MORE women are being driven into sex work in Preston by financial constraints brought about by benefits changes, a charity has revealed.
The Foxton Centre, which supports vulnerable women working on Preston’s streets, has seen a marked increase in numbers compared to two years ago.
It has also raised concerns women are being exploited in a new trend of “pop up” brothels – rented premises that house sex workers for a couple of weeks before moving on to another city.
In a recent meeting with police and other organisations, agencies raised concerns there were at least 13 suspected brothels in the city – and the Evening Post has found nearly 400 individual women listing themselves as available in the area for sexual services.
Around 50 street workers have been supported by Foxton across this year, compared to around 30 in previous years.
Although the centre deals primarily with women working in Preston’s red light area, Jeff Marsh, chief executive of the Foxton Centre, has voiced fears about the associated underworld linked to off street sex work, such as human trafficking and violence and sexual offences against the women.
He said: “We recently did some research and found there are 13 suspected brothels in the area. There is evidence of pop up brothels locally too, and some websites may advertise a certain woman will be in Preston for two weeks – we do not know if that woman is a victim of exploitation.
“There are also areas of concern around Sugar Daddy websites that might be use by students who are feeling the pinch. Every time there is publicity about sex work we are concerned because it puts the women at risk, there seems to be an increase in hostility towards them. It raises a lot of emotions. But it is already a risky business – some have had things thrown at them, or have been attacked.
“The women do support each other and if there is a particular concern, such as an unsavoury character hanging around, they do confide in us.
“It is important the public are aware of the wider picture.
“I come from a background where I was loved and cared for. A lot of the women have been abused, have drug and alcohol difficulties as a result, and have not had a loving family around them.
“Others saw their mums and grandmas do it so it became the norm. These things have impacted on their behaviour.
“Applying for benefits is a long, complex process at the best of times – many women do not have access to the internet to do it online, they may need ID, or may struggle with the complicated paperwork, and because of their chaotic lifestyles can miss appointments which leads to delays in getting benefits, so they effectively have no income. Some do not even bother to claim.
“We have had positive meetings with people at the DWP to raise these issues and feel some progress may be made.”
Service manager Mandy Stitt said: “Recently we have had women who have previously exited street work, then been affected by the benefit cuts, so they have returned to the streets, many have told us the cuts have pushed them back into street work.
“We have assisted 50 women this year – they are not all out on the street at the same time of course. A couple of years ago it was around 30 but now we have a few returners and one or two new women.
“We see between eight and 10 at our drop in sessions and most are in their 30s and 40s.”
It costs £460,000 per year to run the Foxton centre, of which its Streetlink project costs £100,000 – but it has to constantly seek funding to ensure the future of such projects.
Lancashire County Council provides £12,000 a year under its sexual health remit, which goes part way towards supporting Streetlink, but the centre also needs funds to run vital support for homeless people.
The exchange of sexual services for money is legal, but related activities, including soliciting, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel or pimping are crimes.
A county-wide sex worker and human trafficking group has been formed to look at the issues.