Based on an article from
The Observer with some of the more outrageously loaded words toned down
At first glance, nothing could be further from the neon lights of Soho than a spring afternoon in Cavell
Road, Billericay, Essex, filled with birdsong and the shouts of children from a nearby school. Women waiting their turn in Julie's hairdresser fit the popular image of the 'blue-rinse brigade'. Male customers who ask for the sauna services are quietly
led through a thick bead curtain to something very different.
'I'm just out of the shower,' smiled the nubile Louise, wearing only a towel. A basic sauna massage will cost £20, says the hairdresser/madam. Extra requirements should be negotiated with
The affluent residents of Cavell Road, who include City brokers and company directors, know all about Julie's unofficial offerings, but feel powerless to stop it. 'It's disgusting,' said one. We live near a school and it attracts the
wrong kind of people. We used to get them parking outside our house. It was so obvious: they're middle-aged baldies. There was a petition to get it closed and we contacted the police, but they didn't do anything.' Another neighbour, who lives in a
£400,000, four-bedroom house, said: My worry is house prices and whether they could be affected by this place being here.
Brothels and prostitution are no longer confined to the underside of the big city. In sleepy suburbs, country villages
and the bastions of moral conservatism, there are women plying their trade and men willing to pay. And police commonly turn a blind eye, pointing to a lack of local resources and coherent national policy.
The number of people offering sexual services
in Britain has increased by a staggering 50 per cent in the past five years, according to new figures obtained from the European Parliament. There are now as many as 80,000 women working as prostitutes in the UK, their numbers swelled by an influx of
20,000 immigrants. In London alone, an academic study found that men spend £200 million a year on sex, almost half in massage parlours and saunas.
Across the UK, the industry is believed to be worth about £770m a year, with street prostitution
accounting for only about five per cent. New massage parlours have sprung up in once unlikely places such as Herne Bay, Glastonbury, Lincoln and Highbridge.
In recent months, the courts have heard several cases, which few doubt represent the tip of an
iceberg. About 15 women were discovered working above a sex shop called the Pleasure Zone in Darlington, resulting in the owner having £900,000 worth of assets frozen. A supermarket worker running a brothel in Basingstoke was caught after his landlady
was greeted by a girl wearing sexy underwear.
Another brothel was found operating out of a caravan on the A1 near Bedale, North Yorks. A former post office worker was caught running one from her home in Newton Abbot, Devon. Six Bulgarian women were
found working in a parlour in Swansea by detectives from the National Crime Squad.
Earlier this month, a woman involved in the running Britain's biggest-ever Thai prostitute organisation was ordered to pay back a huge slice of her profits or face 15
months in jail. The organisation was based in Worthing, Sussex, and they also ran a finishing school for prostitutes in Wimbledon, south-west London. Last week a civilian police worker appeared in court accused of living off earnings from a massage
parlour in Leicestershire.
Despite these cases, police have spoken about their frustration at losing the war against organised crime gangs exploiting an influx of prostitutes from abroad. So urgent is the situation that the Government is under
pressure to consider partial legalisation of prostitution, in so-called tolerance zones, when it publishes a review in June.
The rise in internet use and increasingly relaxed attitudes to sex have been cited as the main reasons behind the surge.
Superintendent Chris Bradford of the Met's Clubs and Vice Squad, the largest unit of its kind in the country, said: ' Paying for sex has become a commonplace activity in our society. The internet has opened up new opportunities for people to obtain
material that would previously have been available only in adult bookshops. It is my theory that exposure to this has in turn raised the stakes for thousands of men who now want something more than pictures. They are going out on to the streets and
finding women who are there to facilitate them. Because of this, we are seeing an increase in demand for prostitution.'
Demand has been met by supply. There are now more women working in the sex industry than ever before, the result, in London
particularly, of a dramatic increase in foreign prostitutes. Eight out of 10 women employed in brothels or massage parlours in the capital are now from eastern European or the Balkans. Although prostitution itself is not an offence in Britain, running
or recruiting for a brothel is illegal, yet the police say they are powerless to intervene.
Vice Squad officers do visit virtually every massage parlour in the London area - chiefly in search of juveniles and women being held against their will - but
say they cannot afford the time or money to close them down.
Penalties will be increased sharply from 1 May, when the new Sexual Offences Act makes it illegal to transport women across borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation, but, according to
Bradford, not all who enter Britain come under this definition. Trafficking is a very emotive term. Lots of the women who come here know exactly what they are going to be doing. Many of them have been working as prostitutes in their own countries and
earning a pittance. They see Britain as a place where they can do the same work, but earn significantly more. Where it often falls down is that the women find themselves in a form of debt bondage and end up with only a tiny proportion of the money they
earn, the rest going to their pimp.'
The change in social attitudes is typified by the boom in lap-dancing clubs in London and elsewhere. Access to sex for sale has never been easier - via the internet, top-shelf magazines, certain newspapers or
specialised guides such as McCoy's Guide to Adult Services, which boasts on its cover: Including 448 massage parlours, 38 escort agencies, 144 private flats and houses, 341 individual working ladies, plus assorted erotic parties, dominatrices, working
couples and working twosomes.'
