Recently our colleague Heather conducted a survey of women’s aid groups and rape crisis centres in Scotland to find out whether women selling or exchanging sex access their services, the specific experiences of selling and exchanging sex women bring and the needs they have. Here she describes her initial findings:
Over a week in November 2021 the Encompass network gathered information about the women they supported which showed that 83% of women had disclosed experience of domestic abuse and 36% childhood sexual abuse.
Following on from this over March 2022 we collected information from workers in Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis groups about their experiences of supporting women involved in CSE.
Workers who completed the survey had come into contact with women involved in various aspects of the ‘sex industry’ including women who had been involved in escorting and web camming, but the majority had supported women who had been coerced into selling sex by a partner or who exchanged sex for drugs.
Workers told us that in their experience that the support women required was often similar to that of women who hadn’t been involved in selling or exchanging sex, this included requiring support in relation to housing, around safety and finances. Workers identified differences in support needed around sexual health and the level of emotional support needed due to higher levels of trauma experienced.
‘The support women needed was almost exactly the same except we have purchased pregnancy tests and supported women to sexual health clinics where selling or exchanging sex was involved. Similar financial struggles and issues of housing and requiring refuge were needed but the emotional support differed for the women who had been involved in selling or exchanging sex, they needed more in-depth support for the emotional trauma specifically relating to this issue. I required more support also to enable me to better support women with these particular set of issues due my own lack of knowledge, especially at first.’
‘The women who were involved in selling or exchanging sex needed support in a variety of different ways and each woman's experience differed. For some it was a way to make money to buy drugs, clothes, food, alcohol and for others they were coerced into it by their partner or friend. In some ways the support they need is more complex as many are reluctant to discuss what they are involved in and the reasons why. Many women are scared, ashamed, confused and feel like they have no other option but to continue. There is a range of factors to take into consideration from emotional support to sexual and physical health as well as safety options.’
Workers identified that women not wanting to discuss this area of her life, not seeing the relationship with her partner/pimp as exploitative, attitudes from others about involvement being a ‘lifestyle choice’ and a lack of confidence on their part where the key difficulties they encountered when working with women involved in selling or exchanging sex.
Workers who took part in the survey were felt that support/training to help fill any knowledge gaps they had and to build their confidence would be beneficial, they also felt that multi-agency guidance which would help support other organisations to respond in appropriate ways would help women get the support they need.