Drink and Drugs News DDN November 2018 - Page 6

OutreacH A sensitive approach can be a lifeline to women whose lives revolve around drugs and sex work, as DDN reports The POWER of co ‘W D ithout these guys I probably would be dead now.’ These are the words of a woman who accessed the SWOP drop-in at a stage in her life when she thought nothing would ever change. The Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) was set up by the Nelson Trust specifically to help women who had become involved in street-based sex work to fund their addiction. The specialist programme grew from a knowledge base of working with some of the most disadvantaged, marginalised and stigmatised women in the community, and the realisation that intervention could be extremely successful in changing the lives of people who would not otherwise come into contact with services. ‘It can take a long time to gain a woman’s trust,’ says SWOP co-ordinator Katie Lewis. ‘Sometimes they have been through services many times before and their needs may not have been addressed appropriately.’ These needs can be extremely complex. Many of the women SWOP comes into contact with have experienced abuse, trauma and sexual exploitation before adulthood. For some, engaging in ‘transactional sex’ has become a practical way of affording accommodation and drugs. Many have families – and many have come to accept that living with a controlling and abusive partner is the norm. Unsurprisingly, women in this situation are highly unlikely to walk through the door of a daytime service – not just because the hours don’t suit them, but also because of the stigma they have experienced. So SWOP goes out onto the streets to try to engage women who are likely to be at risk, offering hot food and drinks, clothes, toiletries and the all-important emotional support. ‘We work extremely hard to engage women from a non-judgemental and trauma-informed approach,’ says Lewis. ‘We offer kindness and give women the safe space to be listened to.’ Offering support also involves encouraging the women to engage with other specialist support services, she explains, ‘and if it takes ten to 12 attempts for a woman to engage, we will continue to offer this support until she is ready to accept the help.’ 6 | drinkanddrugsnews | November 2018 eveloping local partnerships has been central to the project’s effectiveness and SWOP works with police and probation, social care, child protection, housing and substance use treatment services, among many others. As SWOP co-ordinator, Lewis supports case workers to navigate complex conditions and chairs a monthly multi-agency forum, where all the partner agencies come together to discuss safeguarding and risks for the women, sharing information on how best to support them. It’s a sensitive process that needs to be mindful of clients’ confidentiality, but Lewis is careful to protect the ‘trusting and respectful relationships’ they have built up. ‘If they were to disclose any safeguarding or risk information, we would have an honest conversation about when information needs to be shared,’ she says. While it can take many attempts to engage with the women, through out-of-hours services, there is much to offer them in the safe spaces of the van in Swindon and Wiltshire or the drop-in centre at Gloucester. Both environments offer a place of respite and safety, and over food and hot drinks they have the opportunity to talk about the support they need. Some need protection from clients and stalkers; others need help with abusive relationships at home. Many need help with finding safer accommodation for themselves and their children, and there is often ‘If it takes ten to 12 attempts for a woman to engage, we will continue to offer this support until she is ready.’ www.drinkanddrugsnews.com