SEX workers often ‘trapped’ in the grip of drug addiction are still plying their trade in Oxford - but fewer have been seen on the streets.

A new council report has revealed the latest count of sex workers in the city, 13 years after Oxford City Council to set up a specific task force to tackle a rise in prostitution.

An ongoing pilot scheme to offer them support has seen the council provide special 'packs' for prostitutes including toothbrushes and condoms.

The most recent data, collected between December 2016 and July 2018, found that there were 46 known sex workers in the city.

A newly-released report, which detailed the statistic, states: “The prevalence of sex work is believed to have risen alongside austerity, benefit sanctions, and increased housing costs.

“Substance misuse in sex workers can make it more difficult for an affected individual to tackle other challenges often faced by sex workers, including housing needs, healthcare, or employment challenges, effectively ‘trapping’ sex workers in an environment enabling drug dependency.”

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The comments were made in a document called the Oxfordshire Drug and Alcohol Needs Assessment, which also explores issues including county lines dealing and access to substance misuse support services.

It is dated 2018-19 but was only published publicly, via Oxfordshire County Council’s data-sharing site Insight, on Monday.

The city's illegal sex trade has now mostly moved from the streets to behind closed doors, authorities say.

Agencies in Oxford are currently running a pilot scheme called Sex Workers Outreach, led by Oxford City Council, which launched nine months ago to offer support.

Thames Valley Police, Elmore Community Services, Turning Point, and Willow Project are all involved, holding meetings to help prevent sex workers from harm and show them a way forward.

As part of the pilot, sex workers have been provided with Harm Reduction Packs, which contain items including condoms, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a leaflet about keeping safe.

The packs are funded by the Oxford Safer Communities Partnership, which is chaired by the city council.

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Nigel Chapman, the council's cabinet member for safer communities, said: "Sex workers are a particularly vulnerable group, who are at risk of exploitation and violence.

"A team of volunteers patrol areas where we have intelligence of on-street sex workers plying their trade.

"Since the pilot started, we have not come across any on-street sex workers across the city, including East Oxford."

The pilot is led by the Sex Workers Intervention Panel, which is chaired by the council.

The panel was set up in 2007, when the Oxford Mail reported on residents’ concerns about brazen street prostitution in East Oxford.

Even uniformed police officers were being offered sex, with hotspots towards the top end of Cowley Road.

One resident told us at the time: “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.”

Concerns prompted the first audit to track all known sex workers in Oxford city.

The newer survey found that 80 per cent of the 46 sex workers were battling substance misuse.

Though the counts give an idea of the problem, the new report notes that the true scale is likely to be larger.

It states: “Estimates of the number of sex workers may represent underestimates due to known data collection issues, including changes in services provisions, the fact that sex workers are often difficult to engage with public services, and given that sex workers often only transiently stay in any one area.”

READ AGAIN: Our report from 2007 about East Oxford prostitution

Prostitution has evolved purely from street work to a vast network of websites and online escort services.

One particular site listed more than 160 results for escorts in Oxfordshire.

Mr Chapman said there has been a decline in the number of identified sex workers in Oxford since 2007, but that the number of off-street sex workers is 'unknown'.

Explaining the reduction in street workers, he said: "It is understood that they tend to use regular clients who are known to them and will only go onto the streets if they are in need of additional money.

"This greatly avoids the risk of violent incidents, and further health risks.

"The pilot has not found any not previously identified sex workers, which is encouraging."

The council and partner agencies will review the pilot in the coming months.

Mr Chapman added: "The safety of sex workers in Oxford is a priority, and we work closely with our partner agencies on supporting them.

"If you are concerned about a sex worker in your area, or are a sex worker in need of support, you can contact confidentially and the team will respond to your concerns."

Prostitution itself - selling sexual services - is legal.

However, soliciting prostitution, kerb crawling, and owning or managing a brothel are all crimes.