How to respond sensitively to women’s mental health needs
Don’t be afraid to ask the question – if a woman hasn’t disclosed but you suspect that she might be involved in selling or exchanging sex, ask and let her know she is not being judged.
Establish a comprehensive picture of a woman’s circumstances – including her financial situation, housing, safety, sexual health, and social support. Whilst she may not address them explicitly, they can be a contributor to her mental health.
Explore women’s coping strategies and aspects of resilience – if a woman identifies maladaptive behaviours such as substance misuse, self-harm or risky behaviours, acknowledge their validity and explore their function (for example, self-confidence, soothing or connection).
Be transparent and honest – this helps to tackle the secrecy that pervades the lives of women who sell or exchange sex.
Do not make promises that you can’t keep – this can have a negative impact on the trust-building process.
Keep consistent support – even if you have referred her on to other services, check in to see how she is getting on.
Anonymity - offer opportunities to remain anonymous – some women choose not to disclose for fear of being judged or outed. Where possible, give her the option to give a different name or to keep her camera off if meeting via video call.
Pay attention to power and control dynamics – for many women who sell or exchange sex, their sense of control (over their body, feelings and reactions) has been compromised.
Establish boundaries, including limits of confidentiality, the remit of the service, duration and length of sessions, and contactable persons.
Recognise that women’s mental wellbeing is connected to other needs and they might need a variety of interventions to achieve or maintain better mental health.
Visit our mental health resources page to find more information about things you can do to improve how you respond to women.
CSE Aware is a project from the Women’s Support Project developed alongside other agencies and the Encompass Network. The work is funded by the Scottish Government through Delivering Equally Safe.