Sex Worker Outreach Project

At our two Women’s Centres in Swindon and Gloucester, we reach out to women who are street sex working to fund their substance misuse. This outreach is made possible by The Big Lottery FundLankelly Chase Foundation and The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

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Why is The Nelson Trust now working with sex workers?
We want to support anyone struggling with addiction. We became aware of women suffering within our area. These women have had childhoods characterised by loss and trauma and are therefore very vulnerable to violence and exploitation. With 30 years’ experience, The Nelson Trust has the expertise to empower these women and we inspire them to address the issues that led to them being in this difficult situation. WE reach out to them on the streets so that we can get them through the doors of our Women’s Centres, and Rehab.

How do you engage such a marginalised group?
We operate out of two Women’s Centres in Gloucester and Swindon. We reach out in the red light districts at night by taking food, condoms, and vital information about Ugly Mugs in each area. We start by building relationships and talk to the women about their options. We offer them a place of safety and some respite from the street. Our aim is to get them to our Women's Centres where they get structured support and the opportunity to get into rehab.

When they arrive at the drop-in, what happens?
The women have a variety of needs. We seek to address these. This is a safe haven – we’re confidential and discreet and offer unconditional, non-judgemental support. Where there’s been abuse and violence, we provide crisis-led support. We use The National Ugly Mug database to let the women know about potential perpetrators of sexual violence. We offer practical support and safety advice; sexual health info; free alarms, condoms and pregnancy testing; nutritious food and drink; warm clothing; and access to our Women’s Centres, where they can receive a range of specialist interventions.

Why do you want them to go to the Women’s Centres?
At our two centres, there are professionals, specialising in a range of services: one-to-one counselling and workshops: drug and alcohol awareness; freedom from domestic violence programme; Crime and Its Impact Ascentis award; Induction to Change with Turning Point; Women and Alcohol; Emotional Health and Wellbeing; self-esteem and anger-management; employability skills, jewellery making, cookery and art. We help women to access exiting pathways and offer them the opportunity to consider our abstinence-based specialist women’s residential rehab in Stroud.

So, you’re dealing not just with addiction, but with trauma, abuse and mental health problems?
Yes, that’s right. A whole range of complex needs; childhood trauma and abuse, poor physical and emotional health, homelessness, limited access to mainstream services, with addiction often being the end result.

Why is this so pioneering?
In the past, sex workers have been fined by police for soliciting. Criminalisation of sex working women is unhelpful as it does not address their underlying needs or trauma. Now, they’re able to work with our Sex Worker Outreach Workers. This gives the women increased opportunity. We really do support them towards positive change.

How does the fact that you’re a charity make a difference?
We have a unique voice in a crowded space. Government services are bound by protocol, but a charity has the power to be a conduit, operating alongside agencies, combining professionalism with the acceptance and joined-up approach that these women need.

What do you believe is the key to your success?
Once a month, we get together with local agencies to discuss women at high risk of harm. We work very closely with local Drug Services and the local homeless team. By collaborating, we are able to assess risk more thoroughly. We work with all local service, including social services, housing, domestic violence agencies, and sexual health professionals. 

Do you sometimes think that these women have no voice?
This is an extremely vulnerable group of women. Their needs are often ignored by society. We want to work with the media to change attitudes and bring about reform to ensure lasting change for all women who have been exploited.

Are there other ways you can help these women?
We can help them in so many ways, especially with safe housing, drug services, residential rehab, benefits, debt advice, resettlement, criminal justice issues, as well as healthcare for both physical and mental health and comprehensive support with emotional health and well-being.

So, how many women have you helped so far?
We’ve been incredibly successful in a very short time. Between April 2014 and April 2015, 57 sex workers were made safer. We have supported numerous women to exit street sex work completely. These women are now living very different lives.

Have you had any other successes?
Yes, we were publicly congratulated by a lead detective for putting a violent rapist behind bars for seven years. Our Swindon team was runner-up in the Women’s Category at The Howard League for Penal Reform in 2015; and our Sex Worker Outreach Worker in Swindon was recently awarded the Assistant Chief Constable’s Certificate of Recognition.

The outreach workers collaborate with other local agencies such as the Gear Project, Homeless Healthcare Team, Gloucestershire Constabulary, Gloucestershire Probation Trust and GDVSAP. The Sex Worker Outreach Project is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

If you're interested in volunteering one evening (9-11pm) a month to help reach out to this vulnerable group of women, take a look at this role description. For further information, please email Katie.Lewis@nelsontrust.com