Blog

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.


International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The 25th of November is the UN International End Violence against Women Day which raises awareness of the gender-based violence and discrimination that many women face and experience every day.

Violence against women is deeply and historically entrenched into society. The A Hidden History of Women in the East End: The Alternative Jack the Ripper tour’s that launched this month confirm this. The tours – which narrate the untold story of Jack the Ripper’s victims – juxtapose a historical case of violence against women in prostitution with the modern day stories of women who experience violence selling sex for sell for survival in the area today.

Women in prostitution are often seen this way: as different. Women in prostitution often experience even higher levels of risk of discrimination and violence than women on average. The abuse and hate crime directed towards women involved in prostitution is often justified by idea that these women are ‘prostitutes’ not individuals.

Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, said of the violent rapes and murders he committed “the women I killed were filth – bastard prostitutes who were littering the streets. I was just clearing up the place a bit”. Had he been caught, we imagine the unidentified murdered commonly known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ would have made a similar statement.

These were women who were unworthy and judged. These were women who did not matter. These were women who could be discriminated against and despised. These were women who didn’t count.

We believe women matter. We believe their lives count for something. At Beyond the Streets we are working to provide routes out for women who have experienced violence and sexual exploitation. Our NOvember campaign is raising awareness and funds to fight against sexual exploitation and violence against women. As activists across the world take action today to say no to violence against women, why don’t you join them. We’ve got a few suggestions as to how you can leave your mark.

  1. Challenge Attitudes & Don’t collude.

Share what you’ve learnt through our #NOvemberCampaign blog series and challenge people about the way they view women. One way you can take action in this way is by challenging jokes/humour that are made towards women involved in prostitution.

  1. Give

This #NOvemberCampaign we are trying to raise £18,000 to keep Door of Hope’s outreach to women who are sexually exploited in the east London going for another year.  Help us reach our target by giving us a one of gift of £18 or partnering with us by giving regularly.

  1. Join us on an A Hidden History of Women in the East End: Alternative Jack the Ripper Tour.

Tickets for 2017 have now sold out, but we’ve just released new dates for 2018. Book your ticket for a tour in the new year today.


#NOvemberCampaign: Journey

We are all on a journey, but the women we work with at Door of Hope tend to be on the road less travelled. It’s not a common route and that can make it a lonely road, where it’s rare to bump into people that know and understand you along the way. Being off the beaten track, it’s common for women to encounter regular be bumps in the road, or blocks along the way.

On Door of Hope outreach we see these difficult journeys play out in reality too: with women walking the streets selling sex, or being in transported in cars to clients by those who can control them.

In 2012, research by Eaves released in a report called ‘Breaking down the barriers’ dug into this topic, exploring women’s experiences of leaving prostitution, with a focus on the barriers women experienced on their journey out. They found nine major stumbling blocks for women: problematic substance misuse, debt, housing, mental and physical health issues to name a few. But crucially, what did they find was key to overcoming the barriers? The people and specialist organization’s that journey alongside them. “This research has found that there is a need for formal exiting services to help women out of prostitution and that exit is achievable. Women can and do wish to leave prostitution and express the need for both formal and informal forms of support to do so”

That’s where Door of Hope comes in. Our role is to journey alongside women on the path she is on. We stand alongside women, working at her pace, in her space on the blocks and bumps that she feels hinder her journey out of prostitution. Our team provide the consistent support and reliable advice that she needs to find a lasting route out of prostitution.

This week we consider how we can make sacrifices to our daily journeys to support theirs – donating the money saved from the changes to our commute or regular trips we make or sponsorship we receive to fund the journey out of prostitution that Door of Hope is on with dozens of women in east London.

Stand in solidarity with women this month by taking part in the #NovemberCampaign or by making a gift  of £18 to support the Door of Hope project, for which we hope to raise £18,000 through the #NOvemberCampaign.

 


#NOvemberCampaign: Social

 

This NOvember I am saying ‘no’ to sexual exploitation and violence. This week we are asked to stand with women by giving up something social.

You know when you arrange to meet someone for a night out, you turn up on your own and find they haven’t arrived yet? I adopt a confident air and then resort to looking at my phone rather than appear like a loner. I prefer going together and meeting up with a group of friends, where I feel accepted, part of something. Even if it’s been a tough week, an evening of feeling in the middle can be a comfort. Talking with someone who cares can halve the effect of the problem.

What if every night I found myself waiting alone, knowing that the company of the people I meet and spend time with would compound my loneliness? What if this part of my life was not known to those closest to me, or, worse still, was enforced upon me by them so that I could reach their ‘quota’ for the night? That could make a pleasant night out with friends difficult to find or enjoy. When the Door of Hope team go out on the streets in East London, they meet women who stand alone, for whom isolation is a way of life.

