My name is Alice and I was once possibly just like you. I loved my work as a school teacher. I had a normal life which now seems so far away.
My story starts with my partner. He was abusive and this caused me mental health problems which became so bad that I was taken into a psychiatric hospital for my own protection and treatment.
On discharge I was homeless and I was given a place in a specialist refuge for women in Chapeltown, Leeds. I was recovering and hoped to re-build my life. I was then moved to another womens refuge in Holbeck, Leeds. As a domestic violence survivor I really struggled with the behaviour of some men in Holbeck. Although the refuge was outside the “managed zone” area there were lots of kerb crawlers in the residential streets – not just cars but men on foot. I found being approached for sex distressing and scary. I was a teacher! I have never been involved in the sex industry. I was offered money for sexual services regularly, around twice a week. Can you imagine what it’s like having to constantly explain to men that you are not a prostitute?
The other women in the refuge were all people who had suffered in life and were trying to make a recovery too. Most were really sweet and I made friends there. Many were scared too… we all had the same problem once we stepped out of the front door. Sex buyers would see us and assume we must be prostitutes because we were women walking about normally in Holbeck. There was a corner shop near the refuge. We couldn’t even get to the corner shop without being approached.
I expressed my concerns to the admins at Save Our Eyes and they gave me one of the rape alarms they had purchased. I carried it with me everywhere.
What happened in May 2018 changed everything. I went out one evening to meet a friend and we had a few drinks nearby. I wasn’t drunk. I walked back to the refuge around 11pm. Just as I arrived a car pulled up next to me. It was the kerb crawlers as usual… this time was different though. There were 4 men in the car. They wound down the windows and started asking me to get in. They explained they wanted me to go with them to a party and it would be fun. I didn’t want to go with them but a couple of them got out of the car and took hold of me. Despite my protests they bundled me into the car. I couldn’t escape. Looking back I realise I was paralysed by it all and couldn’t believe what was happening.
They took me to a house not far away. There was no party… it was just me and them in the house. That’s when it became obvious they thought I was a prostitute. They were asking my prices for sexual services and offering me cash. I was terrified. I told them I’m not a prostitute but they didn’t believe me because they found me walking in the street in Holbeck. I have old self harm scars on my arms and they rolled up my sleeves and said the scars must be from doing drugs. I’ve never used drugs.
They attacked me and one of the men raped me. Afterwards I escaped in a panic and set off the rape alarm. I ran down the street banging on different front doors until one opened. The residents took me in and called the police.
I was examined and DNA evidence obtained. The police found my attacker and he was charged then bailed. I was never even told his name.
I was devastated when the police told me they were not pursuing the case. All he had to do to get away with abduction and rape was claim that I was a prostitute. They said it was my word against his and not worth taking the case to court. The refuge has a security camera outside but it wasn’t working so the evidence of my abduction was never available.
I’m speaking out because the authorities are housing vulnerable women in Holbeck where they are not safe. I wasn’t safe right outside the front door of a women’s refuge. We are told that the managed approach for prostitution is supposed to make women safer but in reality it does not. It puts women at risk because perverts and rapists are drawn to the area and made much bolder by the policy.
So what does the future hold for me? Who knows… I’m left not even 30 years old with a broken heart and a broken life. I’ve moved away from Leeds now. I couldn’t feel safe there as I was not told the identity of my attackers and they will never be brought to justice.
I want justice and understanding. Vulnerable women need help. Housing us in Holbeck surrounded by perverts is not acceptable. I have to live with the consequences of the failure of the “managed approach” and I want people to understand what is really going on.
I have asked for my identity to be concealed but I still want my voice to be heard.
Simon Häggström, Swedish Detective Inspector, Prostitution Unit