Growing Problem of Our Sex Industry; Raids on Brothels Exposed the Secrets of Tyneside's Hidden Sex Industry. Chief Reporter ADAM JUPP Investigates the Nature of Prostitution in the Region and Looks at Projects Helping Those Desperate to Get off the Game

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM JUPP

FOR years, the North East has been known as a place that does not have a problem with prostitution.

There are no recognised red light districts and, unlike other major cities, it is rare, if not unheard of, to see women standing on street corners.

But being invisible does not mean the Tyneside sex industry is non-existent.

If various reports and studies are to be believed, it is growing.

Newcastle-based charity Tyneside Cyrenians, which runs the GAP Project (Girls and Proud), says it is in contact with as many as 30 working girls at any one time, offering them help with housing and other needs. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, with many other women not accessing services for range of reasons related to their chaotic lifestyles.

Laura Seebohm, who manages women's services for Tyneside Cyrenians, said: "We started in 2006, when it became clear there was a hidden sex market in Newcastle.

"It was all underground and there was a group of women who were really vulnerable.

"We initially set up a drop-in in the city centre and all we knew of were three women involved in sex work. Through word of mouth, more people attended.

"Fairly soon, Tyneside Cyrenians decided to develop a full-time service and we focused our services on women involved in what we called 'survival sex'.

"That is women involved in sex work as a result of drug or alcohol problems, homelessness, social exclusion and possible coercion from their pimps or partners.

"There is a lot of stigma and women tend to be reluctant to disclose what they do to other services. …