Merseyside’s Deputy Police Commissioner was among those who today attended a moving memorial service to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.
Cllr Emily Spurrell joined charity Changing Lives, who have been commissioned by the Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy to deliver the Red Umbrella service aimed at supporting anyone with experience of sex work and sexual exploitation, for the private service which remembers those who have lost their lives.
The international awareness day, which has been held on December 17th since 2003, was also an opportunity for all those attending to renew their commitment to rights for all sex workers, to bring attention to crimes against sex workers and encourage an end to the stigmas surrounding them.
Originally held as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway who is thought to be responsible for the deaths of more than 90 women, many of them sex workers, in Washington, the day is now marked in cities across the world, with many events featuring the red umbrella which has now become an important symbol for sex workers’ rights.
At this year’s event, held at the offices of the Red Umbrella project in Toxteth, there were speeches about the importance of the day, including from sex workers, their partners, family members and the Red Umbrella team.
Deputy Police Commissioner Cllr Emily Spurrell, who was among the speakers, said: “Women who are involved in sex work are at risk of extreme violence and abuse every day. These women are often vulnerable and we must protect them and do what we can to end the marginalisation they experience.
“I’m proud to say that Merseyside Police has led the way in prosecuting and securing convictions against those who commit offences against sex workers, in large part by being the first Force in the country to recognise these crimes as hate crimes and through the skill and care of our specialist sexual offences Unity Team who have been able to successfully prosecute violent individuals.
“This work has also been supported by the development of the Red Umbrella project which aims to support these women to ensure they get the help they need, ideally so they can exit this type of work but, for those who remain, to ensure they are better protected and are able to work free from violence, abuse and exploitation.
"As part of this project, a dedicated police sex worker liaison officer has been appointed to build trust and give sex workers the confidence to report incidents of violence to the police. Funding is also being used to improve the gathering of intelligence on those who inflict violence on sex workers.”
Merseyside Police's Detective Superintendent Richie Salter said: “The Red Umbrella project was created to help vulnerable sex workers to work with them to keep them safe and to encourage them to report violent crimes against them. Merseyside Police treat targeted attacks on sex workers as hate crimes because they are a vulnerable targeted group and we will make every effort to track down offenders and give victims the justice they deserve.”
As well as commissioning the Red Umbrella project, the Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy also gives her backing to National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a pioneering, national organisation which aims to protect sex workers. NUM share intelligence anonymously with Merseyside Police and other forces around the country and use reports of violent incidences to send out warnings directly to sex workers about dangerous individuals. The charity also helps both women and men to access professional support when they have been a victim of crime.