In 2006, police in Merseyside, England declared that crimes against prostituted persons were categorized as hate crimes. (Jacobs Ms.Magazine 2014) This policy has become known as the “Merseyside Model.” The Merseyside Model focuses on the protection of prostituted persons, as compared to other forms of enforcement against prostitution, which criminalize the victims of prostitution. (Navarro 2014)
Criminalizing prostitution created barriers to reporting crime primarily because victims of prostitution felt that society and the authorities looked down on them. This view of prostituted persons as criminals also led to an increased risk of them “losing their livelihood, their home and their status within their wider community, as well as the risk of being alienated by family and friends and the risk of losing custody of their children.” (Jacobs Ms.Magazine 2104) (Jacobs ImpoliteConversation 2014) Casting prostituted persons in a criminal light leads people to “judge them, look down on them, and by some they are deemed ‘unrapable.” (Jacobs Ms.Magazine 2014)
In one interview, Kate, a victim of prostitution, stated that “I felt [the rapes] would be categorized as ‘alleged’ rapes, with question marks over my reliability and circumstances … and that feeling would be too hard to handle.” (Navarro 2014) She went on to say, “It’s like I have to take responsibility for everything: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being raped, not fighting back, not trying harder to get away and now not letting it happen to anyone else.” (Navarro 2014)
With the implementation of the Merseyside Model, police not only categorized violent crimes against prostituted persons as hate crimes, but they also began to collaborate with programs “that offer services such as harm reduction, counseling and outreach”, which in turn made victims of prostitution “feel safe reporting crimes committed against them.” (Huffington Post)
How the Model Changed Reporting and Violence against Prostituted Persons
Categorizing violence against prostituted persons as a hate crime led to a 67% conviction rate for rape of sex workers in 2010 and an 84% conviction rate for crimes against prostituted persons in general. (Jacobs Ms.Magazine 2014) This is compared to the United Kingdom’s national conviction rate of 6.5%. (Jacobs Huffington Post 2014) More prostituted persons felt safe, and were more willing to report incidences of rape and violence against them. (Jacobs Ms.Magazine 2014) By prioritizing protection of prostituted persons, over the enforcement of actions against prostitution, women have reported crimes against them at a much higher rate. (Summerford 2014)
Possible Drawbacks of the Merseyside Model
Although the Merseyside Model has significantly impacted the conviction rate for rape and violence against prostituted persons, and has led to increased reporting by victims to law enforcement, there are still some possible drawbacks to the approach overall.
To begin with, the Merseyside model does not offer any rehabilitative services for the victims of prostitution. The strict focus on conviction of people who are violent toward prostituted persons, although well-intentioned, does not provide for any supportive mechanism that women and men can turn to in trying to escape the prostitution industry. A rehabilitative mechanism is essential, because without such a measure, it both very likely and possible that victims will end up right back into the system.
Another major drawback of the Merseyside Model is that it does not provide a sufficient prevention method for preventing the violence against prostituted persons in the first place. Although the categorization of violence against prostituted persons as a hate crime may de-incentivize some prospective violent offenders from raping or assaulting victims, it does not provide any formal mechanism that could be put in place to stem the tide of violence occurring in the first place. The Merseyside Model is an ex post system designed only to correct past wrongs without really preventing future ones.
Also, in terms of prevention, the model does not prevent victims from being lured or forced into prostitution in the first place. This once again reflects the ex post nature of the system. It works to bring justice to prostituted persons in terms of punishing violent offenders after they have already been raped or assaulted, but it does not consider the preclusion of the man or woman from entering into the prostitution industry.
A final drawback of the Merseyside Model is that it does not criminalize the pimps and sex traffickers who lure, force, and keep men, women and children into the prostitution industry. It is true that if a victim reports that their trafficker raped or beat them, the trafficker will be subject to the hate crime laws at hand. However, if there is no report of violence toward a prostituted person, or there is no violence toward them in general, but instead just psychological and mental manipulation, the trafficker themselves will not be subject to punishment under hate crime laws.
What Could be Done to Improve the Model?
The aforementioned weaknesses of the Merseyside Model could be remedied by making the model more inclusive of prevention and rehabilitation considerations essential to the eradication of the sex trafficking industry in general.
Law enforcement could collaborate with programs to ensure that once a crime has been reported, the victim has established and reliable resources to which they can turn. In addition to helping victims escape their situation without financial fear or fear of retaliation, collaborating with prostituted persons help programs will assist in preventing victims from re-entering the system. These programs also provide a safe place where people can feel comfortable reporting the pimps and sex traffickers that lured and kept them in prostitution.
In considering how the model could be improved, it is important to note that the act of selling sexual services is legal in the United Kingdom, whereas, with the exception of Nevada, it is illegal in the United States. Thus, implementing the Merseyside model in the United States may be much more difficult due to the fact that when law enforcement gets in touch with prostituted persons, they may be more interested in arresting them for committing the crime of prostitution, than making sure that any violent offenders are brought to justice. Due to this difference, the model may need to be altered so that it fits with American law.
The Merseyside Model, although a step in the right direction, has room to improve. It does not provide sufficient mechanisms to prevent the violence, rehabilitate victims, or criminalize their traffickers. Overall, however, the model provides a successful and innovative approach to a growing problem. More academic research and peer reviewed examinations on the effects of the model could shed light on additional strengths and weaknesses as well as provide a guideline on the best ways to implement it. Once more information is collected, law enforcement and other institutions can begin to look at whether the model is an effective tactic that should be used in the efforts toward ending domestic sex trafficking.
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Summerford, Jackie, Ruth Jacobs, and Alex Bryce. “Petitioning Rt Hon Mrs Theresa May MP:
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