Over the last week, our team have been gripped the by BBC three part series ‘Three Girls’, the dramatized story of the Rochdale grooming scandal. The series followed the lives of three girls, ‘Amber, Ruby and Holly’- each groomed into child sexual exploitation as teenagers by local predators and follows their courageous journey to prosecute their abusers, despite the failings of support services along the way.
We know that the experiences of those three girls – and the many others who survived child sexual exploitation in Rochdale – isn’t an isolated incident, but rather reflective of many women and children across the UK who have been preyed upon and now find themselves involved in prostitution.
Three Girls highlighted the support available for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation. But what happens when those children become women? As they enter into adulthood, child sexual exploitation often becomes legitimised as sex work or prostitution. Overnight, exploitation becomes a ‘choice’. We know that many women didn’t make a choice to enter prostitution, rather those that groomed them made that choice.
Through Beyond Support– the UK’s only call-back support service for women in the sex industry- we hear stories like those brought to life in Three Girls on a daily basis. Research has identified that between 50% – 76% of women involved in prostitution started before the age of 18- for the majority of women involved in prostitution, their involvement began as child sexual exploitation*. This is something many women who have contacted Beyond Support have confirmed, tracing their journey into prostitution back to their teenage years, often due to the
coercive control of another person. Since we launched our service two years ago, we have had the privilege of supporting many women involved in the sex industry who are looking to make changes to their life. Last week we celebrated supporting the 100th situation since our service began! We exist to support women, standing alongside them as they make changes to their life and enabling them to find a lasting route out of prostitution. Alongside this, Beyond Support connects with people who are struggling to comprehend what happened to them in their formative years. If you have been affected by grooming and child sexual exploitation as a young person, our team can unpack that with you and if you’d like, connect you with local support services for face to face support.
No need to take our word for it, here is what one Beyond Support caller told us about our service: “I want to thank you guys for everything you have done. Showing me lots of patience and believing me when I didn’t believe in myself”.
We are delighted to have been able to stand alongside 100 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that we are not a helpline, please l eave a message and we will contact you to arrange times that work for you.
*References: Hester and Westmarland, op cit.; Bindel, J. (2006) No Escape? An Investigation into London’s Service Provision for Women Involved in the Commercial Sex Industry, London: Poppy Project, EAVES; Dickson, in: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Community-safety-and-emergencies/Domestic-violence/VAWG-REPORT.pdf
Earlier this week, Beyond the Streets hosted Safeguarding Training for staff and volunteers working with women involved in Prostitution across the UK. These days aren’t necessarily just about Beyond the Streets giving out guidelines, but rather the facilitation of a conversation on best practice between skilled specialist projects.
We work in a specialist area, with a complex client group. It is niche and isolated work, where resources are hard to come by. For me, the highlight and help of these events comes from contribution of those in the room. Training brings together scattered specialists to share their hard earned experience and lessons learned along the way. Here are the top five tips on Safeguarding that I took back to east London:
1. A multi-agency approach is key. It gathers different pieces of the puzzle.
It’s likely that the woman you’re working with is in contact with multiple professionals in your area. Her disclosures to you, could be one piece of the puzzle. When shared safely (with consent*) in a confidential multi-agency setting, the pieces that other professionals can lay can you give you all a clearer picture of her situation, resulting in the development of a co-ordinated multi-agency response.
*We should note, where safeguarding ‘red flags’ are disclosed (she is under the age of 18, pregnancy etc) it is good practice to report her disclosure, regardless of consent.
2. Listen for her voice.
Where possible, involve her in the reporting and referrals that need to be made to keep her safe. Let her shape her own safety plan.
3. Be prepared to fight her corner.
We celebrated how far safeguarding has come, whilst remaining aware of the systematic flaws that so often fail the women we work with. Everybody should be safeguarded, but we know that not everybody is. It’s likely that in some cases her safety is something that you will need to fight for, advocating on her behalf and holding other professionals to account.
