Police issue warning after rape of prostitute in Sheffield
The rape of a woman working as a prostitute in Sheffield has lead to a police warning being issued.
A 36-year-old woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was plying her trade in the Wilson Street area of Neepsend when she was attacked.
David Vieira Lopez, 28, raped the woman as he made his way to work as a cleaner in the early hours of June 23, last year.
His victim managed to activate her phone in her bag during her ordeal to dial 999 and officers arrived within minutes but the sex attacker had already fled.
He was identified through his DNA, which was on the national database having been arrested before.
Lopez, of Homestead Road, Shiregreen, was jailed for eight years and placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life after being found guilty of rape following a week-long trial.
Today, Detective Chief Inspector Craig Jackson, of South Yorkshire Police, used the rape to warn of the danger the industry poses.
"There is a wide recognition within South Yorkshire Police that being an on street sex worker comes with increased risk. This case is a clear demonstration of the harm that can be perpetrated against these vulnerable people," he said.
"As a force we no longer seek to criminalise sex workers and work closely alongside our partners, both statutory and non-statutory, to identify ways to safeguard and protect those working in the sex trade, seeking where possible to assist with vulnerabilities such as substance and alcohol abuse which are often factors in both men and women turning to sex work."
On Bonfire Night 2001, Michaela Hague, 25, from Pitsmoor, was stabbed to death while working as a prostitute on the streets in Sheffield.
The mum-of-one was knifed 19 times after being picked up by a punter in Bower Street in the city centre and driven a short distance to an isolated car park on nearby Spitalfields, off Nursery Street.
She managed to provide a police officer a description of her attacker before she was rushed to hospital, where she later died.
Nobody has ever been charged over the murder.
DCI Jackson said the city's sex industry has changed over recent years and there are fewer prostitutes now working on the streets, with punters often using massage parlours and 'pop up brothels' instead.
"There is no doubt that that the landscape around the sex trade has changed dramatically over recent years, mainly due to the advent of the internet," he said.
"Although there is still an area near to Sheffield city centre where there is an on street presence, the cohort of sex workers has diminished considerably. It is likely that a number of sex workers have moved into static locations such as massage parlours together with those workers who advertise their services online or through more dynamic premises commonly referred to as pop up brothels.
"These specific premises have become a priority for South Yorkshire Police as these locations are more likely to involve individuals who are subject of trafficking, either into the UK or from elsewhere in the UK. Our efforts are focused into identifying such premises and working with partners to liberate and safeguard these vulnerable victims."
He said officers routinely visit addresses used by sex workers to speak to those involved.
"We continue to routinely visit fixed premises within Sheffield and elsewhere, including massage parlours, using local neighbourhood officers to engage the workers and, where possible, those seeking their services, to educate individuals about consent.
"South Yorkshire Police is fully aware of the footprint of organised criminality within the sex trade and is working hard to combat and disrupt this activity whilst seeking to safeguard those individuals affected by it."
He said the force focus is to help sex workers exit the industry rather than to prosecute but criminals forcing men and women to work against their will are still targeted.
DCI Jackson added: "South Yorkshire Police does not seek to target or criminalise those who find themselves working within the sex trade. We listen and respond to the public in relation to activity which seeks to undermine community cohesion and we do so proportionately engaging in a manner which is both professional and responsible.
"However, the force is actively engaged in operational activity which seeks to respond to intelligence and information regarding the sex trade particularly where it is suspected to involve human trafficking or aspects of modern slavery. There are a number of live investigations which are ongoing where our teams have disrupted and arrested those involved in trafficking females for sexual purposes in Sheffield.
"We are currently working with strategic partners both in the UK and outside the UK to ensure that those involved are brought to justice and the victims are properly safeguarded and protected from any further harm."
He urged members of the public to report concerns about those forced to work against their will.
Officers also want to information about properties being used as temporary brothels.
"We would ask members of the public to be vigilant and to report any concerns they have specifically around domestic premises where activity would suggest the movement of individuals that would indicate that the premises may be being used as a pop up brothel. This could be a short term let or a premises being sub-let for this specific use. It is these premises where it is likely we will find the victims of trafficking," he said.
The detective said officers monitor activity around massage parlours and have closed some down over the years.
"We are very aware and proactive towards the use of massage parlours and have had success in closing those premises down that breach licensing arrangements or are shown to be involved in criminality. South Yorkshire Police is active in this area and is seeking to utilise all aspects of legislation to mitigate the risk posed to by these establishments," he added.
Call South Yorkshire Police on 101.