One woman told the team, ‘You can’t have certain circles of friends because you can’t talk about what you do, because society doesn’t accept what you do, or doesn’t want to know what we do.’

When Door of Hope turn up, they do want to know. They bring some solidarity, someone who is bothered. Women have described it as a ‘lifeline’ just to have that friendly contact.

This NOvember, people have chosen to give up something different each week. Why not join us and say ‘NO’ to a night out with friends? If you donate what you save to Beyond the Streets, you could help fund a night’s outreach.

Stand in solidarity with women this month by taking part in the #NovemberCampaign or by making a gift  of £18 to support the Door of Hope project, for which we hope to raise £18,000 through the #NOvemberCampaign.

Miriam works for Beyond the Streets as the Clinical Lead for Beyond Support – our call back service for women involved in prostitution. She is passionate about people’s tough lives being transformed. Miriam is saying no to sugar this #NOvemberCampaign, sponsor her here.


#NOvemberCampaign : Simplicity

‘Live simply, so others can simply live.’

This November I am saying no to sexual exploitation and violence. This week we are asked to strip back by losing one luxury item.

When I think about my life it don’t think of it being filled with luxury. I have a flat, a job, bills to keep on top of, I have friends and family to keep in touch with, a social life, a bit of volunteering here and there. My life, like many of your lives, is complicated but not necessarily luxurious. Juggling all those aspects of my life requires thinking and planning, the choices I need to make to keep it all ticking over.

I can’t help but think how different this is from the life of the women I met when volunteering for Door of Hope in East London. Many people call their lives chaotic or complex but in fact, by my reckoning, they are simple: survival. Their lives are dictated by an all-consuming addiction and often a controlling partner. The money they make provides for their addiction, and often their partners’, and just enough to keep a roof above their head.

They are the victims of a cruel cycle of relentless poverty. Poverty of choice as well as poverty of means.

As I would head home to my warm, safe flat for a snack and then a long sleep they would still be out in the cold, surviving.

I can’t help but think that the complexity of my life is a luxury in itself. I have the space to think about what to buy my friend for their birthday, or what time I need to catch a train to get to my 9am meeting. These things seem mundane, even dull; but in fact illustrate a life luxurious with complexity and choice.

So, what luxury will you give up to live a less complicated life for this week?

Stand in solidarity with women this month by taking part in the #NovemberCampaign or by making a gift  of £18 to support the Door of Hope project, for which we hope to raise £18,000 through the #NOvemberCampaign.

Words by Anna who until recently, volunteered with the Door of Hope project.


#NOvemberCampaign : Comfort

2017, the year we got Trumped and terrorised. Theresa May was re-elected as our leading lady and millions of women marched in the largest worldwide protest in recent history. I’ll remember it as the year that homelessness rose for the sixth year in succession- already up 16% in 2016, researchers are expecting that statistic to double when the data for this year is released.

As an outreach worker for Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project, working on the front line with women who are sexually exploited in London’s East End, our team tend to be the first to notice these trends, reflected in the lives of the women we work with and the stories they share with us.

This year has been a busy one for the Door of Hope team, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of women we meet on outreach. In 2016 Door of Hope supported 64 women in total over twelve months. By February 2017 our team had already supported 64 women in the first two months of the year, and have added dozens more to our caseload as the year has progressed. We work with women who became involved in street prostitution as a result of complex vulnerabilities- a last resort response to insurmountable struggles. Most have been pushed to the very edge through poverty, lack of opportunity and social exclusion. Their support needs are varied and wide ranging, but increasingly the common theme we see running through their lives is homelessness.

Here’s the thing about us women: we’re a resourceful bunch. You won’t necessarily see us rough sleeping outside your local station, or queuing for the local night shelter- we’ll do what we need to do to find a safer alternative. For the women Door of Hope supports that’s a night on a 24 hour bus, exchanging sex for a place to stay and, increasingly, sofa surfing- tapping up old friends, distant family and punters for a sofa to sleep on.

A survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers in England and Wales undertaken by Crisis confirms this. It suggests that there is a total of 68,000 women in temporary accommodation, emergency shelters and sleeping on the streets. However, Crisis follow this was a caveat, recognising that an estimated 62% of single homeless people are hidden ‘sofa surfers’ who won’t show up in  statistics equating to a further 68,300 people sofa surfing in the UK today, many of them women. Within the hidden issues of sexual exploitation, is a growing issue of hidden homelessness.

