a working girl in the area.

Spring Boroughs

There were plenty of clues, however, and as we continued to circle industrial and housing estates in the Spring Boroughs' area, both were littered with used condoms and syringes.

A duo of young mums pushed their babies along in a buggy and I imagined how they would fear for their children growing up in an environment like that ... as well as how they would need a puncture repair kit before long.

Driving up Towcester Road, we stumble across a known sex worker dressed in white jeans and wrapped up in a puffa jacket - contrary to the fishnet and miniskirt stereotype.

She was clearly working from her phone and pulled over a punter in a white workman's van and slipped inside the passenger door down a side street where we waited for a chase.

The lorry park near the Super Sausage Cafe

The man was wearing a checked shirt and had a grey, curly receding hairline. She, according to Lee, has an eight-year-old at home.

But she identified us, a mixed group of strangers, a constable, journalist and photographer in the unmarked car, and the pair soon moved off, before we became involved in a possible chase around Semilong.

The couple - seems the wrong word, somehow - diverted up a side street and went missing for the best part of 15 minutes. We soon caught up with her walking alone to a known crack den, where PC Stevens said she is likely to get a hit.

Cygnet has launched in the last two weeks to replace the work SWAN (Sexual Workers Around Northampton) used to carry out in the town.

SWAN’s troubles began when NHS Northamptonshire and Northamptonshire County Council cut their funding in 2012.

However, because no public body took over, the money ran out in 2013, despite the service helping more types of vulnerable women.Cygnet aims to fill their void and aims to encourage other women that this isn't the only route they can take.

Numbers of prostitutes in the red light district have gone down massively since the early 2000's - officially reaching zero in 2008 after a concerted effort by Spring Boroughs Residents' Association and the police. Now there are reckoned to be just six.

I ask Lee how well he knows the remaining girls. "There is a girl that's local to this area, who has been brought up in this area and I have seen photos of her at school and she looked like she didn't have a care in the world.

"More often than not, it's almost always the influence of peer pressure - she got involved with a boy who was involved in drugs and for her to be accepted by him he introduced her to more drugs.

"This girl got involved with this bloke much against her parent's wishes and was blindly in love with him. She became embroiled in the drug world, she had a child, lost the child, the child went into care and she hasn’t seen him since.

"She had a period of help so she got herself sorted out and had her child handed back but has since gone back to her old ways again. That’s the saddest thing that I have dealt with."

It soon becomes apparent that when there are drugs involved, women come to believe they have little self-worth and charge punters exactly the same amount as what their next hit costs.

Lee tells me he knows one woman who charges £10 for a sexual act but discovered later on that she made £300 in just one night.

During his time as an officer, Lee said he has seen women on the circuit as young as 17 years old. Between 2007-2010 there were up to 220 women commuting from neighbouring cities, such as Leicester and Birmingham because Northampton's red light district was a place to thrive if you were a young woman wanting to earn a few quid.

He said that during that time it used to be "Asian men in taxis, they were the biggest perpetrators but now it's mostly Eastern European men who pick women up in the town and they don't see what the issue is."

In Poland, for example, citizens have different cultural norms and call prostitutes 'travellers', he says.

One of the outreach workers for Cygnet, Kathy Saffrey said the girls believe sexual exploitation is an acceptable part of the job.

She said: "One woman said it was accepted by all prostitutes that they would get beaten and gang-raped. That was part of prostitution." "'Why would you put yourself through that and why do you think you deserve that'? Kathy asks.

The sex worker told her "'That’s because the way society is going now', they would drive her away in a car and do that to her.

"It’s a common thing that the girls would be hassled, the men would ask ‘for a bit of extra money would you do it without a condom’? And that is a real risk and people will do that for an extra £5.

“At the end of the day, in that sort of circuit, what you need at that time is what you’re worth.

"If you’re short of a tenner for a bag and if you’re desperate then that’s what you’ll do."