The author, George McCoy, also runs a website and a phone line with his 'Pick of the Month: Top Ten Massage Ladies'. He said: Most middle-class friends find what I do quite acceptable. I do after-dinner speeches
to Round Tables all over the country. Sometimes one of the guests will come up to me afterwards and talk about his experiences. In the past, it was something they'd never make public, but now they think: "What the hell." There is less stigma
about visiting a parlour now than there was 10 or 20 years ago. It's accepted as another feature of everyday life. We are told to be politically correct about everything - you can't drink, you can't smoke - and people just think, "Sod it".
McCoy has become acquainted with many of the women involved. 'There are a lot of single mums trying to make a better living than they can on the checkout at Tesco. There is an increase in Thais and east Europeans. But there are a lot of girls working
in flats in middle-class areas, such as Sevenoaks. There are also a lot now charging £400-£600 minimum, or thousands for a week.'
Hilary Kinnell, of the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, which represents 60 organisations working with prostitutes, said
there was evidence of prostitution spreading from cities into smaller towns to escape active policing. The sudden arrival of prostitutes in Scunthorpe, she claimed, appeared to have been triggered by a crackdown in Doncaster.
With no clear national
policy, the 43 police forces in England and Wales are left to their own devices. Only a handful have full-time vice squads, even where significant numbers of prostitutes are known to be operating. Street prostitutes attract the most complaints from
residents, so resources tend to be focused on them. In Bradford, police have targeted kerb crawlers and pimps rather than prostitutes. In Southend and the centre of Nottingham, police seek anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) against persistent street
walkers, breach of which can lead to up to five years' jail.
Liverpool is considering the radical experiment of Dutch-style 'streetwalking zones' in the inner city. Earlier this months, officials from Utrecht in Holland travelled to Merseyside to
brief senior police chiefs, civil servants and local councillors. If the scheme were introduced, prostitutes and punters could carry on without fear of arrest between certain hours within the zones. It would include a drop-in centre with a needle
exchange, condoms - and advice about routes out of prostitution.
Pimps would be banned, and uniformed police would be on patrol, backed up by CCTV - a response to a string of brutal prostitute murders on Merseyside. The rest of the city would become a
no-go zone for sex workers, easing tensions with residents.
But any such experiment first needs Home Office per mission to halt prosecutions, which would mean a change in the law. All eyes in Liverpool are now on the Home Office's review of
prostitution law, due in June. Such 'tolerance zones' are expected to emerge as one key option, although Ministers insist the paper is intended only to spark public debate,
Political nervousness about even such limited decriminalisation is high. Home
Office Minister Hazel Blears said decriminalisation is an 'unlikely outcome' of the review, because of the clear links between prostitution, organised crime and drugs. In Edinburgh, a pioneering 'tolerance zone' in the Leith docks district was recently
abandoned after the area was regenerated and new residents, snapping up its smart warehouse apartments, made their objections known.
But others argue that a fresh clampdown on punters could endanger women. Trish O'Flynn, senior policy officer at the
Local Government Association, said: 'The profile of the typical man who buys sex is not a sad, single bloke in his fifties: he's a 30-year-old who's married, with no criminal record and a good job. There is a debate to be had here. Is it just another
commercial activity - albeit not a very pleasant one - that people enter by choice and it just should be regulated? Or is it something that is unacceptable, and we should be looking at what motivates people to buy sex and how we could remove the demand?'
How sex laws differ around the world
· In Britain , prostitution is not illegal if the prostitute works independently without disturbing the public order. Men who are found buying sex several times in prostitution areas can
be fined. It is a crime to advertise, run a brothel or recruit for prostitution.
· In Greece , brothels are not allowed within 200 metres of public buildings. Athens considered a proposal for a new law to halve the distance to facilitate
prostitution during this summer's Olympics, but decided against.
· In the Netherlands , prostitution is legally defined as a profession and prostitutes join the Service Sector Union. They have been required to pay income tax since 1996.
Brothels employ 30,000 people.
· In Singapore , working women have to carry a 'yellow card' proving they are registered and have recently undergone a twice-weekly health check. Some brothels provide voluntary benefits to keep the
prostitutes working there.
· In Sweden , it has been illegal to buy or try to buy sexual services since January 1999. Prostitution is considered to be an expression of unequal relations between men and women.
· Germany passed a law in December 2002 that gave prostitution legal recognition. Cologne has legalised 'drive-in' brothels, with covered parking, and bedroom and shower facilities.
· Prostitution is illegal in the United States , except for Nevada, where 'cat houses' have been legal since 1970. There are up to 40 brothels and more than 300 licensed prostitutes. At the £2.5 million Wild Horse Resort And Spa, working
women don latex gloves to give men's private parts a check-up for clinical hygiene