On the 6th July 2012, the National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme was launched at Manchester Town Hall to improve the safety of sex workers by; alerting them to dangerous individuals who target sex workers , increasing confidence in and the reporting of incidents to the police, enhancing the level of intelligence regarding crimes committed against sex workers throughout the UK and enabling earlier identification, detection and increased prosecution of repeat, mobile and dangerous offenders who target sex workers and other members of the community.
The National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme, managed by the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP), is currently funded by the Home Office. Research has shown that because sex workers are targeted they are vulnerable to crime and violence, but crimes against sex workers often go unreported to the police.
UKNSWP has for many years recognised that the laws on sex work in the UK are problematic and that the continued stigmatisation of sex workers impacts detrimentally on their safety, health and rights. These also contribute to a challenging relationship between sex workers and the police, as the people who are tasked to protect sex workers are also those who can arrest them or the people they work with. This lack of trust and confidence amongst some sex workers is one of the key barriers to the reporting of crimes against sex workers to the police.
Ugly mugs schemes originated in Australia when sex workers organised themselves to alert each other to dangerous individuals (referred to as ugly mugs or dodgy punters) and have existed at local level in the UK for over 20 years. However, both sex workers and those who pose a threat to them are mobile so the UKNSWP have advocated for a nationwide ugly mugs scheme for over 10 years.
The Scheme will work alongside and complement existing local ugly mugs schemes and warning boards on escort forums and allow sex workers to report incidents to a central national point if they feel reluctant to report directly to the police. It will also offer the option for individual sex workers who may not be in contact with a local project to report incidents directly into the Scheme.
The Scheme will issue, legally compliant alerts by e-mail, text message or phone app to warn sex workers of dangerous individuals. In addition if, and only if, the victim gives consent, the Scheme will feed the data anonymously to police intelligence and, in particular, SCAS who currently have a database of over 20,000 serious sexual offences. So, just to clarify if consent is given then the NUM Scheme will pass on report information to police intelligence hubs removing the name and contact details of the victim and any address included which might identify a sex worker’s place of work. If consent is not given then NO information about your report will be passed on to police intelligence systems. The information will only be used to produce alters to warn other sex workers – these will not include the victim’s name, personal details or address of their place of work.
Sex workers can also contact the scheme to get information about directly reporting to the police should they wish to consider this.
UKNSWP stresses that it is absolutely crucial for both the credibility of the Scheme and the UKNSWP that no personal information or anything that can identify individuals or the areas/premises in which they work is passed on to police intelligence without consent. Although the Home Office have funded the Scheme, it is being managed and run independently by the UKNSWP and therefore the Home Office DOES NOT have access to any data or personal information about members, indeed this would be in breach of Data Protection Laws.
UKNSWP believes a national scheme can play a role in preventing, murder, rape and other crimes committed against sex workers and other members of the public. It can play a role in improving police response to crimes against sex workers and building confidence. It sends out clear messages that sex workers have a right to protection and justice, crimes against them will be taken seriously and offenders will not get away with their crimes.
Amy Vergnes, a representative of Support And Advice For Escorts (SAAFE) and a National Ugly Mugs Champion said: “The scheme will form a lifeline for people like me all over the country, many of whom have no access to sex work projects and because of their personal circumstances and stigma, feel they have nowhere to turn in the event they are victims of crime. Allowing us the means to provide important information to the police anonymously and without fear of exposure or recrimination will not only catch criminals, it will save lives, and this scheme tells the world in no uncertain terms that our lives are just as important as everybody else’s.”
Josh Brandon, International Award Winning Male Escort and National Ugly Mugs Champion said: “I am happy to give my full support as a Champion for the National Ugly Mugs Scheme as it provides a mediator between the police and the victim. There is a real danger of escorts not reporting often very serious crimes because of their fears of being prosecuted, investigated or not taking seriously. The men who target sex workers do so because they know this. From my experience with helping other escorts start-up, I know this scheme can help save lives and protect sex workers and escorts and lead to more reporting of crimes that are all too often ignored leading to even more serious crimes being committed.”
Alex Bryce, Coordinator of the National Ugly Mugs Pilot Scheme said: “The National Ugly Mugs Scheme is ground breaking and will build on all the fantastic work of local schemes and online sites and forums in improving the safety of sex workers. Everyone has the right to live their lives free of persecution and violence and also the right to protection from the police. I really believe that this Scheme can and will save lives.”
Rosie Campbell, Chair, NUM Advisory Group and founder member of UKNSWP said: “NUM is a very important step in recognising the human rights of sex workers to security of the person & equality in the justice system. It provides a practical national scheme which for the first time links local project schemes, online forums and provides another option for sex workers throughout the UK to report directly into it and receive alerts. It is the only national scheme where, if sex workers choose, they can get intelligence to police specialist analysts through an independent third-party and also be advised about reporting directly to the police should they wish. It will encourage police forces to engage more proactively with ugly mugs schemes and implement their duty of protection to sex workers. Alongside this positive scheme, UKNSWP will continue to highlight policing practices and laws which impact detrimentally on the safety & rights of sex workers in the UK.”