Prostitution in East Oxford has become so widespread that even uniformed police officers are being propositioned and children are seeing street walkers in the act.

The new police inspector for Cowley has vowed to crack down on the problem after it was flagged up as a top priority by residents.

But Insp Graham Sutherland warned: "There is no overnight solution to this problem because it can be a very deep and profound issue.

"These girls don't really go out on the streets out of choice. There are often drug and drink-related issues."

The main pressure points are in and around Cowley Road between the junction with Edmund Road, by the Texaco petrol station, and Magdalen Road.

Insp Sutherland insisted there was not a large number of working girls in the area, but stressed he took the issue very seriously.

And as well as cracking down on the prostitutes, kerb-crawling clients are to be the next group to face the long arm of the law.

Police officers and members of the Crime and Nuisance Action Team are eager to identify owners of cars cruising the area.

People living in Cowley Road have said their children have spotted women performing lewd acts in broad daylight - and believe the problem has increased dramatically over the past few years.

Sabir Hussain-Mirza, an Oxford city councillor who lives on the Cowley Road, said: "When I stop the car and look for a place to park there, women run up to us asking if we are looking for business.

"It makes me very worried and I feel I am not safe here. I love this place and I do not want to move, but I feel I have got no choice."

Neighbours claim working girls are propositioning them regularly and refusing to take no for an answer.

They are concerned that if the area's reputation as a place to get lucky continues to grow, innocent girls will start to be approached by people looking for prostitutes - perhaps leading to violence.

Residents also claim noise from the activity leads to arguments late at night, and they find used condoms and wrappers near their homes.

There are calls for prostitutes to be pushed out of the area. But there are concerns about where the problem will move to.

Rosemary Lynch, who lives in Cowley Road and has two teenage daughters, said: "Prostitution brings many things to our streets, kerb crawlers picking up young women, men approaching general members of the public who should feel safe in their own environment.

"This area of Cowley Road is split between families and students who have all invested in their futures and we are all vulnerable when we walk our streets now."

Families who live in the heart of Oxford's prostitution-blighted area said the problem has become so blatant even their young children are aware of it.

They want action to be taken to cut down on the number of working girls to ensure the safety of their homes and families.

Munir Shafi, who lives in Belvedere Road, off Cowley Road, and has three children, said: "My 11-year-old daughter reported a lewd act being performed at the end of the road, and that was in broad daylight.

"When I stopped for fish and chips recently a woman came up to me and propositioned me. It has definitely got a lot worse.

"It worries us firstly because we are muslims and we are very strict in terms of our religion, but also we all have young children. We like living in a quiet, peaceful area - which this used to be."

Mr Shafi said women he believed to be prostitutes were behaving in a rowdy antisocial fashion, having noisy arguments with customers late at night and disturbing people living nearby.

He said: "I would like to see more police activity here."

Rosemary Lynch, who lives in Cowley Road and has two teenage daughters, said: "Prostitutes are either heavily on drugs or are very drunk and shout at members of the public abusively.

"Then we find our streets dirty with condoms and needles."

Another father, who lives off the Cowley Road and did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals, said his daughter had also witnessed sexual behaviour by prostitutes.

He claimed to have been woken in the early hours of the morning by a woman shouting for help - but was too afraid to go to her assistance.

He said: "As a father I am very worried and I am really shocked by what is going on."

Mohammed Ehsan, of Cowley Road, added: "I have lived here for 20 years and it is worse, it is happening every day.

"It has got to be stopped."