4. Invest in good relationships.
You don’t need to know everything, if you know others that know something. Developing good relationships with other professionals in this specialist’s area, opens up a pool of skills and experience for you to dip into. Don’t hesitate to ask others for their input. Try to cultivate a culture of exchange in your network by demonstrating an openness in sharing learning. Other projects are collaborators, not competition. Becoming a Beyond the Streets Affiliate is a great way to connect with other specialist projects and you’ll also receive a discount on training and our Good Practice Guide. Email us for information on becoming an affiliate project.
5. Safeguard yourself.
It goes without saying that in safeguarding women involved in prostitution, our empathetic engagement with her situation can impact our own. Debrief with your team, engage with clinical supervision where available and carve out time for self care to safeguard yourself as you safeguard others. Equally, sometimes supporting survivors of sexual exploitation interrupts organised crime. In these situations, safeguarding her, could endanger you. In these situations, be sure to develop your own safety plan alongside hers.
Words by Rebecca Branch, co-ordinator of Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project working with women involved in street prostitution in East London. Special thanks to Elaine Davidson of HRSG Services for delivering this bespoke training in collaboration with Beyond the Streets.
Beyond the Streets host specialist training for staff and volunteers working with women in prostitution through the year. Find out about upcoming events here.
We want to see an end to sexual exploitation. We passionately believe that there is a life beyond prostitution for women and are committed to enabling women to find routes out. This isn’t an aspiration or a pipe dream, but a goal that has guided the work of Beyond for the Streets for almost two decades that is making a genuine impact on the lives of the women involved in prostitution. To present the challenges women are facing and the change we’re making we have produced this visual overview of our work.
We supported 260 women in 2015/16, and we estimate to have reached thousands more through the 98 practitioners we trained to deliver specialist support in the same year. Before we rush into our exciting plans for growth for this new financial year, we are pausing to celebrate the impact that we’ve made during this one- join us in the celebration.
Printed copies of our Impact Infographic are available on request, contact us if you’d like some hard copies to share with your friends, colleagues or wider community.
“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.
In 2017, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, #BeBoldForChange calls us to help forge a better working world for all.
We at Beyond the Streets are working for an end to sexual exploitation in the UK, helping to forge a better world for the women who want to move away from selling sex and towards a future where they are treated with respect and dignity in the workplace.
It takes determination to take this path and daily we encounter women who show incredible strength, and resilience. It sometimes seems like the options are few but with someone alongside you to cheer you on and who knows but doesn’t judge, we’ve seen women make courageous decisions and take those determined steps. Here’s what one woman wrote after she had been talking with us at Beyond Support for a few months:
“When I contacted you I had made the decision that I would stop soon. I coped with it – the uncertainty and panic – I now know what it feels like to have a normal life, it is not so scary.
I’ve made progress by going to College and have got something to work towards and to get to know myself.
I have learnt a lot that I was braver than I thought I was and am also excited as have made a lot of bad decisions in the past and now know I can make good decisions.
I knew people judged me and thought that I was not intelligent . I am a human being. 90% of the reason (women become involved in prostitution) is the circumstances women find self in to make them do this work.
I had a lot of anger but the best thing you have done is encourage me to start having counselling which is really helping me longer term.
I am not fearful of the future as it’s something I did for me which is more important than other things in my past as it has made me a stronger person as I have confidence for the future.
Beyond Support has given me the confidence and taken away the fear so I can just be honest as I felt you understood and I didn’t have to explain or be judged.”
At Beyond the Streets, we find great job satisfaction in encountering some strong and admirable women. Happy International Women’s Day.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
When I first began volunteering with the Beyond The Streets team, a member of staff recommended that I read Rachel Lloyd’s memoir ‘Girls Like Us’. I made a note of it but was in no rush. Little did I anticipate the tour-de-force that would have me devouring the pages, only to eke out the last few chapters to stave off reaching the end. I was humbled; not just by Lloyd’s own harrowing story but her ability to incorporate compelling true narratives with hard facts and statistics about the sex trade. ‘Girls Like Us’ is the perfect balance of head and heart.
