Is Leeds “Managed Approach to Street Prostitution” really an example of national best practice? If not, what went wrong?

The stated aims and rules of the Managed Approach (MA) were distributed to the women involved by Police and charity workers. After the 1 year pilot phase Oct 2014-2015, the scheme was declared a success.  The MA has consistently been raised up as a beacon of best practice, with suggestions that other cities around the UK should adopt it. 

As time went by, what began as a discreet project came to the attention of punters forums and the national media.  This led to the MA becoming more of a “destination” attraction.  Sex buyers believed they would not be stopped for kerb crawling and access to cheap street prostitution would be easier. The zone also became a magnet for the “barepunting” community: men who only have sex without condoms.  They learned that the high drug addiction rates in Leeds MA meant that unprotected sex could be bought from desperate women for as little as £20-£30.  Men began to travel from neighbouring cities: Bradford, Hull or further afield.  Women were trafficked to meet the demand.  So an MA that was intended to reduce the impact of street prostitution and help women exit ballooned to create a greater problem than it solved.  In 2017, the Holbeck residents started to protest about the sex litter and public sex offences happening in residential streets near the MA.

NB Leeds Managed Approach is a policy that covers street prostitution in the city.  A dedicated “zone” was created for street prostitution in a mainly industrial area, intended to keep sex industry activity contained away from the neighbouring residents.  It has proved impossible to contain the zone, so activity has spread across the residential areas of Holbeck & Beeston Hill.

failed Leeds managed approach

In 2011, the best practice guidance issued by Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) explained very clearly that street prostitution should be tackled in a 3-pronged approach.

“This strategy, therefore, promotes a holistic approach to the policing of prostitution that keeps in balance the three essential elements of individual, community, and the investigation and prosecution of those who exploit and abuse. It is not possible to effectively choose between these three facets of effective policing; they must operate simultaneously and sustainably.”

Put simply, this means addressing the three key areas of concern AT THE SAME TIME.

1 Women in prostitution (treat as victims of exploitation, help them get out)

2 Protect & work with the neighbouring communities

3 Tackle demand for prostitution by prosecuting the men involved

The first of these “3 prongs” is to consider the women as victims of abuse, something Save Our Eyes has campaigned for.  We do not accept the cohort of women trapped in street prostitution in Holbeck are there by choice.  We see them living in abject poverty, sometimes searching street bins and gutters for scraps of food or cigarettes. Yet these women are some of Holbeck’s highest earners… so where does their money go?  Far from empowering them to live comfortable lives and own their own homes the money goes straight to their drug dealers and pimps/ boyfriends.  The women live on benefits and food bank donations while their earnings are stripped from them systematically, along with their health and mental well-being.  SOE eventually saw that the situation is more akin to modern slavery.

compassion for prostituted women, independent review Leeds managed approach

The second prong is the community.  Here, the ACPO guidance told Leeds City Council exactly what would happen to the local residents if the 3-pronged approach was NOT used.  (Remember, this was published 3 years before the Managed Approach trial began in 2014.)

4.4.4 The risk, threat and harm that can be inflicted on communities by prostitution include: 

  • Harassment of people – generally women, by kerb crawlers; 
  • Environmental – e.g. discarded syringes and used condoms; 
  • Noise/visual pollution – sex workers and those associated with them loitering in the neighbourhood, sex workers’ cards in phone booths; 
  • Associated crimes– e.g. drug dealing, robbery, blackmail, protection;
  • Loss of real-estate and other economic value to the neighbourhood – low house prices and restricted business opportunities; 
  • Exposure to risk by the vulnerable, especially children and young people, which can lead to serious violent and sexual crime, causing long-lasting physical and emotional harm to the individual, and threats or acts of violence to their families. 

It’s almost as though the author, DCC Simon Byrne, had a crystal ball! You can read more about the impact on the Holbeck community on our website and in the Listening Well Report.

The third prong is to go after the abusers, eg the men controlling the prostituted women and those consuming them: the punters and kerb crawlers.

Recommendations included:

  • Effective counter kerb-crawling operations; 
  • DNA samples to be taken in all cases of recordable crime arrests; 
  • Progressive cautioning schemes to be applied in line with a prostitute cautioning policy 
  • Vehicle seizures to be used in persistent cases of kerb-crawling.

The Leeds Managed Approach covered the first prong, though we feel not enough emphasis has been placed on helping women exit prostitution.  However, the second and third prongs were effectively discarded (though from 2018 onwards there has been community engagement).  A pro sex industry campaign group were involved in advising LCC and they persuaded LCC that going after the punters “wouldn’t be fair” as it would be against the spirit of a tolerance zone.  They have consistently warned that trying to reduce the number of predators roaming the streets of Holbeck would “harm” women.  No evidence for this has been supplied and we find the claim ridiculous.  

