A Red Light for Safety; HOW 'TOLERANCE ZONES' IN BRITAIN COULD HELP CUT DRUGS AND VIOLENCE IN THE SEX INDUSTRY
Byline: CLAIRE DONNELLY
IT IS the world's oldest profession. And according to many, the laws surrounding prostitution in Britain have been stuck in time too.
Now, after centuries of conflict between sex workers and the state, police and pressure groups are arguing for change.
They want to legalise prostitution - and the result could be "special zones" where people can openly buy sex within 10 years.
Metropolitan Police commander Andrew Baker added his voice to the campaign yesterday.
Addressing a conference in Birmingham, the head of Scotland Yard's homicide squad said the UK could learn a lot from countries such as Holland where special zones are in operation.
In the wake of the Camden Ripper case, which saw three London prostitutes murdered by client Anthony Hardy, he argued for tighter rules to keep sex workers safe.
"There is a need now for an informed debate," he said. "We know that sex workers are vulnerable. I know that attacks, violence, drugs and criminal control are lower in tolerance zones. We can learn from the Dutch."
Sex workers, who generate pounds 700million a year in Britain, have already moved to make themselves less vulnerable and standardise the profession.
Last year 150 workers were accepted as union members for the first time in an offshoot of the GMB general union.
The move marked a huge step towards tighter regulation of the usually underground industry. And members have been trying to create safer working environments for all those involved with the industry.
Now the union is adding its support to the campaign for legislation. Organiser Martin Smith, says: "I think we will definitely see some kind of legalised prostitution in Britain in the next 10 years.
"It will happen. There have already been great advances made in Scotland, with the backing of the local community.
"The Home Office and David Blunkett are in the process of producing a consultation document discussing the issue, that will be published in January.
NOW we just have to work out exactly how we are going to do it and which international models we use as our framework."
Mr Smith insists our system is outdated.
"There are 36 types of legislation relating to prostitution and many of those are contradictory or nonsensical," he points out.
"Some date back as far as the 13th century, so it really is time for a change.
"At the moment it is illegal for two or more sex workers to work from a flat - it is considered 'a bawdy- house' - so women are forced to work singly.
"It would be much safer if people could work in groups.
"There are people who prefer to work in the streets but on our experience most people would rather work in a legal, controlled and regulated environment and they can't do that at the moment.
"There was an interesting case recently where a woman who ran a brothel in Stoke was prosecuted. What she was done for wasn't the prostitution - it was not declaring her earnings for VAT purposes.
"I would take the view there shouldn't be any tax on an industry that doesn't have regulation. …