This week Beyond the Streets launches the #NOvemberCampaign – asking supporters to give up something they love to stand in solidarity with sexually exploited women. Each week of November we explore a new theme, inspired by the lives of the women we work with at Door of Hope. This week’s theme is comfort, or rather a recognition of the lack of it in the lives of the women we work with.

As I considered what to give up this week, I noticed how many of my own comforts – the things that put me at ease and keep me well – are connected to having a safe and happy home. Access to warming hot drinks, heating and hot baths makes home a place of comfort for me, a haven if you like. For the women we work with, sexual exploitation, homelessness and the resulting complexities result in a life focused on survival, where comfort is off limits. This week I’ll be sacrificing the comfort of hot caffeinated drinks – hoping that the money I save and awareness I raise, will build a better tomorrow for the women I work with.

 

What comfort can you say no to this week? Stand in solidarity with women this month by taking part in the #NovemberCampaign or by making a gift  of £18 to support the Door of Hope project, for which we hope to raise £18,000 through the #NOvemberCampaign.

Born and bred in east London, Rebecca co-ordinates Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project. You can hear Rebecca talk more about Door of Hope by joining us on an Alternative Jack the Ripper Tour, launching this November. 

 


Care on different continents: The adventures of an Outreach Worker.

Abbie Gillgan is a volunteer outreach worker with Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project. Earlier this summer she took a break from outreach in east London to spend some time supporting Oasis India’s outreach teams in Mumbai. In this blog, she reflects on her time caring for women in similar situations on two very different continents.

The bright colours, breath taking smells and sticky heat of India as it neared the end of the dry season were a privilege to experience. But the greatest privilege I had during my short three week trip was the opportunity to spend time with and learn from the women and their children, who are working and living in some of the most desperate environments I have witnessed. Mumbai’s red light district, Kamatipur, is the largest in Asia. This informal settlement is a seemingly never-ending maze, lined with single-roomed shacks, in which the women ‘serve’ their customers as their children sleep under the bed. In this area, every woman sells sex and every man is a pimp or customer, giving the children who grow up here little hope or example of anything else.

Except there is glimmer of hope. Tucked away and unassuming, the humble premises of Oasis India in the heart of Kamatipur provides a safe space, schooling support and food for some of these children while their mothers work. Their outreach to the women in the area had elements of familiarity with what we do at Door of Hope, providing a non-judgemental ear, offering practical support and letting the women know that there can be a life for them beyond the streets.

Spending time in both the slums of Kamatipur and the mega-brothels of Grant Road, was a humbling and welcome reminder of our shared humanity. Despite my undeserved privilege, blindingly pale skin, and my total lack of Hindi, I was struck by the ease at which we could laugh and cry together. It bought to life Jo Cox’s mantra that ‘we have more in common than that which separates us’. While that may feel like a cliché, it’s nonetheless one that our Western society so desperately needs to embrace.

On one level I knew it already, but going to India definitely bought home to me that women experiencing sexual exploitation are not the passive victims that our media and our minds paint them to be. They are fierce, strong and are able to find joy within circumstances so unjust and beyond their control. These are traits I saw in the women in Kamatipur, traits I see in the women in Bethnal Green, and traits I want to see more of in me.

Abbie works for the NSPCC in their Child Safety Online team, which is allowing her to use some of the research she did for her Masters on the harms of online pornography to work to prevent young people from seeing it. She’s been volunteering with Door of Hope in East London for about 8 months, and is passionate about the need to do more to tackle the systemic causes of sexual exploitation.

Speak up for the fierce, strong and able women experiencing sexual exploitation in our communities by standing in solidarity with women this #NOvemberCamapignSign up.

 


Victim to Survivor

‘Amy’ is currently moving away from selling sex and has been talking with the Beyond Support team over the phone for several months. Recently, she had this to say:

I’ve never wallowed but in another sense I was holding onto that problem and that life. When you can realise that you are a victim of someone else’s behaviour, but you don’t have to be a victim to your own choices, that’s when you can cross over from becoming a victim and become a survivor. As harsh as it may sound, when the moment comes that you are able to make a choice, make one that is right for you. We cannot blame ourselves for what happened to us, but we can take control of our future. Don’t do something if you are not happy and if you are happy with your circumstances, then own it!

 Amy was groomed by an apparently loving boyfriend when she was still under 16. She was locked away so that those who had the key could use her to sell sex. She eventually managed to escape physically but her important teenage years of growing up and discovering who she is felt like they had been sold by someone else to many men. She worked hard and got a good education but for a long time, she couldn’t see how to stop doing what had been expected of her from a young age. It certainly wasn’t just the money. In fact, she told us she can see the industry changing and the money is not as good as it was. It certainly wasn’t a choice to continue because she liked the lifestyle, it was just what Amy knew and she was good at living her alter ego when she needed to. She couldn’t see that she had a choice.