Street prostitution increased so that it filled and overflowed from the designated industrial “zone” into the residential streets nearby.  Due to media reports that Leeds now had a “legal red light zone” where predators would not be arrested, men flocked here from other cities by car and train to consume the women.  This led to more women being trafficked into Leeds to meet the new demand.

These men cruise the residential streets looking for women and children to purchase sexual services from.  Female residents and school children are approached on a daily basis.  Any woman, of any age, is a target.  Sex acts take place in residents gardens, the parks, the streets and the phone box on the high street.  Used condoms and drug syringes are ditched at the point of use. Thousands of condoms, needles, used tampons, baby wipes & wrappers are collected from residential streets by the specialist LCC cleansing unit for the MA.  Their work has been much appreciated by residents.

The 2014 pilot project ignored half of the ACPO guidelines in place when it was set up, which is why we believe the whole thing has become a nightmare for local residents. LCC and the Police only started communicating with residents in 2017 when SOE was formed.  Voice of Holbeck was then created to bring community representatives together in 2018.  Importantly, VOH’s membership was dictated by the community, acting for the community.  However, Leeds City Council have now decided to replace VOH with their own consultation group where they can control the membership. This should stop the calls from VOH for an exit strategy to phase out of the managed approach and a zero-tolerance policy on kerb crawling!

Obtain a copy of The Listening Well Report by Voice of Holbeck by emailing voiceholbeck(at) This includes resident’s accounts of daily life in the shadow of the Managed Approach.

SOE statement on the launch of the Voice of Holbeck Listening Well Report

Meanwhile, the residents have suffered and the prostituted women have suffered.  Save Our Eyes are calling for:

  • services to support the women to be improved, especially addiction services. Funding priority should be given to organisations that help women exit prostitution. 
  • A zero tolerance policing policy for kerb crawlers and punters on foot across the whole of Holbeck & Beeston Hill
  • Specialist women’s refuge provision for women needing support to exit, these should be away from the Holbeck area.
  • LCC and the Police to deal with community groups & representatives, not just those who will pay lip service to the Managed Approach policy.

Supporters of the managed approach claim it is successful because prostituted women now report a greater proportion of crimes against them.  However, the huge increases in violence, intimidation and crime directed at the residents has not been taken into account.  Observers must consider the success of the MA “in the round”, not by looking at narrow criteria that only relate to the prostituted women.

We must end this pretence that Leeds Managed Approach is a successful flagship policy.  Aspects of it are in line with best practice and do work well, but the MA has failed overall due to the severe impact on the community and it’s lack of attention towards reducing male predators.  It has caused a rise in demand, not a reduction.

We’ve been working for 3 ½ years to address the problems the MA has brought into Holbeck.  We went from discreet, low level street prostitution, mainly in the derelict industrial areas, to prostitutes and punters queuing outside the community centre and having sex in the park.  In just three years.  That’s all it took for a pilot project, started in October 2014, to change a residential community for the worse and blight people’s lives from 2017 to now.

We believe this problem can’t be tackled effectively by allowing perverted men free access to vulnerable, desperate women.  Since 2017/18 when our work started, life has not dramatically improved for our residents and their children.

Save Our Eyes Committee

March 2021


Community leaders education event: watch the videos here

An education event for local community leaders was held at Holbeck Club on 21st June 2018.  Attendees included church leaders, Holbeck Neighbourhood Forum, local councillors, police officers and businesses.

Video 1 One of the brave ladies on this video asked for her identity to be concealed so the top of the video is hidden. Lisa & Claire spoke about their lives as heroin addicts at the recent educational event held for community leaders in Holbeck, Leeds. Lisa shoplifted to fund her addiction and Claire was forced into prostitution by her pimp/boyfriend. They tell their stories about life on the streets and how they were eventually freed with the help of international charity, Teen Challenge UK.

Alan Caton, Former detective superintendent of Ipswich Police talks about their programme to end street prostitution in the city.

Alan led the team that removed street prostitution from Ipswich in the UK. The approach was based on the Nordic Model and combined a comprehensive package of support for the women with a zero tolerance approach to kerb crawling. Presentation was at Holbeck Club, Leeds on 21st June 2018.

Fiona was forced into prostitution aged 15 and spent 11 years trapped in the sex industry. She exited 22 years ago and became a leading campaigner for the rights of prostituted women. She is an advisor to the UK government and the EU.

Fiona is part of SPACE International

error: Content is copyright Save Our Eyes 2020