Oct 07, 2022

How can a prepaid SIM card make a difference to women who sell survival sex?

Image Source: Daria Nepriakhina, Unsplash

Multiple disadvantage, coercive relationships, selling sex, and the connectivity barriers to accessing support services. 

The women that we support at Beyond the Streets face multiple disadvantages, including poverty and unsafe housing. Most women have access to a phone but their ability to purchase credit is sporadic.

Many are in coercive or abuse domestic situations and rely on others to provide access to the internet which leaves them open to exploitation.  Post pandemic there has been reduction of services who accept walk in enquiries. This means that without access to a consistent phone or data women are often unable to access these services, and are excluded from accessing the support they need.

Without access to the internet they are also unable to access support that would help them to take steps away from selling sex, such as universal credit and housing support. The women we work with face difficult choices, which are becoming exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. They sell sex to survive and will face increased pressure to sell sex to meet rising costs or choose between essentials such as food and their phone.

By providing women with SIM cards and free data we can relieve some of this pressure.  We need to be able to contact women on our caseload, to set up meetings and follow up where there are safeguarding concerns; the women we work with frequently experience violence and abuse. Thanks to Vodafone UK, we have been able to provide prepaid SIM cards to women on our caseload; if we didn’t receive this connectivity for free we would not be able to offer this relief to the women who we walk alongside.

Our Door of Hope project offers long term support to women selling survival sex of Tower Hamlets through street outreach and one-to-one case working. Our staff team work closely with a volunteer team, many of whom are local residents, to work with women to provide high levels of support to improve their safety and take steps away from selling sex if this is what they seek. Most of the women we work with  experience multiple disadvantages including substance dependency, mental health challenges and unstable housing.

Many of them have been labelled as uncooperative, chaotic, and/or treated as passive recipients by other services due to the complexity of their needs.

We work in partnership with the borough and other local agencies such as drug and alcohol services and  homeless services to provide trauma-informed support and advocate for women to access other specialist services.