Thursday, October 16, 2008

BBC report: prostitutes on Tooting Bec Common

Amanda Austin is a liar

Yesterday evening there was a report on prostitution on Tooting Bec Common on BBC 1 at 7.30 pm. It was one of the reports on 'Inside Out' presented by Matthew Wright, and it is one of the shabbiest examples of journalism I have ever seen.

The presenter started “Imagine, though, having pimps and prostitutes doing a roaring trade right on your doorstep”. I know that there are no pimps on Tooting Bec Common. I know this because I have been going to Tooting Bec Common for 8 years and I have seen what goes on there (at least in the daytime), I have talked to the girls frequently, and this programme offered no evidence that there are any pimps there.

The journalist Shini Somarathne then talked about “evidence everywhere of sex and drugs irresponsibly discarded where kids come out to play”. It is true that you can find lots of used condoms and condom packets but not on the paths that most people use, only the paths in the dense undergrowth. People don't just have sex in the open where people are likely to walk past, even at night.

I have never seen drugs equipment there ever. The programme showed what looked like it might be part of a syringe, but I have never seen anything like that before. Addicts don't use syringes to take crack, and I doubt very much if anyone is going to inject heroin out in the open, they prefer seclusion.

It is Amanda Austin, a local resident and member of Neighbourhood Watch, who annoys me most. She said “Residents have been concerned that they've seen girls who've been beaten up, that we really don't want children in the area to have to witness that – and residents have also said that they've been propositioned when they are walking through the park in broad daylight with young children”.

She went on to say “We want to have this somewhere safe and free of rubbish and free of drugs equipment and needles and condoms”.

In the 8 years I have been going to the Common I have never seen an injured girl, or anyone propositioned when children have been anywhere around. I have never seen any drugs equipment like needles there ever. And if you don't believe me, I can prove what I say. You just have to go there yourself and see it for yourself.

I wasn't going to publicise the precise location of where the prostitution occurs on my blog (Tooting Bec Common is a large place). However, the residents of the area seem so keen to publicise their problem in the media (unwisely, I feel) that anyone who has seen the programmes about it will now know where to go. If you walk westwards along Becmead Avenue from the centre of Streatham and cross the road into the park, that's where it is. If you get to the railway line you have gone too far.

Later Amanda Austin said “I've heard more alarming stories, perhaps, about one woman who had a bloody face and was out on the common still working”. I would suggest, perhaps, that this is exactly what she says it is – a story. If not a story then a one-off incident. It sounds to me like middle-class people trying to protect their property prices and making a lot of stuff up, and a journalist who is just interested in a good story and can't be bothered to check the facts.

Most amusing was the attempt at secret filming. They wanted to show that prostitutes were returning to the area. My understanding is that at night girls do get into cars on the roads around the Common. But the best that they could come up with was showing a young woman in jeans walking along a path by a road talking into her mobile phone.

They also showed what they said where 3 policemen approaching a man at night standing at a bus shelter. They said that this was a pick-up point. No it is not. It is a bus shelter. They then showed the man getting onto the bus leaving the 3 men there. So much for this “sting”.

They talked about people 'loitering'. It's a park. What do you expect people to do in a park? It is enormously difficult to work out who is a punter or an ordinary man, or who is a prostitute or an ordinary woman. It's not a simple as lifting their skirts up to see if they are wearing any knickers.

I remember early last year I was sitting on a park bench where often punters sit. I was a bit annoyed because I had been there several times that year and I had seen no prostitutes at all. This just goes to show that – during the daytime at least – it is not an enormous problem. A man came and sat next to me and after a while I asked him if he had seen any. I don't normally talk to other punters. Turns out he wasn't a punter at all, just some ordinary bloke.

The programme also talked about Marissa Mann who, 11 years ago, was beaten up by prostitutes. Not very nice, but it does show that they are not the timid victims that people like to portray them as. They don't need pimps. The only men they are going to hand their money over to are the drug dealers. I have occasionally seen men on the Common who I have thought might be drug dealers. Men on bikes who have a certain look about them.

The police should go after the drug dealers. If police action can't get rid of the dealers, then how do people think that police action will get rid of the prostitutes or their clients? As I have said more than once on the forum, get rid of the dealers and you get rid of addiction. Get rid of the punters and the girls just do more shop lifting and other anti-social activities.

My understanding is that girls go to the Common in the daytime when they no longer wish to get into cars at night (either on the roads next to the Common or at Brixton Hill/New Park Road). They feel safer there, although they can't make as much money.

I often think drug dealers are not criticised as often as they should be because so many people hand over money to dealers. I don't. People don't want to criticise anything that they are involved with or may one day become involved with.

Much better than the confrontational approach of people like Amanda Austin or Marissa Mann is to try and talk to and help the girls. I admire people like the workers at St Mungo's (mentioned on the programme) who offer them an alternative. Doesn't always work because they don't want to quit until they are ready, but they are doing what they can with limited resources.

I think the reason why people always want to think that pimps must be involved is because they want to think that girls are forced into this way of life. They like to think of them as victims. Also they want to believe that it could not happen to them. Any woman who takes drugs like cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and crystal meth are in danger of one day ending up on the streets as a street girl. You may not believe it can happen to you, but then that's always the way with drug addiction.