“We need all the ladders we can get” : New toolkit for exploring experiences of leaving prostitution.

It was August and we were sat in a small conference room in Nashville, Tennessee. A giant version of Snakes and Ladders lay in the middle of the room. Five women, all with previous involvement in prostitution and all employees of the social enterprise Thistle Farms,were sat around the board listening to me introduce my PhD study exploring social enterprise approaches adopted by faith-based projects supporting women to leave prostitution. As I explained how we were going to use the game to help us to identify what might act as snakes and as ladders for a woman who wants to leave prostitution, the women began to comment on the board.

“Not a lot of ladders are there”

They were right. For women seeking to leave prostitution, the obstacles can be immense. Research studies show that leaving prostitution is a complex process, not a one-off event, and women face multiple barriers. Debt, housing, addiction, emotional trauma, societal stigma, unhealthy relationships, being able to earn more in prostitution and lack of an economic alternative were just a few of the 40+ barriers identified by these women and women in India who also took part in the research.

But routes out exist. The very lives of the women who participated in the research were evidence that it is possible to transition out of prostitution. It was their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences that led to the identification of a range of enabling factors that support women on their journey out of prostitution.

This new toolkit is a result of their openness and desire to help other women, who like them, want to exit prostitution.

We need all the ladders we can get is designed to facilitate exploration of how individuals leave prostitution and uses the game of snakes and ladders to do this. It draws on my own ethnographic research with women and staff at social enterprises supporting women to leave prostitution, as well as wider research on exiting prostitution, and has been road tested with different teams of outreach volunteers in the UK.

The toolkit provides examples of workshops you can run, along with a range of material to enable you to adapt the workshops to suit your own context. These include headline findings which emerged from the research, general findings drawn from a review of the literature on exiting prostitution, and quotes form the women who took part in the research.

It can be used by and with those seeking to leave prostitution or as a training tool in awareness raising contexts. So whether you’re personally looking to leave prostitution, are an organisation working with individuals involved in prostitution, or are simply seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the process of exiting prostitution then this resource is for you. Free copies of the resource are available for download here. Prefer to have the resource printed out and ready to be used in a workshop? Print copies can be ordered from Beyond the Streets and come at a cost of £25, plus postage.

Katie Thorlby (PhD Durham) joined the Beyond the Streets board of trustees in January 2010 after carrying out an eleven month internship with the charity. She has previously volunteered at Door of Hope, working with women involved in street prostitution in East London. In 2015 she completed her doctoral research exploring social enterprise approaches adopted by faith-based projects supporting women to leave prostitution. Katie currently works as a researcher in the UK charity sector.
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