"NUM is a crucial step forward in improving the safety of sex workers ... I have no doubt that NUM gives us better intelligence about dangerous individuals, supports police investigations and ultimately helps us bring these violent criminals to justice. "
- Martin Hewett, Chair of the National Police Chief's Council
While NUM has a number of aims as an organisation, our primary goal is to end violence against sex workers and improve their access to justice. Since our inception in 2012, NUM has engaged with police forces and representatives across the UK to support this mission, and to promote the wellbeing and safety of sex workers.
NUM recognises and acknowledges the structural barriers and difficulties that sex workers may have in accessing the police. The combination of criminalisation, multiple marginalisations and stigma leads to unpredictable policing, and the possibility that more harm than good may be achieved through direct engagement with the police for both individuals and communities. At the same time, NUM also recognises that the most well-established path to justice in society currently is that of the formal judicial system, and that this is an approach that some sex workers who are victims of crime wish to pursue. Our approach is ultimately that of victim-led police engagement, where individuals are in control of how much involvement they wish to have with the police and other services upon reporting to NUM, and receive support from our case work team regardless of their decision. We trust the ability and autonomy of every sex worker reporting to NUM to choose their own pathway to healing and recovery following an incident.
NUM currently engages with the police in the following ways
- NUM receives funding from individual police forces across the UK which contributes to the running of our core reporting and alerting services
- NUM shares information with the police regarding harms committed against sex workers only if the member reporting consents to this
- NUM links individuals to the police if the member reporting consents to this to pursue criminal justice outcomes, and can mediate this contact throughout the process
- NUM assists the police in investigative work regarding harms committed against sex workers
- NUM disseminates alerts on behalf of the police where these alerts may help to warn sex workers about dangerous individuals
- NUM provides training for select police forces across the UK to improve their support for sex workers
We will never give the police any information without explicit consent from the individuals concerned. NUM's engagement with the police is to support sex workers. We do not serve the police.
NUM values the lives of sex workers. We believe that they deserve investment, access to resources and social and legal protections. We also respect the efficient and strategic use of public funds for adult care. Many organisations are suffering cuts and reduced investment as a result of austerity and other pressures. We understand the need to spend wisely and we know that investment in NUM pays for itself several times over as the average rape costs over £100K to investigate and one murder may cost £3 million to investigate, according to a 2018 Home Office report.
Reporting, Alerting and Beyond
NUM runs its core reporting and alerting services at approximately £200K per annum. In a 2018 survey to a small fraction of our membership (n=175), 41% said that they avoided seeing a dangerous person after having read a NUM alert. We receive private messages, emails, and phone calls all the time from sex workers around the country who were booked with a dangerous perpetrator or were on their way to see someone who was the subject of an alert. Considering that just over 42% of reports to NUM are for violence, rape and sexual assault, our alerts demonstrably prevent crime and save police resources. However, the value of NUM is far more than purely financial. The support, safety and security that NUM provides to the sex working community in the UK is where our true value lies. The 90% of members who report feeling safer knowing that NUM exists, and the 40% who have used NUM to avoid dangerous individuals, reducing their risk of physical and emotional harm, is where our most important value lies.
The ability of NUM to work with police forces within the UK has been supported by a number of different sources. Some police forces have directly made contributions to NUM services, which allow us to operate our core reporting and alerting system. Our specialist case work support is funded through Comic Relief and the London Community Foundation. London Community Foundation have also funded NUM alongside the Metropolitan Police Service, which allowed NUM to provide specialist training and support to officers and other practitioners across London to improve the safety of sex workers, which received positive feedback.
"The training and support provided by NUM has definitely changed my approach to policing sex work and has enabled me and a number of colleagues to gain a better understanding of how we as police can support sex workers effectively. It has made me feel more confident in approaching and interacting with members of the sex working community and has helped me be attune to the concerns and preferences of sex workers when they are interacting with the police."
- Central BCU Sex Work SPOC, Metropolitan Police
NUM has also collaborated with the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) in the creation of the Sex Work and Prostitution Guidance to support police awareness regarding sex worker issues and provide advice for officers in engaging respectfully and causing minimal harm to sex workers in their role. This guidance has formed a central part of our community education programme, which we delivered to 9 police forces and over 200 officers across the UK in 2019/20. This education has been sex worker-led, devised by our Research and Development Team. The results have been positive, with 96% of attendees intending to use NUM services in the future to support sex workers, and the main concerns of police shifting from substance misuse, trafficking and safety to improving trust, breaking down barriers and the stigma faced by sex workers.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, members of our Research and Development Team have contacted police forces across the UK to understand their activities and strategies regarding sex work throughout lockdown and beyond. The results of this will be published shortly.
NUM, The Police and Sex Workers: Why Report?
More recently, in March 2020, NUM carried out a survey amongst our members to explore the barriers that they have faced, or may face, in reporting incidents of harm to the police. These results have provided statistical data which supports our members' experiences, and demonstrate that significant changes must be made in order to support sex workers' safety through our justice system. Full consent to engage with police down from 28% in 2012 to 9% in 2019 among off-street independent workers. Anonymous consent to share intelligence with police also declined from 95% in 2012 to 75% in 2019.
The most common reasons for these include fear of/experience of criminalisation, fear of/experience of stigma, inconsistencies in police responses and a lack of confidence in the ability of police to support sex workers in a discreet and informed way.
"It seems that there is not a unified approach in the way the police deal with incidents. There is very little consistency even from within the same police force. There are many occasions when the cons outweigh the pros to reporting."
"I was asked “what were you wearing?” when reporting six months of online harassment, stalking and outing by a former client. Kind of irrelevant, no? More training needed."
"Even with the best intentions people make mistakes, and I don't want the police to know that I do SW at all - I don't trust them with that information"
As such, we recognise that there is still a great deal of work to be done in ensuring that sex workers have the same rights and access to legal remedies and support as others in the UK. In the meantime, NUM will continue to support sex workers to make decisions regarding their personal pathways to justice and healing, whichever forms this may take.
We would like to thank the constabularies which have contributed to NUM in 2020/21, thereby demonstrating their commitment to improving sex workers' safety in their area:
- Avon and Somerset
- Greater Manchester
- Thames Valley
Looking ahead, NUM has been working on further developing our community education programmes, incorporating feedback from previous sessions from trainers and attendees, as well as broader members' experiences and digitisation. We look forward to delivering our updated training to forces across the UK over the next year, and helping to provide the information and tools police require to be able to build and develop knowledge, relationships and trust with sex workers within their area. 12 forces are being invited to our first sessions, led by experts by experience.
NUM will continue to work, as we always have, with the interests and safety of sex workers at the core of what we do. We will continue to advocate for the full decriminalisation of sex work, and for the cessation of detrimental and damaging enforcement of laws and bylaws which cause further harm to sex workers on a structural level. Our engagement with police is led by the needs and wishes of sex workers themselves, as we work towards a system and a society where sex workers can exist and operate without fear of violence, discrimination and stigma.