Sex trade investigation launched by Cheltenham councillors
AN IN-DEPTH investigation to examine the full extent of the sex trade in Cheltenham has been launched by the borough council.
It is hoped the review, which could lead to a one-day public inquiry, will establish whether or not the town does have a problem with the exploitation of young women and vulnerable people.
The decision comes on the back of negative publicity generated by a Channel 4 documentary in August 2010, which painted the town as having a murky underbelly linked to a network of brothels across the UK.
Councillor Barbara Driver (Lansdown, C) put forward a motion in June of this year asking for a detailed look at the issue.
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On a holiday to the USA this year, she realised there was a negative perception abroad about Cheltenham's sex trade.
She is one of five councillors appointed to a working group set up to look at the problem.
She believes the scrutiny review is needed to stop Cheltenham developing a bad reputation for the wrong reasons.
"What I want to do is either put the whole thing to bed and find that Cheltenham doesn't have a problem or, if there is a problem, discover what we are going to do about it," she said.
"We can't have these rumours flying about – we have to do something about it.
"It's not just the sex trade either, it's the exploitation of the young and the vulnerable or those with learning difficulties.
"We can't have rumours. We have to look at it and squash it."
Mrs Driver said the need to call for a review was reinforced after she visited New York and was asked about the issue.
She said: "I was in New York and I was invited to a barbecue and the topic of discussion was the sex trade in Cheltenham.
"So I decided to ask the question (and submit the motion) because obviously I would have preferred to have been talking about something else other than the sex trade in Cheltenham."
The aim of the review being undertaken by the working group is to look at the work already being done by partnership agencies and the police to address the issue and to establish the extent of the sex trade in Cheltenham.
The councillors will also ask if anything needs to be done from a licensing perspective to combat the issue.
The working group's findings will be reported back to the council in December when a decision about what action to take will be made.
Mrs Driver added: "If there is a problem it is about what we can all do to help. Everybody has to work together."