Safety tips texted to prostitutes after tolerance zone ends

PROSTITUTES are to be targeted by text messages in a bid to keep them safe.

The closure of Aberdeen's long-established tolerance zone has meant that sex workers are increasingly being dispersed throughout the city.

Because of the change in the law, which brought in a zero-tolerance approach to prostitution, women are now eschewing their previous harbourside haunts for fear of being arrested.

Now a Scottish Government-funded body which provides health and safety advice for prostitutes in the city has decided to contact sex workers directly by text.

Quay Services feels many women are now too afraid to come and seek advice.

The social work body is currently compiling a database of sex workers' mobile phone numbers from the internet and newspaper ads.

In a radical move they plan to use the numbers to make contact with the women by text message and urge them to make use of their services.

Aberdeen's tolerance zone was scrapped in October despite attracting widespread praise during its six years of operation.

Grampian Police were left with no option after the Prostitution (Public Places) Scotland Act 2007 made it an offence to solicit the services of someone engaged in prostitution and to loiter for that purpose.

Specially trained staff at Quay Services run night-time drop-in and daytime counselling service for the city's 300-plus street workers.

But project spokeswoman Luan Grugeon said their job had been made much harder in recent months.

She said: "Since the zone went, women are dispersing from the harbour area to other parts of the city centre.

"We are now finding it more difficult to reach women and offer them access to our services.

"We are concerned about their safety."

Previously around a dozen women used to regularly attend sessions where they were given access to free contraception, drugs counselling and information and health and safety advice.

Grugeon said: "During these sessions we are able to offer advice on sexual health as well as offering them panic alarms and advising them to work in pairs.

"Sadly the numbers of women attending have dropped to just a handful and that is a real concern for us.

"We are also having difficulties in persuading women to talk with the police.

"In the past many of them had built up a good relationship with the dedicated police liaison officers. But since the zone disappeared that has changed and sadly women's first instinct when they see a police officer is now to run and hide, rather then to chat and pass on information."

Quay Services and Grampian Police still work together actively on compiling "dodgy punters" files, which passes on details to street workers about men who have been acting suspiciously or threatening women in the harbour area.

Grugeon said the move away from the core area meant that other techniques would be used.

"A number of women use the newspapers and other sources to advertise themselves and include their mobile phone numbers.

"We are planning to use this to text them and make them aware of the services that are available for them.

"This will include women who are working in flats rather than on the streets."

Lewis Macdonald, the Labour MSP for Aberdeen Central, gave his support to the text initiative.

"The people who provide support to the sex workers in Aberdeen do an admirable job and have adapted very effectively to the closure of the tolerance zone."