Attacks on prostitutes soar after vice 'driven underground' by law

THE number of assaults on prostitutes in Edinburgh has soared in the past year.

Attacks reported to support group Scotpep have almost doubled from 66 in 2006 to 126 last year, including eight reported rapes and 55 violent assaults.

Support workers say making kerb-crawling illegal has resulted in the trade becoming more dangerous as prostitutes are forced "underground".

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While the figures cover the whole of last year, Scotpep says that it has become even more dangerous for vice girls since the new law came into force last October.

It comes as latest police figures reveal that a total of 24 suspected kerb-crawlers have been arrested and charged in Scotland's capital in the first six months since the legislation came into force.

Some prostitutes are said to have turned to handing out a mobile number to potential clients in order to set up meetings. Scotpep believes this new tactic has left women more vulnerable as they are meeting men in more isolated locations.

Ruth Morgan Thomas, Scotpep's co-ordinator, said: "The need for cash to support drug habits has not gone away. Prostitution is being pushed further underground. Women are having to work longer hours and changing the times they work. It makes it harder for us to provide support."

Kerb-crawlers can now face a criminal record and a 1,000 fine.

High-profile police activity has been cited for driving away many men. But those most likely to be violent against prostitutes continue to use their services. Ms Morgan Thomas added: "There's been a decrease in those on the street, but not the number selling sex in the city.

"Some are using mobile phones to arrange meetings, so we haven't seen them. Some men are regulars, but women are being put at greater risk if they are meeting men in isolated places.

"The proportion of customers who are potentially violent is higher as they don't fear being charged, unlike some clients."

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A police spokeswoman said: "The force is committed to tackling prostitution, while at the same time helping people find routes out of prostitution."

Rob Kirkwood, of the Leith Residents' Association, said streets in the area were previously "bumper to bumper" with cars, but clients were now staying away.

There are growing calls across Scotland for tougher prostitution laws. Glasgow city leaders last month launched a campaign urging the Scottish Government to turn the spotlight on clients by introducing legislation banning the "purchase of sex".