No sex worker ever truly feels safe, but Daria Pionko probably thought that by operating within a police-designated “managed area” she stood a better chance of escaping the violence which befalls street-based sex workers – who are twelve times more likely to be murdered than the general public. Instead, Daria was killed in a brutal and sustained attack in December last year, days before Christmas. She was twenty-one years old.
Earlier this week, Leeds City Council announced that it would be making the managed area Daria was murdered in permanent, in an attempt to protect sex workers. Sex workers in the managed area, in the Holbeck part of the city, will be able to operate between the hours of 7pm to 7am without fear of arrest. A special police officer has also been appointed to monitor the area. In a statement given to Dazed, Superintendent Sam Millar said the managed area has “significantly improved the relationship between sex workers and the police, giving them the confidence to report offenses.”
Although the move to establish a permanent “red light zone” from Leeds City Council is a step in the right direction, many campaigners feel it doesn’t go far enough. After all, a managed area didn’t keep Daria safe, and while a man stands accused of her murder, who’s to say other sex workers in Holbeck aren’t also at risk?
Meanwhile, calls for the decriminalization of sex work from activists and human rights groups such as Amnesty International grow stronger. They argue that only by totally decriminalizing sex work (as opposed to the so-called Swedish model, where only punters are prosecuted), can we keep sex workers safe. We interviewed activists to find out why decriminalization is the answer.
Laura Watson, from the English Collective of Prostitutes, explains why managed zones don’t go far enough. “The safest option for sex workers isn’t a particular managed area. We campaign for the safety of sex workers, and the only way to achieve this is by a worldwide decriminalized area. We’re very concerned about the fact that sex workers only have to step outside of the managed area and they can be harassed by the police”.