A surge in reports of prostitution in Sheffield city centre is the ‘tip of the iceberg’, according to police who are calling on the public to help them target kerb-crawlers.
A total of 56 reports of sex workers in the city centre were made between April 2013 and March 2014 – up 166 per cent from 21 in the previous year.
But PC John Taylor, prostitution officer for Sheffield Central, said he deals with an average of six prostitutes a night on patrol and is urging more people to report those looking to take advantage of the vulnerable women.
The officer said Allen Street and Scotland Street in Neepsend are the hotspots, with a ‘core’ of about six to 10 women out every evening, on average.
During one shift, PC Taylor spotted 16 cars driven by single males in the area in five minutes, all looking for prostitutes.
He said: “I think the problem has eased off slightly in the past year, but it’s one of those things – I can’t control how many people are driving around looking for prostitutes.
“It’s like anything else. You only ever get the tip of the iceberg with anything anti-social behaviour related.
“If you cut off the demand, the supply might eventually diminish, so I concentrate on that.
“My aim is to pursue the kerb-crawlers. I want to emphasise that these kerb-crawlers are taking advantage of the vulnerability of these girls.
“We have sent to court or cautioned 60 kerb-crawlers since last March, which is the highest number we’ve dealt with.
“We have sent the highest number of girls to court and the highest number of referrals to Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunities Project.”
The force also runs Operation Kerbsafe, which focuses on referrals to SWWOP and helps women to stay safe.
Insp Darren Starkey said: “South Yorkshire Police are carrying out a great deal of work in Sheffield city centre, in conjunction with partner organisations, to tackle the issue of prostitution.
“The operation focuses on kerb-crawlers as well as the women themselves, as we are all too aware that moving them on does not tackle the underlying issues.
“Instead, we want to try to get these women, many of whom are vulnerable, referred to the appropriate support agencies.”
He urged more people to report kerb-crawlers and prostitutes to help them gather information and give support to the women.
He added: “Over the last 12 months there have been 62 women referred to SWWOP, compared to 40 women cautioned for soliciting.
“Again, this reflects our aim of helping these women to access the appropriate support that they need to move on from that lifestyle.”