TWO Scottish sex worker charities have clashed – with both accusing the other of endangering women.

It started when SCOT-PEP accused Police Scotland of using their support, health and wellbeing (SHAW) visits as a cover for raids in an attempt to criminalise those involved in the sex industry.

SCOT-PEP published “know your rights cards” for sex workers in Romanian, Thai, Portuguese, Polish and Mandarin, and said the Encompass Network that works with police was “facilitating the intimidation and criminalisation of people who sell sex in Scotland”.

Encompass hit back, saying the tone of SCOT-PEP’s cards could deter sex workers who had been attacked from going to the authorities. Police Scotland also denied the accusation.

SCOT-PEP co-chair Nadine Stott said: “In a legal context where the police prosecute sex workers, it’s completely inappropriate to use police surveillance and unannounced police visits to deliver ‘support’ or ‘advice’ to people who sell sex.

“We have now seen that part of Police Scotland’s own remit with regards to Operation SHAW is to ‘identify other criminality’. For sex workers in our network, this raises the frightening possibility that Police Scotland are conducting surveillance and surprise home visits on sex workers under the veneer of offering ‘help and support’, while in fact looking for opportunities to criminalise sex workers for drug use, immigration offences or anything else they can find.”

A spokeswoman for the Encompass Network said they supported efforts to build relationships between “those involved in selling sex, support organisations and statutory organisations such as the health service and Police Scotland”.

She added: “SCOT-PEP has produced a Know Your Rights Card for people involved in selling sex and whilst we welcome the idea in principle, we are concerned that the tone of these leaflets may deter women from seeking support and reporting crimes for fear of prosecution.

“We have been informed by Police Scotland that no women have been prosecuted as a result of any SHAW visit and have seen no evidence to support this claim. We would be keen to see the concrete evidence for this assertion.”

Encompass said many of the women they work with have experienced assault, abuse, attacks, violence and attempted murder.

“We want to ensure that any crimes committed against them are reported and that their attackers are held accountable. Some women have highlighted the positive response they have received from police upon reporting crimes and we want to ensure this is a consistent approach across Scotland. Migrant women have been surprised by the police reaction – especially as some had been told by pimps, controllers and managers that they would be judged and punished.”

SHAW is a successor to home visits started in Edinburgh after police there stopped their relaxed attitude to sex work when the Lothian and Borders force was merged into Police Scotland. After a crackdown on saunas was ordered by then Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, sex workers moved into flats or lap-dancing bars. The NHS women’s clinic also recorded a 10 per cent drop in the number of sex workers using their services.

In a bid to redress that, the force worked with charities to offer support and welfare checks for prostitutes, sending officers and support workers into the homes of sex workers.

Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Houston, head of Police Scotland’s Human Trafficking Unit, said: “Police Scotland is committed to improving the safety and wellbeing of people, localities and communities. It is recognised that many males and females involved in prostitution are there as a result of force or a perception of limited alternatives. It is also acknowledged that other persons may have freely chosen to be involved in prostitution.

“SHAW (Support, Health and Wellbeing) visits were introduced by Police Scotland and our partners to improve our multi-agency response to ‘off-street’ prostitution. Visits are victim-centred as opposed to enforcement being a priority. The methodology has been developed through collaboration between Police Scotland and key partner agencies. “