Britain's first legal red light zone in Leeds to be scrapped

"My son was witnessing sex acts going on in cars outside our home," said Leeds resident Claire Bentley Smith.

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Britain's first official red light district – which brought misery to nearby residents – is being scrapped after seven years.

The controversial scheme in Holbeck, Leeds, was introduced by a Labour council to improve sex worker safety.

A resident of Beeston explained how the district pushed into residential areas, and her son, who was in primary school, witnessed sex acts in cars outside their family home as a result of the district. Claire Bentley Smith, founder of community group Save Our Eyes, spoke to Gloria De Piero and Liam Halligan about her relief that the red light district is being scrapped. She said that she had been approached by men assuming she was a sex working, as had school children, and that her "husband was approached by women asking if he wanted business when he was coming home from work."

"We've seen girls being physically and verbally abused by their pimps and traffickers," she said, explaining how "so many of our community have actually had to stop and help girls that were so affected by drugs and drink that they were staggering into traffic."

Since 2014 sex workers have been allowed to operate in a 'managed' zone at night without risk of arrest for loitering, soliciting or kerb-crawling. It's now being scrapped after the number of prostitutes and customers declined during the pandemic. But campaigners say the scheme had led to more sexual assaults.

The Managed Area (MA) area allowed sex workers to operate without fear of prosecution, but was paused in March 2020.

Those who manage the zone said the number of sex workers fell by 50% since 2017/18 - with just an average of 22 women recorded a week. Leeds council said the drop in women operating in the area was due to Covid-19's impact and its support for sex workers.

Dennis Kitchen, chair of the Holbeck Neighbourhood Forum, which has campaigned for the MA to be scrapped, said: "The zone has been closed over the last few months due to Covid and that has made a difference to the area, but this is now a big step made by Safer Leeds.

"We want to make sure that any punters coming to the area know the zone's closed and it's a 'no go' area. "We don't want men coming in and harassing ordinary citizens, which is what has been happening."