IAIN WATSON: Scotland's capital by
night; as the sun sets on Edinburgh, there are some sights in this city
you won't see highlighted in the latest short break brochures. Around
the dockland area of Leith, the dark pages of an Ian Rankin or an Irvine
Welsh novel are made flesh. Even though this is Sunday, you're not going
to be treated to an uplifting tale of fallen women made good. A happy ending
Prostitution isn't illegal;
but soliciting for business is. So you would imagine that politicians would
be calling for a crackdown on the women who work these streets. But in
fact, there is a bill before the Scottish Parliament which would allow
police to turn a blind eye to those who are touting for business in designated
areas, just so long as local councils agree.
Edinburgh police once
operated an unofficial 'toleration zone' in this area. They wouldn't arrest
women who were simply looking for business. But after complaints from
new residents, the zone was abandoned a year ago
The women who worked there say this has put them not only at a greater
risk of prosecution; but at a greater risk of attack.
TRACY: The girls are like looking
out, looking behind their backs thinking, oh, would it be safe to stand
here, are the police going to come and get me and things that like.
WATSON: What kinds of risks are
you facing now?
TRACY: Being out there wondering
if any girls are, if when they go in that car are they going to come back
in the same car they went away in.
Everybody should be there for everybody, but because there's no zone,
there's nothing. You think to yourself, oh, will this be my last night
and things like that.
WATSON: Leading the charge to make
toleration zones legal is the veteran SNP politician Margo MacDonald. She
say her Bill won't impose them on places that don't want them. But she
believes the experience in Leith proves they can work; if they're confined
to non-residential areas
MARGO MACDONALD MSP: The idea of tolerating street soliciting
inside a strictly defined area centred around this area, because it used
to be old warehouses and it was frankly run down and not all that many
people around but in common with lots of places, you know near waterfronts
and cities and so on, it's been upgraded, it's very nice, very pleasant
indeed. Lovely new houses and you can't really blame the people for saying,
well we've got this house at some considerable cost and we don't want it
to be thought of as being in the middle of a red light district.
WATSON: She says the zone here
benefited not just prostitutes, but the law-abiding public too.
MARGO MACDONALD MSP: Firstly there was a lower rate of
criminality associated with street prostitution because of the intelligence
that the police had built up in the area, no pimps and things like that.
Also there were no under aged girls working as prostitutes, and there now
are because there's no tolerance zone, the police don't exactly know where
,you know, the women are going to be. And thirdly, the huge benefit to
public health, of the woman being in touch with the health services, the
fact that the HIV infection which should have been rampant amongst street
prostitutes in Edinburgh was actually at a lower rate of infection than
it is amongst the general public
WATSON: Now even those people who
support toleration zones admit that the difficulty of putting their idea
into practice will centre on the age old problem of location, location,
location. Margo MacDonald does have some ideas about where new toleration
zones could be sited in Edinburgh, but she won't let on for fear of sparking
a residents revolt. So we took a bit of a look around ourselves and who
knows, we may even have found the ideal place. Over here is a large hill
- not many residents there and on the other side there's an office block,
when office workers go home in the evening, they are hardly likely to hang
around and be offended by the sight of streetwalkers and there's a construction
site behind me. Unfortunately, it's going to be the home of the new Scottish
Parliament and politicians certainly don't want to see a toleration zone
in their backyard.
do the residents of Leith.
ROB KIRKWOOD: Well, this is one of the
many public places that the girls bring their customers. If you walk around
here, around about around 11/12 o'clock at night.
WATSON: Inside the play park?
KIRKWOOD: Yeah. You are likely
to come across one of the girls at work with one of the kerb crawlers,
so it's not something that the residents obviously feel very happy about.
WATSON: Rob Kirkwood is the spokesman
for the Leith links residents association. He says since the toleration
zone was ended in his part of Edinburgh, prostitutes have been straying
into residential areas, leaving behind unwelcome souvenirs - used condoms
and syringes. But he's sceptical that a new toleration zone would end
this night time invasion.
KIRKWOOD: You can for example get
a zone which could be described as industrial and non residential and the
girls may very well stand there looking for customers. The problem is where
will they take their customers. I suspect that many of them will branch
out into the back streets of the residential areas. So if a zone is going
to be set up that problem needs to be looked at.
