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 #NOvemberCamapign. Sign up.
Bread. The stuff of life. Flatbread in the middle of the table, a panini oozing with cheese at lunch with friends, crispy, fluffy baguette, hot dogs at a bonfire party, a late-night piece of toast with a cup of tea whilst you chat over the day with someone you love. Bread is great for sharing.
It can also be a handy and sometimes sneaky in between snack. I can order a pizza, or pick up a kebab or grab a quick sandwich whenever I want. I can pay for it, sneak it in on the quiet when I’m peckish an, if I want, omit to mention that I snuck it in when I sit down to a meal with others.
We can all be good at sneaking treats in to comfort, entertain or ‘satisfy’ ourselves, without necessarily mentioning it to those who care about us. It can be less shameful, less telling, if we keep some treats to ourselves.
That’s ok if it’s just a piece of pizza.
The trouble is that around the world, people are ordering women for themselves as a ‘treat’ every day, sneaking them in when they are bit ‘peckish.’
It’s not ok that women are trapped, coerced, beaten, controlled and exploited just so someone can order them like a pizza.
It’s not ok, that’s why at Beyond Support we offer women the opportunity to find another route in life. I talk with women on the phone for whom it is so hard to find another way. Our team seeks to be there, whilst women explore their own hopes and dreams and whilst they explore the idea that their personhood, honour and body are worth more than to be ordered as a snack. We point them in the direction of support so that another way can become a sustainable reality.
I’m saying ‘NO!’ to bread this NOvember Campaign as a way of saying ‘NO!’ to sexual exploitation and violence against women. Agree that women shouldn’t be ordered like pizza? You can sponsor me here.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
Miriam is saying no as part of the #NOvemberCampaign, a month of awareness raising in the lead up to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November. Help us to create more routes of sexual exploitation for women by giving to the campaign.
The eldest daughter of a simple villager, Kiron grew up too fast. At 13 she was told by her father that it was time to get married. They were poor and often didn’t have enough to eat and so one less mouth to feed would be better for the family. He asked her if she liked any of the village boys and on her wedding day thought she was marrying a boy she knew. With head covered by her wedding sari at only 13, she looked into her bridegroom’s eyes and saw an older man leering back at her…not the young man she thought whe was marrying. As is the custom, she was taken to her new home where life was dictated by her new mother-in-law. She tried really hard to please her husband and his mother but it wasn’t easy.
A few months into her new life, she was told to go to the field that the family owned. There she saw a group of young men who quickly gathered round and she began to fell intimidated. One spoke up and simply said…your mother – in-law has sold you to us for the afternoon….Gang-raped, she hid until dark and then fled to her uncles home, too ashamed to go back to her own immediate family, let alone her husbands home. Her uncle took her in and cared for her. After a few days he sat down and talked with her and said it would be better for the family if she left the village as this had brought shame on them all. He promised to find her a job in the city of Kolkata where she could start a new life.
Her own uncle, whom she trusted, sold her into a brothel to begin her new life.
Trafficking must be stopped, young girls need to have a choice of freedom… your part in NOvember will help… it will tangibly give hope – a hope for a better future for those most vulnerable in the rural districts of West Bengal, India.
This NOvember you can say no to exploitation and contribute towards routes out for women by shopping online at Global Seesaw. All Global Seesaw products are made by women free from trafficking and exploitation in West Bengal. By using the code BTS2016 during November, you can get a 10% discount AND Beyond the Streets will get a 10% donation. It’s a Win Win Win!
Given up shopping for NOvember? You can make a donation directly to Beyond the Streets instead here.
Words by Annie Hilton, Co-Founder of Freeset (Global Seesaw being the UK trading name for Freeset) and friend of Beyond the Streets.
