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A report published today provides an insight into Cumbria’s sex markets and confirms they are far less extensive than in other areas in the country.The study, undertaken during 2010/2011 by independent researchers found evidence of around 180 male and female sex workers operating in Cumbria on a regular basis.
But unlike some cities and towns which have a ‘red light’ district, Cumbria’s sex industry takes place mainly behind closed doors in hotels, people’s homes and other locations.
The study, commissioned by the Cumbria Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) and funded by the Northern Rock Foundation, found that sex markets in Cumbria were not as extensive as those in other parts of the north of England where similar studies have been carried out.
The report was compiled to provide a picture of the situation in Cumbria to help identify where local organisations can work together to improve existing support, and develop other services for those involved in the sex industry.
The study explores the issues of survival sex work - where individuals exchange sex for accommodation, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, food or other resources - and sexual exploitation. Researchers found a strong relationship between survival sex and drug and alcohol use.
The most common currency for female survival sex in Cumbria was heroin and money. Most males exchanged survival sex for money and accommodation.
Although young people were outside the original scope of the research, some of the professionals spoken to made reference to examples of sexual exploitation involving a small number of young people.
The report’s contributors are anonymous but its authors stress that, according to those interviewed for the report, every individual they considered to have been exploited was known to the police, children’s or adult services.
The study has been welcomed by the Safer Cumbria Action Group and the Cumbria adults and children’s safeguarding boards. Membership of these three groups include representatives of all the key agencies in the county such as the NHS, police, county council, probation and the voluntary sector.
As a result of the research findings, the adult and children’s safeguarding boards have agreed to build on the work they are already doing to ensure that staff in all agencies are able to identify those at risk of sexual exploitation at the earliest opportunity, intervene appropriately, provide support, disrupt and prosecute perpetrators.
In addition to agencies’ day-to-day work to support vulnerable people involved in the trade, or at risk of exploitation, a large multi-agency event is also being planned for Autumn 2012 for all local agencies, charities and interested parties to discuss the findings of the report and raise awareness of the different forms of exploitation and how to recognise early signs of vulnerability.
Training is also being improved to further strengthen the established links between agencies to ensure that information about vulnerable people continues to be shared quickly and easily.
Dr Rebecca Wagstaff, Cumbria’s Deputy Director of Public Health, said: “This report shows that there is a commercial sex market in Cumbria but it is different to more urban areas.
“It is not as extensive as those in other parts of the north of England where similar research has been conducted but there are nonetheless issues that public and voluntary organisations need to build into their approaches to tackling this issue.
"This is a difficult subject to talk about and because of that there are many misconceptions about how this affects Cumbria. This report provides a useful summary of the issues for organisations and the public."
Assistant Chief Constable Michelle Skeer from Cumbria Constabulary, said: “Cumbria Constabulary will robustly investigate any allegations of sexual exploitation in the county.
“Sexual exploitation of any adult or child is fundamentally wrong but it is a sad fact that sex markets exist in most areas. This report confirms that, fortunately, there are far fewer people involved in sex markets in Cumbria in comparison to other areas.
“The recent case we saw in Carlisle where Azad Miah was imprisoned for 15 years for sexual offences and child prostitution demonstrates exactly how seriously police and the courts take this sort of crime. Anyone who is involved in this should expect to be arrested and prosecuted.
“Cumbria Constabulary works in partnership with other agencies like Cumbria County Council and the NHS to safeguard vulnerable adults and children and take early action to remove them from harm and escape vicious cycles of abuse.
“Sadly, we can only take action in situations we know of. Every single member of local communities has a responsibility to report suspicious activity so that agencies like police and children’s or adult services can intervene, offer support and stop exploitation before it happens.
“To report your suspicions to police call 101. If you witness a crime in action always dial 999.”
Cllr Anne Burns, (pictured) Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “This report provides a useful overview of the situation in Cumbria. Unfortunately it only confirms what we already know: that some vulnerable children and young people can be targets for sexual exploitation by adults.
“That’s why it is crucially important that all the agencies know how to identify children and young people who are at risk, help them access the support services they need and work with the police to pursue prosecution of perpetrators.
“The nature of child sexual exploitation is that it is below the radar, often only becoming apparent when a victim discloses the information. That’s why identifying, and working proactively with young people who might be at risk to help them avoid situations where they may be targets for sexual exploitation is so important.
“We fully support this report’s recommendations and will be working hard to ensure all agencies offer the best support to children and young people in Cumbria.”
Cullagh Warnock, Programme Manager at Northern Rock Foundation, said: "Services are better able to respond effectively when they have a clear picture of how these issues affect their local communities. We are very pleased to see the pro-active response by Cumbrian agencies to the findings in this report."