WATSON: But location isn't the
only issue. While some of Scotland's top police officers are in favour
of toleration zones, the police federation - the body which represents
the rank and file - oppose them in principle.
CHIEF INSPECTOR COLIN DUNN: How do you ring fence an area and say
well the normal public are not allowed in to this area, but the public
who are wanting to pay for sex and the public who are wanting to provide
that, that is turned over to them, that cannot be right in a society that
claims to care for its public. We haven't it done with assault and robbery
and we haven't done it with murder. It remains on the statute book, we
don't set aside areas where people can commit an offence that's on the
national statute book or is an offence against national law.
MARGO MACDONALD MSP: It will not be illegal to solicit
inside a designated area and so therefore there's no question of turning
a blind eye. You would be applying the law. The law would be outside the
tolerance zone, soliciting is illegal, inside legal.
WATSON: In Scotland's largest city
a different approach to street prostitution is being taken. By night,
Glasgow operates what's known as a 'safe zone'. Unlike a toleration zone,
they don't like to shout about its existence, to stop it becoming a magnet
for prostitutes and punters alike. That said, ask just about anyone in
the city, even a Presbyterian maiden aunt and they could give you an exact
location. The police keep an eye out for any assaults here, but they
reserve the right to prosecute the women for soliciting. So they're not
sending out a signal that this lifestyle is acceptable. And local politicians
say Margo MacDonald's got her priorities wrong.
PAUL MARTIN MSP: She doesn't deal with the issue
of men who demand these services first of all. I think also it's tolerating
that women must live like this. Tolerating that it is acceptable for women
to put themselves at risk, day in and day out, it is not acceptable and
we have to support women during that period, we have to support them in
terms of their re-housing prospects, their employment prospects and supporting
them and their families
WATSON: So Margo MacDonald's Bill
may yet be sunk. But if it does make progress and delivers a safe haven
for women who work the streets, then Aberdeen may provide a sneak preview
of how toleration zones could operate in the future.
At Aberdeen's newest leisure
centre, you can enjoy a burger, take in a block buster, even play a game
of bingo. But just a few yards away, down rather more dimly lit streets,
less wholesome entertainment is taking place. This is Scotland's last remaining
toleration zone for street prostitution.
It's just gone six in
the evening. As a nearby leisure park begins to do a roaring trade, these
women are also hoping to attract business. Police here set up this informal
toleration zone a year ago. Drugs Action is a charity which works with
the women here, as almost all of the prostitutes are also heroin addicts.
They believe that putting the zone on a legal footing, where the council
would have to consult on its exact location, would help overcome any local
truculence about its proximity to public amenities.
SENGA MACDONALD: Having a tolerance zone is allowing
the situation to be managed and also for the local community and residents
to have some means of negotiation in the whole process, whereas without
the tolerance zone, that opportunity is not there.
ANNE CAMPBELL: One very strong comment
that somebody said to us last night was that she didn't want to just be
tolerated, she wanted to be accepted.
WATSON: A local member of the Scottish
Parliament doesn't support Aberdeen's informal toleration zone. Instead
he wants a more radical rethink
where prostitution is certainly accepted, but only behind closed doors
BEN WALLACE MSP: We should look at the options
of getting them off the street, into establishments where perhaps they
can be better protected, where the police can keep an eye on those places
and where the public can be protected from the nuisance that is often caused
or disturbs some people, when their areas would be I suppose categorised
a tolerant zone.
WATSON: So legalised brothels?
WALLACE: Well I think certainly
we should go some way down that.
MARGO MACDONALD MSP: Even if you tried to do that, I think
some women would probably still work on the streets. They've been doing
for rather a long time.
WATSON: Scotland's street prostitutes
are unlikely to leave the oldest profession via the route favoured by Hollywood
movies. Few rich benefactors trawl these streets to 'take them away from
all this'. So politicians have a choice - either to tolerate soliciting
within certain zones, or to do much more to encourage women off the streets
entirely. But it's unlikely that they can convince everyone that a red
light simply means STOP.