Interspersed are accounts of Lloyd’s own troubled childhood. From a somewhat idyllic start with a doting mother, life begins to spiral out of control when the man whom Rachel assumes is her father, comes back into their lives. An abusive and violent alcoholic, Lloyd’s mother also develops a drinking problem in order to cope with his tirades. Young Rachel’s relationship with her mum doesn’t improve with his eventual departure and becomes one characterised by neglect. The daughter assumes the role of guardian, dropping out of school to bring in an income and doing her best to intercept her mother’s attempts to kill herself.
By the time Rachel is living in Germany in her mid-late teens, she has already suffered violent sexual assault at the hands of different men. A perfect storm of straitened circumstances, no means of going back home and those all too willing to exploit a one-time-model’s looks, she lives through a terrifying experience at the mercy of drug-addled and paranoid boyfriends-turned-pimps. Tired of their murderous threats (Lloyd goes as far as making arrangements for her funeral and to inform her colleagues in advance of the likely perpetrator), the last of several suicide attempts proves -thank God- unsuccessful.
Surprised and grateful to still be alive, she wanders through the doors of a church on an American army base and begins the long, ongoing road to recovery. This will lead to her moving to the States and starting her own New York-based project, Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), supporting young women who have been sexually exploited. She also picks up Bachelors and Masters degrees along the way.
Lloyd boldly takes apart the glamorised images of the sex trade encouraged by some. The author challenges the myths and misperceptions around selling sex as well as the contempt for these girls and women by the authorities and the wider public. Along with others engaged in the battle against sexual exploitation, she is determined to change the lexicon around the subject. ‘Prostitution’ denotes an element of choice that does not reflect the limited agency and complex factors that are at play in the majority of cases, especially for minors. Lloyd is at pains to explain the strong emotional, psychological and even financial ties the girls feel towards those who have exploited them and which makes it even harder to leave for good.
Yet amazingly, the author achieves all this without being sanctimonious. The reader feels better informed rather than sermonised.
‘…One well-known advocate for the sex industry…was actually introduced to the life at the age of 14 after running away from an abusive home. She was a commercially sexually exploited child “trained”…from an early age. Yet because she is not black or Hispanic, because she was not sold on the dark corners of Hunts Point; because she appeared to be on the upper rungs of the “hierarchy” of the sex industry, that much-lauded fantasy world of the escort/call girl, her experience has never been framed as child exploitation or even questioned by the media and general public who continue to enjoy and support the idea that there are some forms of the sex industry that aren’t harmful, that women actually like it, that men’s “participation” in the industry is inevitable and may actually support the women’s career goals. It’s ideas like this that rationalise the continued buying and selling of women and girls…Just because an individual experience has not been difficult, painful or disempowering doesn’t make it true for millions of women and children around the world. The sex industry isn’t about choice; it’s about lack of choices. It’s critical for children and youth, and even many adult women within the sex industry, that we use language that frames it accurately…’ (page 219).
Lloyd’s memoir is essential reading, whether or not you feel a particular connection to the subject. This is a worldwide social epidemic and we would do well to understand its complexities; if nothing else to make us more alert to what might be going on under our noses.
Lloyd’s resilience makers her more than a survivor or even the fitting, but now clichéd, inspiration. She’s a walking miracle and whether or not they realise it, so are all those who have been down a similar path and lived to tell the tale, regardless of where they are in the recovery process. Even those yet to begin.
This blog was contributed by Tola Ositelu, a volunteer, supporter and friend of Beyond the Streets.
‘Girls Like Us’ by Rachel Lloyd. Harper Perennial Edition 2012, Harper Collins Publishers: New York. Buy the book here.
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. Just one reminder of this is the Cross Bones graveyard. The unmarked graves of the Cross Bones graveyard are those women who were not considered ‘worthy’ of a proper burial: they are the women whose lives and experiences were negated, shamed, and judged by society. The nameless burials remove the individuality and the humanity of those women. The women become ‘others’ – disconnected and different from ourselves and the rest of society.