I am a person of privilege. Born to parents who wanted me and loved me, even in my worst days I have never known what it is to be excluded from that support. From childhood to adulthood, I have been loved, valued, nurtured, protected, empowered. I was told things were possible and was privileged to believe it. Enriched with the power of choices, I was privileged to be able to make them. My parents were poor but spiritually rich and emotionally wise. I never had to question my voice, my choice, or step aside because I am female. I was taught to understand the human condition, its virtues and vices, and not to become anyone’s slave. I am truly, deeply free.
I am incredibly privileged. Privileged to love and be loved by a man who has never done me violence, suppressed my speech, stifled my freedom, or sought to exploit me in any way, ever. He esteems our daughters, loves and prizes them, in the same way he does our son. He is not so much gender blind as comprehensively attentive. Would that all men were so.
But sadly it’s not the case. In homes, on streets, and in cultures around the world, maltreatment of women is accepted. Would that they had the support of their peers and families in rejecting violence against them. Would that they had the means to make a living, without others exploiting their bodies. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes the agreement and effort of whole societies to reject sexual exploitation and violence against women.
I don’t have a problem with privilege, at least not with privileges like mine. The only problem I can see is the idea that what I’ve described really are privileges. These are not life’s privileges, these are life’s achievables. The cost is making it true for you and the women in your life. The gain is changing futures for women around the world.
Words by Madi Simpson, a Writer, Speaker, Friend and Supporter of Beyond the Streets.
Family; can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Isn’t that the truth? Killing my spontaneity by insisting I let them know if I’m in for dinner. Uploading photos of me asleep on the sofa to social media. Using the Christmas dinner table as a platform to air their political views. For all of their faults, there has been times that I couldn’t have done without them. Like the time my Dad came to rescue me when my car broke down at 3am, only to discover that I was trying to do a hill start in fourth gear. Or the day before my graduation when my brothers visited every H&M store in east London, searching for the sold out dress that I was adamant I was going to graduate wearing. These grand gestures are good, but it’s the daily details of doing life together that I appreciate the most: the coffee that appears by my bedside every morning, the cheering on, the listening ear, the way my Mum treats a sniffle with the sympathy of the flu.
I can’t live with them, but despite my best efforts, I can’t live without them either. Until November, that is. When I’ll have to.
At the start of the year I joined Beyond the Streets to look after the Door of Hope project in east London. Door of Hope supports women who are sexually exploited through prostitution, 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.
As I travel around the capital, sharing stories from the streets, the question I’m often asked is “Where are their families? What happened to their friends?”. It’s a complex question to answer. For many, those relationships didn’t exist in the first place, with up to 70% of those involved in Prostitution having grown up in the care system (1). For others, accounting for 64% of women in prostitution, their exploitation began when they were children and they’ve fled the communities they were part of to escape it (2). For the majority, the lifestyle that results from prostitution has driven those closest to them away.
That’s the tragic irony of sexual exploitation: it is a corrosive force that destroys the support networks of those most in need of support. It disrupts families. Derails communities. Destroys lives.
This November, I’m standing in solidarity with the women I’ve spent the last year standing on street corners with- giving up all contactwith my immediate family to say no to sexual exploitation and violence against women.
Why give up my family this November? Because when trouble knocks at my door I know that it will have to get through my family, friends and church community before it gets to me. For me there’s always someone to call. Always someone to lend. Always someone to pray. Tonight, I know that a woman my age, in my town, will get into a car with a man she doesn’t know as a means of survival… because when trouble knocked at her door, there was no one to answer but her. I’m saying NO for her. Join me?
This November, Beyond the Streets invites you to support Rebecca in join saying no to sexual exploitation by sponsoring her, you can give towards her goal here.
 Bindel, J. Brown, L. Easton, H. Matthews, R. Reynolds, l. (2012) Breaking Down the Barriers, Eaves and London South Bank University (LSBU)
[2 ] Marianne Hester and Nicole Westmarland, (2004) Home Office Study 279, Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards an holistic approach’ University of Bristol, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate quoting Pearce and Roach (1997).