Beyond the Streets responds to the government’s ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls’ Strategy

Jul 22, 2021


Beyond the Streets has issued our response to the government’s updated strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), published by the Home Office on Wednesday 21st July 2021. 

Beyond the Streets welcomes the ambitions of the government to increase support for victims and survivors, to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice, and reduce the prevalence of violence against women and girls laid out in the strategy. We welcome the inclusion of ‘prostitution and sex work’ within the VAWG strategy and the recognition therein of the gender asymmetry within the sex industry, the multiple constraints, stemming from structural social and economic inequalities, which disproportionately affect women and thus mean they are more likely to sell sex and experience sexual exploitation than men, and the high levels of violence experienced by those selling sex. 

We are concerned about the use of language and terminology within the strategy. In particular, the continued use of the term ‘prostitute’. This term is loaded with stigma and is widely considered derogatory. Given the emphasis within the report on the need for trauma-informed approaches, we believe the continued use of this term is unacceptable and call on the government to adopt more person-centred language in relation to the sex industry.  

We appreciate the intention with the strategy to recognise how involvement in the sex industry acts as a barrier to accessing support, however, the language used when talking about personal history, ‘being a prostitute or sex worker’, suggests involvement is in fact a personal characteristic. Whilst this might seem to be quibbling over semantics, this conflation of experiences of sexual exploitation and/or selling sex with personal identity is a fundamental part of the problem which feeds stigma and creates barriers to accessing support as people focus on the identity label and not on the individual person. 

It is encouraging to see the commitment laid out in the strategy to work with other Government departments, the police, charities and others to consider additional measures to address harm or exploitation within the context of the sex industry. To this end we continue to call on the Government to commission further research to understand the experiences of those groups whose voices were under-represented/absent within the recent research into the nature and prevalence of prostitution and sex work in England and Wales.  

We are also pleased to see that the Home Office is committed to tackling the issue of sex for rent and carrying out a review to ascertain whether further reform is needed; and recognise the need to counter the exploitation that occurs on adult service websites. However, we have reservations about the effectiveness of pursuing voluntary self-regulation in this context. Similarly, we welcome the recognition of the challenges of age verification but are aware from our own recent research and the stories shared by women we support that even when the most currently advanced age verification technology is used by adult service websites this technology leaves a lot of scope for exploitation of those under the age of 18. 

We endorse the commitment to ensuring that those who want to leave the sex industry ‘should be given every opportunity to find routes out’ and the recognition of the necessity of choice in this context, not ‘coercive exit’. However, we query how these routes out will be resourced. The strategy recognises that specialist support services are vital but, as many other VAWG organisations have pointed out, the piecemeal approach to funding these services proposed in the strategy does not provide the resources or stability the sector requires to ensure vital services are available and accessible. Adequate funding needs to be prioritised. 

Finally, we welcome the commitment to tackling Modern Slavery within the strategy but are concerned that the development of a standalone Tackling Modern Slavery Strategy must not be divorced from wider measures to address harm and exploitation within the sex industry as such a division is unlikely to capture and address the full reality of adult sexual exploitation.