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Ellena Cruse. Police talking to a sex worker on Ilford Lane. Picture: Ellena Cruse. But as soon as she put away pictures of her cherubic son, with tufts of brown curls, her face transformed into a blank canvas- despite the layers of lipstick and foundation. I was standing in a harshly lit alley way in the back end of Ilford, sharing toddler stories with a sex worker. Redbridge police have invited me on a night shift with them as they tackle antisocial behaviour, including prostitution.
As we inspected a side road on foot we caught a women and a man engaged in a sexual act behind a wheelie bin and as officers approach she hastily pulled up her jeans.
There are no jobs, this is what we do. Sergeant Lee Wilkinson, of Ilford town centre and Loxford ward police said it is the story he hears a lot. After handing the pair a antisocial behaviour order, banning them from the area for 48 hours, he said the majority of women come from Romania. We bump into a few more Romanian women who speak of disliking their profession but need to provide for their children- often after relationships break down.
The sex workers often give the same addresses or hotels as places of residence and officers said they will be checking out premises in Barking and Ilford as a result. However there are handlers, and some of the girls get picked up at the end of the night and dropped off. We have to balance the needs of the sex workers, some of who can be trafficked with the needs of the local residents.
The woman, in her 30s, is more confident than the other girls I spoke to and while she does not like her job she has less feeling about it and says she does it to earn rent and pay for her lifestyle. I am not sure if this is bravado on her part, or she deals with what she does by cutting off her feelings, but the woman of the night is well known to the police and even engages in friendly banter with them. During the last check of the night we circle the back roads and come cross a steamy car in a well-known residential car park.