Merseyside Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy has pledged her support for the pioneering National Ugly Mugs Scheme aimed at protecting sex workers from violent offenders.
National Ugly Mugs (NUMS) brings together a UK network of sex worker projects. With the victim’s consent, Ugly Mugs provides both local police forces and the newly-formed National Crime Agency (NCA) with reports of offences against sex workers. The charity also alerts sex workers to dangerous individuals.
The programme was set up just over a year ago, initially with funding from the Home Office and formal support from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
Merseyside Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy has backed the scheme since its inception and is now continuing to support the programme as its funding is cut.
She said: “Through the innovative National Ugly Mugs schemes more than 95% of victims are now prepared to share details of the incidents they have suffered. Without this, the police would be blind to the true pattern of offending and less able to target resources to reduce future attacks.
“A recent Inside Out London episode covered some of the pioneering work that Merseyside Police have been doing to improve conviction rates for attacks on sex workers. This work has been so successful that sex workers are more likely to report incidents in Merseyside than in any other area. I am committed to ensuring this important work continues and I am delighted to be supporting the work of National Ugly Mugs”
The pioneering work to crackdown on attacks on sex workers in Merseyside is the result of a strong relationship between Merseyside Police and Armistead. Armistead Street programme provides an outreach, access and referral service to female street-based sex workers, while Armistead City provides a similar service for young men who exchange sex for gain or favour.
Merseyside Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Chris Armitt, National Policing Lead on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation was also quick to highlight the outstanding work delivered by the National Ugly Mugs Scheme.
He said: "This organisation not only helps to keep sex workers safe but also helps to highlight those individuals who exhibit violence towards sex workers. The National Ugly Mug reporting scheme is instrumental in bringing information about these dangerous individuals to the attention of local constabularies, helping the police to bring to justice to those who commit crimes against sex workers.”
Nationally, over the past nine months alone the programme has made contact with 10,000 of the estimated 80,000 sex workers operating in England and Wales.
More than 1,200 individual sex workers access National Ugly Mugs services with over 250 organisations offering frontline support. In its first year 480 incidents were reported to it, including 120 sexual assaults.
The scheme has already had a significant impact leading to nine convictions of serial repeat offenders. A recent pilot evaluation also found that 16% of sex workers had refused to meet or had avoided specific individuals as a direct result of its alerts. It also found that 42% of sex workers changed their practices in some way after reading alerts and 60% felt that they would be more likely to report incidents to the police.
While the majority of victims give consent for the information to be shared anonymously only 28% were willing to report formally to the police.
National Ugly Mugs Scheme manager Alex Bryce said: “Merseyside Police have been a key ally of the National Ugly Mugs (NUM) Scheme from its initial inception and were one of the key partners throughout the pilot and remain so today.
“Indeed, in working with police forces nationally and raising awareness, National Ugly Mugs have used the Merseyside Model as a good practice example for other forces to follow. Sex workers in Merseyside are far more likely to report incidents to the police than in any other area – this a testament to the approach of the local police.
“NUM has undoubtedly prevented a number of serious crimes and to run the scheme for one year costs around the same as investigating a single rape and about a tenth of the cost of investigating a murder. But despite the fact that the Scheme is clearly a cost effective investment for the police we are still facing a challenge in getting formal support from police forces and commissioners. So it is a testament to Jane Kennedy’s commitment to crime prevention and detection through engagement with communities and partners that she was one of the very first Police and Crime Commissioners to support the Scheme and we are confident that she will be a vocal and dedicated champion building on all the pioneering work the Force has done in this area in recent years.”
“Investigating a single rape costs around £100,000 and, of course there is then a hurt victim. The sum is just less than what it takes to run NUM for a year. I have no doubt whatsoever that by helping the police apprehend serial offenders and warning sex workers we have prevented a number of serious offences and potentially saved police forces across the country hundreds of thousands of pounds. Crucially, I really believe that NUM has saved lives and will continue to do so.”
Find out more about National Ugly Mugs
Watch Inside Out London on the work of Merseyside Police and Armistead