Her snakes. Her ladders.

In March 2017, Beyond the Streets in partnership with Dr Katie Thorlby, published ‘We need all the ladders we can get’ a toolkit designed to facilitate exploration of how individuals leave prostitution and uses the game of snakes and ladders to do this. It draws on Katie’s 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 projects in the UK.

Beyond the Streets have used the toolkit as a training tool with staff, volunteers and affiliated projects as well as with women themselves. We recognise that 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 along the way. 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 who took part in Katie’s 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.

Since launching this resource back in March, Beyond the Streets staff have begun using this toolkit with women we are working with through our direct support projects. As we play a simple game of snakes and ladders with women they reflect back to us the snakes and ladders in their own lives- the barriers to them exiting prostitution and the enabling factors that aid their journey out. Once identified, it’s these factors that we work with them on, battling barriers together and holding the bottom of the ladder for them as they take steps upwards into a better future.

The toolkit has been wonderfully received by women, one of whom went an extra step- sketching out her own board plotted with the snakes and ladders in her life. She has given us permission to share her sketch- for which we are very grateful. Our hope is that her art and life will help you better understand the barriers women face in exiting and inspire you to use this toolkit with women in your own life.

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