the need for help at different stages of the criminal justice system – from attending
court to ‘through the gate’ support when leaving prison.
At each stage SWOP encourages feedback, which helps the team adapt and grow
their services. ‘We’re always consulting our women on how they want their services,
and this may mean changing times of delivering outreach or providing more
underwear,’ says Lewis. ‘We listen to our women and give them a voice.’
Improving the women’s health is a driving force of SWOP’s work and the
approach is grounded in harm reduction. The network of partner agencies enables
swift referral to treat sexually transmitted diseases, infections and HIV, and working
with sexual health and homeless health teams helps with access to testing and
healthcare. There are often mental health issues to address, particularly where
distress has led to suicidal thoughts.
ackling clients’ addiction can be a gradual step-by-step process that
needs support from different partner projects and agencies. SWOP has
developed three specialist interventions for sex workers, each of them
based on giving women a safe space to explore their feelings about sex
work while providing emotional and practical support.
At the harm minimisation end of the scale, the Pegasus Programme works through
assertive outreach or prison inreach, night drop-ins and intensive key work with
women who are actively sex working. The Griffin Programme offers drug and alcohol
treatment at an abstinence-based residential treatment centre to women who are no
longer actively sex working; while the Phoenix Programme gives aftercare to women
who have been in recovery for over three years, but who still need support. All three
programmes use shared experience and the concept of connectedness to reframe
past trauma and explore the concept of choice for the future.
The work is challenging in many different ways, particularly when it can take many
attempts to make the first successful connection, but Lewis says it’s the women they
help that keep the team motivated. ‘We work with some of the strongest women I
have met, who face adversity and prejudice daily,’ she says. ‘They empower us to
continue to support them to exit sex working – and when we see an outcome of
supporting one of our women to rehab, we know our model works.’ DDN
Partnership of trust:
RACHEL (NOT HER REAL NAME) was street sex working most nights to
fund her addiction when she was encouraged to engage with SWOP by
other women who had accessed the service. She was very anxious about
getting involved, but she was experiencing housing problems and had
been a victim of domestic abuse.
Because of her anxiety and feeling ‘very closed up’ she would
sporadically engage by accessing evening drop-in services only. She
mentioned she wanted to exit sex working and quit drugs, so SWOP
offered her support and encouragement to leave sex work and access
treatment for her addiction.
After building a trusting and safe relationship with her key worker,
Rachel was supported to access a script through the drug and alcohol
service and reduced the frequency of her drug use and sex working. She
was also now accessing the Nelson Trust Women’s Centre in the
daytime, where she attended the Pegasus intervention.
Following regular intensive key worker sessions, Rachel hadn’t taken
drugs for three months and hadn’t sex worked in more than four
months. This enabled her to focus on her housing situation and pay off
all her rent arrears by accessing benefits and learning to budget. SWOP
supported her to access safe housing through a local housing provider.
After a year of Rachel’s engagement with her key worker and partner
agencies, she was able to exit sex work and is now in recovery. She has
resettled into recovery accommodation for women only and finds she is
‘at peace’ there. She has found the courage to reconnect with her mum
– something she longed for.
There have been many ups and downs but her relationship with her key
worker helped her keep her strength and determination. Rachel’s hope for
her future is that she will be able to peer mentor women who want to exit
November 2018 | drinkanddrugsnews | 7
More on outreach work at