A visit to the clinic alerted the nurses that she was frightened of examination. They referred her to a psychologist who tried to refer her to us alongside her sessions but Amy wasn’t ready. She stopped seeing the psychologist for a while but something had started to dislodge itself in her and eventually she went back and took our details. This time, she was starting to see the power of her own choice. She decided she wanted her ‘normality’ to change. When our conversations started, Amy was on a mission, she told the brothel management that she was cutting down her hours, then stopping altogether. We talked and she processed her feelings about this growing sense of power to change from victim to survivor.

Everyday Beyond Support offers a listening ear to women like Amy as they transition out of the sex industry, from victims to survivors. It costs us just over £50 for our specialist staff to take a call from a women like Amy. Fund our next call by making a gift towards Beyond Support today, or help secure our service by giving regularly.

Miriam Hargreaves tells Amy’s story. Miriam is a Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.  

 


Vulnerability: courage to be imperfect.

At our Beyond the Streets Gathering in March, Elaine Storkey* navigated us through the concept of vulnerability drawing from biblical principles to show how love is only possible, only real when we, like God are willing to embrace our own vulnerability. Those who are vulnerable are those who are able to be wounded.

Having conducted hundreds of interviews and spent 6 years collecting data on people and vulnerability, Brené Brown*1 found that her interviewees divided themselves into 2 categories: those who have a sense of worthiness, love and belonging and those who struggle with it. What does this mean? She found it to mean that the first group were those who were able to embrace vulnerability, to believe that ‘what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.’ She calls them the ‘whole-hearted people.’ What does this whole-heartedness enable us to do then? She says it gives: first a sense of courage to be imperfect; secondly, true compassion which means we can be kind to ourselves first and then to others; thirdly, connection as a result of authenticity.

All just to end up looking ‘unprofessional?’ Doesn’t it mean that boundaries become blurred and we are left exposed and ineffective? Brown says that those who are most compassionate are the people who have the best boundaries. She suggests that compassion comes out of the ‘deeply held belief that we are inextricably linked together in love.’ It is being beside someone in their suffering, not looking at them and feeling sorry. We can only do that when we are clear what we can give and what we cannot. So, we can be really vulnerable when we know what is ok for us and what is not ok.

We get this by our own sense of love and belonging.

We are not defined by what we do for people but by who we are.

So, we offer people real respect, not fake walls; genuine feeling-with-someone empathy, not self-defining sympathy. We can feel and communicate deep love for a person without being crushed when they are not in a position to see beyond their own pain and circumstances. This is vulnerable love. It is also sustainable love.

Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution. 

*Dr Elaine Storkey – Author of Scars Across Humanity, Academic, Speaker, Broadcaster. Buy her book ‘Scars Across Humanity’ here.

*1 Brené Brown – Research Professor, Author, Public Speaker, Licensed Master Social Worker. Listen to her advice on Boundaries & Compassion here. 

 


“Those Girls”

One woman we provided support for, wanted to tell her story. This is the reflection of a woman who survived one of the recent high profile Child Sexual Exploitation cases. Originally published in May 2016, with the BBC’s three part series, ‘Three Girls’, putting Child Sexual Exploitation in the media spotlight again last week, we felt it appropriate to share this again.  It’s hard to hear at times but we need to hear from her and others, so we can never think of them as ‘Those Girls’.

‘Let me give you a summary, of things both said and implied by some Police officers, about girls caught up in sexual exploitation cases:
‘Nothing but trouble. Inconsistent. Not worth police time. Asking for it. Foolish.  Drunkards. Misleading. Prostitutes with too much make-up. Pests.’

How about vulnerable? Scared. Confused. Abused. Injured. Raped.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been one of those girls, and I want to set the record straight. It is vitally important that you, the police – protectors of society – take time to look at this serious issue from the point of view of the victims. Please believe sexual exploitation is something massive and understanding is an essential in tackling it. Girls like me understand it, because we have lived it. Some of us may never escape the far-reaching consequences of having suffered from this type of crime, and to discount our knowledge is to throw away a valuable asset. So please, I implore you, sit up and pay attention.

I’ll paint you a scene: You’ve been at work all day. You’re tired. You didn’t have time to take your lunch break. And sitting in front of you is a girl you’ve seen four times in the past week, as she’s phoned the station in trouble needing to be rescued from various situations. For the fourth time you’ve all but begged her to make a statement and she hasn’t cooperated. You’re frustrated. You’re stressed. You just want to go home and you cannot for the life of you understand why this girl is refusing to answer your most basic questions. At first you were eager to try and help but you’re now convinced she doesn’t want help, and you’re wondering if she’s doing this for attention, you know getting in the cars, knowing full well what those men are like. Why does she agree? Why does she have contact with the men who want to hurt her and then blow every opportunity to grass them up?

