There, no matter what - 28/06/2021
“Language is important. We use the term ‘street prostitution’, rather than ‘sex work’, because sex work implies there is a choice involved. That women choose this as a way of life. For our women, that’s simply not true. There’s no choice here.” says Rosie, Crisis and Exit Support Worker for Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunity Project (SWWOP).
“Our women have experienced horrific trauma in their childhood, sexual abuse, neglect. Perhaps they’ve grown up seeing their Mum being hit and abused by men. For many of them, that’s how they expect to be treated. That’s normal for them. Many of them enter this because it’s what they’ve seen around them. It’s learned behaviour, going right back to their childhood. They’ve found themself in an abusive relationship, being groomed, pressured and coerced. It's so sad, but for many it seems like a predetermined path.”
A Home Office Report in 2006 found that 70% of women involved in street prostitution have a history of local authority care and 45% report experiencing sexual abuse during their childhoods. Many enter prostitution before age 18.
SWWOP provides intensive support to vulnerable women involved in street prostitution. Women involved in street prostitution are likely to suffer physical deprivation through homelessness, lack of food and violence, physical and sexual assaults, illness and injury and drug and alcohol abuse. An increase in risk-taking behaviour increases their risk of harm; this risk particularly impacts on their mental and emotional health.
Rosie explains that SWWOP’s work focuses on harm reduction in the main, through provision of condoms, sexual health support, a needle exchange and food parcels. “We also make lots of cups of tea, and pre-Covid we gave out lots of hugs too! Many of our women are not contemplating recovery; they aren’t ready for that yet. But they don’t need to be to access our support. We are there, no matter what”, adds Rosie.
The SWWOP van tours ‘the beat’ in Sheffield three evenings a week providing outreach support, along with 'dodgy punter' information, appointments for crisis intervention, and access to exit support. For clients who are ready to exit prostitution, SWWOP helps with linking into other agencies and services in the city, around housing, benefits and medical care. Weekly drop ins, trips to the park, and a clothing service are all part of helping women to move on with their lives in a supported way.
“It’s important that we reframe success when we are talking about the women who access our support. Simple things such as someone getting their benefits sorted, or moving into a council flat. For some women that would be a massive achievement. And for us to know that they are safe, in their own space, and can lock the door; that’s huge! When we have clients who we know are pregnant and they go on to have their baby and then keep their baby - again, perhaps doesn’t sound much, but we know how much goes into making that a possibility”, comments Rosie.
“The best thing about working for SWWOP is that we know how much our clients value and appreciate us. So many of them are isolated and ostracised in their families and communities, and are living pretty awful lives. For them to know that we care, and will keep on caring; that motivates them to engage with our support, and that’s hopefully how we encourage them to move on from this life”.
You can support the work of SWWOP by donating clothing (tracksuits and leggings are always in need), toiletries, or cash, via their JustGiving link: https://www.justgiving.com/swwop/Donate Find out more, including how to volunteer with the project, on their website: https://www.swwop.org/
Read Jane's story here: http://blog/janes-story
Alison Wise for Help us Help, June 2021