First Legal Red Light District in the United Kingdom

European Regional Correspondent

Leeds has become the first city in the United Kingdom to have its own full-time ‘red light district’ where sex workers can legally operate, as long as they follow certain regulations.

Prior to this, sex workers in the Holbeck area of Leeds were allowed to work between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Following the success of the pilot project, the city decided to keep the red light district permanently.

The decision came just three weeks after a sex worker was murdered in Holbeck. Twenty-one-year-old Daria Pionko was found with fatal injuries in the area. A 24-year-old man is currently in custody awaiting trial.

Police in the area will no longer issue cautions or make arrests for soliciting during the working hours specified in the area.

Extra bins have been installed across the district to keep the area tidy, with reports of crime and ‘anti-social behaviour’ reportedly decreasing since the area was set up.

NSWPs regional correspondent for Europe interviewed Alex Feis-Bryce, Chief Executive Officer of National Ugly Mugs. They said,

Prior to the introduction of the managed area, police approach in Leeds was purely enforcement based, so both sex workers and clients were frequently arrested and faced multiple levels of stigma. Trust in the police was incredibly low and only seven percent of sex workers reporting violent incidents to us in Leeds were willing to report to the police. The managed area is a move away from police enforcement and, while it is not perfect, it has made a significant difference and sex workers feel they can report to the police when they are victims of crime. Since the policy was changed now around 60% of sex workers are willing to report crimes to police and several perpetrators have been convicted of targeting sex workers. We support full decriminalisation but in a legal framework where many aspects of sex work is still criminalised the measures taken in Leeds to move away from harmful police enforcement have improved the safety and welfare of sex workers.

Councillor Mark Dobson, Executive Member for Environmental Protection and Community Safety in Leeds, said, “I'm of the opinion that it is an industry that's as old as time and it isn't going to stop and, as a city that is responsible and cares about the people who live here - including the women who work in this industry - we have had to take a pragmatic approach to keep them safe.”

"Our job is to keep people safe and that applies when people put themselves in risky situations," said Superintendent Sam Millar.

A report was published in September 2015 by the University of Leeds on the success of the pilot project. To see the report, download the Executive Summary below.

The idea of an official red light district in Birmingham, another city in the U.K., has some support, according to online readers of Mail in an online poll.  Fifty-five percent of those who responded to online poll said Birmingham should have a red light zone.

A councillor of Birmingham Majid Mahmood said, “I think it’s high time, especially in the current financial climate we are in, that the police and city council officers have a conversation to see if this is a way forward in order to tackle the issues that we are facing on a continuous basis in this district and across the city.”

Download this resource