Sex worker charity anger at Edinburgh sauna raids

The Dundas Street sauna was among those targeted. Picture: Toby Williams

The Dundas Street sauna was among those targeted. Picture: Toby Williams

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A LARGE-scale police raid on Edinburgh’s brothels has been criticised by a charity that offers support to sex workers.

Scot-Pep, the charity set up to protect the health of prostitutes, said it was “very concerned” by the initiative that saw Police Scotland send 150 officers round massage parlours in the capital.

The raid was the first conducted by the newly merged Scotland-wide force, leading to suggestions that the force intends to change its tolerant approach to policing prostitution in the capital.

Scot-Pep expressed concern after it emerged that officers took customers and employees from seven saunas across the city and questioned them in the street.

A statement released by the charity said: “Scot-Pep are very concerned about reports we received from women involved in the raids and question the assertion that this is about keeping people safe. Is it safe to instil fear amongst sex workers of police and social services?

“We remain extremely concerned as to whether this is a taste of things to come in light of the attempt to introduce a bill to criminalise the purchase of sex. We advise all sex workers to take extra precautions at this time.”

Rhoda Grant, a Labour Highlands and Islands MSP, has proposed a Purchase of Sex Bill in the hope that it will lead to the prosecution of buyers of sex, rather than those working in the vice trade.

During the raid, police interviewed 30 women of various nationalities. Police were accompanied by social workers, who were on hand to help potential victims.

A massage parlour in Dundas Street and one in the Roseburn area of the city were among those targeted.

The unprecedented police operation follows concern over the lenient approach taken to prostitution in Edinburgh. The former Lothian and Borders force was often accused of turning a blind eye to Edinburgh’s sex trade by its critics.

There have been others, however, who have supported the approach adopted by Edinburgh, which has seen the establishment of licensed saunas. Proponents of the Edinburgh approach believe that it makes it easier to protect the health of sex workers and has enabled the police to manage the situation.

Those who favour licensed saunas argue that without them, prostitution would be driven underground, putting the health of sex workers at risk.

A similar attitude towards prostitution was adopted in Aberdeen by Grampian Police, contrasting with the hard line method of policing prostitution favoured by Strathclyde Police.

Yesterday Margo MacDonald, the independent Edinburgh MSP who tried to get a bill through Holyrood to keep Edinburgh’s prostitution tolerance zones, said: “If this is a portent of a future change of direction for the management of prostitution, then we can only hope that it does not sweep aside decades of greater success achieved by Lothian and Borders and Grampian police in dealing with prostitution.

“That was achieved as a result of policies pursued by Grampian Police and Lothian and Borders Police, which differed from those pursued by Strathclyde Police.”

A statement from Police Scotland said: “Three people in locations in Edinburgh and Fife have been charged with drugs offences, including supply and cultivation, and it is estimated that assets worth in excess of £500,000 have been seized.

“Large amounts of cash, electronic equipment and documentation relating to business matters have been recovered.”

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