Organisation Focus: National Ugly Mugs Scheme

Some readers may already be familiar with the National Ugly Mugs Scheme, an initiative  which started life in Australia in 1986, developed by a collective of sex workers to circulated descriptions of people that they had encountered, or situations that they had been in, which had been dangerous. Sex workers have an increased risk of violence, and due to the ongoing criminalisation of sex work, this violence is less likely to reported to police.

Many local services supporting sex workers, and sex worker collectives in the UK had their own schemes, but in 2012, that National Ugly Mugs Scheme was launched as a pilot project in the UK, initially funded for twelve months, to draw these initiatives together. Some successful prosecutions by local initiatives working together The project continues to be funded partly by local police forces, essentially acting as an arm’s length reporting tool, allowing them to engage with sex workers without entering into conflict about the illegality of their work. The project remains on the only attempt at a nationally coordinated effort to protect sex workers through anonymised reporting.

Recent evaluation of the scheme suggests that sex workers are more likely to report violence as a result of the service, as they can initially start notification through the NUMS scheme. There are currently 10,000 subscribers to the service, and 16% have avoided a potential client as a result of their use of the service. This would imply, by extrapolation, a significant amount of crimes prevented. Currently 60 incidents per month are reported anonymously to the service, and a quarter of these will then go on to report directly to the police.

To make a report, a sex worker can join the organisation for free, and also register to receive alerts about Ugly Mugs in their area. Those providing healthcare to sex workers should be aware of anonymised reporting schemes in their area.