Mar 09, 2023
An interview with a Beyond the Streets staff member.
Q: Where does Beyond the Streets as a charity fit in to society’s journey to embracing equity?
ANS: “As we know, equity is about acknowledging that not everyone is coming from the same start in life, there are a whole host of disadvantages that people can experience. Many of the women we work with have ongoing trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences and some have been involved in the care system. From our research we’ve discovered that women who sell sex will experience around 8 different support needs at any one time: ranging from Mental Health issues, access to services, finances, abuse & trauma, housing, and substance misuse, or mental health challenges.
Because of these multiple disadvantages, women can experience instability in their lives, and face barriers to support. One source of barriers to support highlighted by women in their initial assessments is a lack of flexibility in support services. Issues can arise sometimes due to a lack of understanding and training that can result in stigmatisation of women; re-traumatisation due to a trauma-informed approach not being utilised; insufficient aftercare, or support for wider issues.
At Beyond the Streets we can provide a bridge between women we work alongside and support services, advocating to maintain these relationships until their needs are met. In a woman’s journey, fundamental issues such as housing, substance misuse, mental/physical health and poverty need addressing before a women can be in a place to tackle other support needs. These are the first rungs on the ladder towards a future that they’ve chosen. Only after these are addressed, can we then look at the next steps with women, such as education, employment, and training.
So I’d say our role as a charity in Embracing Equity, and in the journey towards a more equal society, is bridging those gaps where women are facing disadvantages and struggle to access women centered, trauma informed support. Our Beyond support Women’s Support Worker Laura says:
“Sometimes women find it hard to identify what support they need, and when they do know, they struggle to navigate the different services. They are often isolated and have no one to support them in this journey and this can feel overwhelming especially when they are experiencing multiple disadvantages such insecure housing, substance misuse issues and mental health difficulties. When women come to Beyond Support, we help them to identify the support they need, make referrals and advocate for them to try and ensure they can access the appropriate services for them. We are then able to journey with them as they engage in specialist services, and support them to make progress and to have their voice heard.”
The experiences of the women we work alongside are important to be aware of, and a key part of that is understanding that the women we support are women first, that they’ve all have unique experiences. Whether it’s selling on-street, online, or in other contexts, each will face a different set of challenges, although intersectionality of support needs for all these women exist. We also support women who haven’t sold sex for several years. They might be living with a partner or have a family, and haven’t had an opportunity to unpack their experiences of selling sex to with anyone, this can be hard for a person to carry alone, and we offer that non-judgmental listening ear.
What we do for women is varied. It ranges from advocacy to just listening when no one else will. Not only that, but we’re able to do so for the long term. We don’t pass judgement on what women should be doing, and don’t label people. We follow the way each woman describes herself and are here to help realise the goals that women set for their own futures. Working within a sector where there are service provision gaps and a lack of research compared to other themes, it is essential everybody feels that our services are for them. We work hard to remove barriers to engagement, e.g. language, neurodiversity, and recognise that any future systemic change needs to be driven by different and diverse women, so any benefits are inclusive of everyone.
Equity is about acknowledging that we don’t all start from the same place, and that there are imbalances that lead to some people facing a significantly taller ladder of challenges to be overcome to reach the same opportunities that others have in society. We’re here to hold that ladder steady, for as long as it takes. Ultimately, we’re here to help women to build their own support network who will take our place holding the ladder, so that she can walk away from us with the confidence that if any step on her ladder becomes daunting, she won’t be on her own in her journey.”