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”
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.
- Tell your friends you say no to violence against women by downloading our social media action. Print the poster, add your name and share an image of yourself on your social media pages. See our Facebook page for inspiration from our supporters.
- Support our work providing routes out for women by making a donation here.
“Britain’s five richest families worth more than poorest 20%”- Guardian online headline, 17th March 2014.
Top of my ‘Most-hated Zeitgeisty Phrases that You See in the Media’ list (apart from the overuse of the word Zeitgeist) is ‘S/he’s worth £000,000,000.’
The idea that a person’s worth should be measured by the contents of their bank account/offshore investment/amount of tenners under the mattress may be just lazy journalism, yet it speaks into the heart of the day by day experience of someone who lives with prostitution as their means of income. It speaks into the heart of how someone looking to pay for sex might rank the ‘worth of the commodity’ that is the human being he is paying for.
How can a young woman deemed attractive enough to command £200 a night be ‘worth’ more than a woman who works on a dark street because no parlour will take her any more? There is a truth that we at Beyond the Streets want to shout from the rooftops: each woman, each person affected by prostitution is worth more than money can buy. The feeling that she has little worth because she has sells sex, whatever price she can command is often high up on the list of things that keep a woman doing it.
One of our workers has been talking on the phone regularly with a woman for several months now. When she first started calling, she felt suicidal, like it wasn’t ‘worth’ living any more. This is what she had to say recently,
“I have started to look after myself and feel much better now. Calls every two weeks show the progress I have made, as I have got more respect and take care of myself and now got more social life, its great having someone that cares who will listen to me, and made me realise I’m worth more than what I was putting self through.” (Quoted with permission)
That makes it all worthwhile. These subtle revelations of self worth are the small steps along the journey that with time, allow women to gain sight of the possibility of a life free from prostitution.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
This #NOvemberCampaign we’re reminding the world of women’s worth by saying no to sexual exploitation. Inspired by Miriam’s words on worth? Join the campaign here.
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).
Last week saw the launch of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Prostitution report following a review of the current UK laws and a reflection on how prostitution is dealt with in other countries. This has generated lots of media coverage in the last few days and a range of opinions being shared. Arguments have been put through in agreement and against the report and it is obvious to see this is an issue that divides opinion.
Our initial response:
As a charity working both with women currently selling sex and those who have stopped, as well as those who have been trafficked into prostitution, we daily see the negative impact and harm that prostitution brings. We hear stories of violence, exploited vulnerability and stolen youth. We hear of the struggles many years on, the scars and the unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. We hear of the ongoing cost that is being paid by women and their families.
It would be dishonest of us to pretend we can respond to this report with a short blog and quick answer. It is widely agreed that there are a wide range of stories behind those who find themselves involved in prostitution. No one person can talk on behalf of every facet of the sex industry. In a world awash with social media, soundbites abound and communication skills are honed and it can seem that sides are created and some people are looking to win a ‘war of words’.
In the midst of the responses to this Inquiry, we at Beyond the Streets reflect on what we should say and how we should engage. Whilst legislation no doubt can make a difference, laws alone will not be enough to stop the harm created. Further conversations are needed and as a country we need to be honest about the harm that buying sex can create and our responsibility to those left vulnerable and exploited. Aside from legislation, how can we care about those we may not understand and how can we remove the stigma and misunderstanding that women regularly face who have sold sex? How will we treat the “sex worker” who is trying to survive and to come to terms with the exploitation of the past?
What we do know is that there are hundreds of women we engage with who are looking for change. Not just a change of legislation, but a change of opportunities. Not a change of rules by the powerful, but a change of thinking. Not a just a change from lawmakers but a change of all our attitudes.
There are many women today who are facing hardship due to the lack of resources available to them. We can live with the idea that legislative change will bring some hope but we cannot be fooled into thinking that legislation alone is the answer. Alongside any legislative changes there must be a commitment to sufficient support for those exploited and in need of help in building their future.
For more information on the Home Affairs Select Committee report, visit here.