At first the girl was eager to get help too. You were the twenty fourth officer who has promised her all the protection in the world in return for a video interview. After meeting with her sixth officer, and the threats continuing and continuing she’s thinking ‘What’s the point?’ Interviews and statements aside the problem is just not going away and she’s still abducted off the streets by these guys trying to hurt her, and she’s followed home. Her home is attacked and there are incessant calls and texts and so, of course, she’s going to call the station, because although she’s lost all faith in you and your colleagues fixing the problem long term, she knows that getting in contact will get her a couple of hours of safety as she’s locked in an interrogation room. It saves her being locked in the bedroom any way.

The girl explained to you, early on, that she has no faith in the system. You told her it would be different this time and are annoyed that she won’t believe you. She’s annoyed that you won’t believe her, and trust in her experience of how things have been handled. To you she is a case that you can do nothing with. To her you are another person who just doesn’t understand. Just when she starts to think, ‘Maybe this time it will be different’, and she’s contemplating how to go through the trauma of explaining the whole horror story again from scratch you’ve given up and sent her on her way. She loved that one officer, the lady officer, who listened and made her feel safe; you then took the one lady officer off the case. I missed her, because I thought she cared. Next week there will be someone else working the case. Next week she’ll have faced three more life or death situations and those walls will have increased two fold AGAIN. Next week I will have to repeat myself over and over again, next week you will tell me again, I am confused, inconsistent and I don’t make sense. No maybe I don’t, but neither does why those men chose me.

I am not being dramatic for the sake of trying to keep your attention. Interviews are standard procedure for you, for us they really are trauma. You are asking us to relive moment by moment abuse that is still raw, and then repeat it over again as you pick it apart.

You want to get a picture of the crimes; we want nothing more than to get those pictures out of our heads. You want us to speak up, but we’ve spent the last couple of years months being conditioned to believe that we have no voice.

You told us to trust you, well so did our abusers. You said you were on our side, and that you’d take care of us – so did they. I know you are a police officer, but you are also a man and in the sick world I live in men equal people who put you down and use you up.

You said you would believe me, but you ask me so many questions I’m now struggling to believe myself. You said “Look at me, I’m an officer,” and I said “All I can see is your handcuffs, sir.”

They looked at me, stared at me; you pay close attention too, trying to figure out my body language. They took photographs of my body; you snap pictures of my wounds. They promised me the world, you promised me justice. Neither of you said promises can be broken.

They hurt me with their words as well as their fists. I expect it of them. But words from someone in authority cut deeper. They told me I was worthless, but I never truly felt it until you asked my friends and family if they thought I was a prostitute.

I found it hard to keep track of their names; I find it harder to keep track of your badge numbers.

You said that my story didn’t add up. Do you really believe it makes sense in my head either? This is not how I envisioned living my life. I don’t get a kick out of you asking me if I enjoy being victimised. You said I put myself at risk, I know that no matter what I’ve done the past few months has resulted in risk and I did not ask for it. I enjoyed the car ride, I enjoyed feeling special. I enjoyed the few vodkas, but no I didn’t ask to be raped or passed around like a rag doll, I didn’t ask for my clothes to be ripped off.

You criticise me for not being clear. I can barely think straight. If I tell you the truth, maybe you would think I am a slag or slut…maybe I would get into trouble, because they said it’s my fault.

You are annoyed with me for not giving you descriptions. I’m terrified because they said they’d kill me if I identified them. You say you can’t take my call, because you’re getting off at five. They tell me they’ll be round at mine for six. Their cars have loud music, to disorientate, your cars have sirens. They drove me around to different addresses and parks, anywhere they could have sex, I sat in the back of their car. I tried to forget.

You drive me around, asking me where it happened, telling me to point the places out, I sat in the back of your car, you wont let me forget.

They hurt me, they touched me in private parts, I tried to say no, you said the nurse needs swabs and its my choice, she touched me in those parts too, I tried to tell you I’m scared.

Ask me again why I didn’t give that statement.’

Through Beyond Support– the UK’s only call-back support service for women in the sex industry – we are delighted to have been able to stand alongside women taking brave steps forward. We believe your story and we believe that you can make the change you want to see in your life. For support from our team contact 0800 133 7870 or e mail: support@beyondthestreets.org.uk. Please note that we are a call back service,  please l eave a message and we will contact you to arrange times that works for you.