Guest Blog: Sexual Violence and Sex Work and the support available

Warning: This story mentions sexual violence, which could be triggering to some readers.

As has been brought to mainstream media’s attention with the recent release of The Ripper on Netflix, sexual violence experienced by sex workers has often been regarded as not real police work, part of the job, and disgustingly, deserved. When quotes such as “Some were prostitutes but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women” are put out into the public domain, especially by individuals who hold positions of power, such as Michael Havers, the attorney general at the time of Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror and who delivered this quote during Sutcliffe’s trial, it is unsurprising that sex workers face several barriers in reporting their victimization.

Research has shown that sex workers experience extremely high rates of victimization, with a study in Liverpool finding that 90% of sex workers had experienced work based violence and another concluding globally, sex workers have a 32-55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year. Accurate estimates of the prevalence of violence against sex workers are however difficult to obtain, and no doubt these percentages are not capturing the truth of victimization among sex workers.

Despite the prevalence of victimization among those who participate in sex work, many criminal incidents against sex workers go unreported to the police, including incidents of sexual violence. Some of the same factors that discourage many of the public from reporting sexual violence also apply to sex workers. Many assume the police will not take their claim seriously, the criminal justice system will be ineffective in prosecuting offenders, they do not want to have to relive the experience throughout the process, and even blame themselves, among other things. However, they also experience additional barriers to reporting, such as rape myth attitudes which assume sex workers have given up their right to refuse sex, fear of arrest themselves, fear of arrest of their co-workers or clients, the closure of premises in which they work, and public identification.

This is where organisations such as ourselves come in. POW are here to support sex workers in making whatever decision is right for them. Some individuals will still feel like they cannot and do not want to report to the police and that is okay, we’re still here to support them in any way they may need, be that emotionally or practically, and we can offer referrals and links to further support such as the Topaz Centre and Nottingham Sexual Violence Support Services. However, some victims will want to report, and my particular role at POW as Police Liaison Worker is to advocate for these individuals and ensure their voices are heard, they are respected, and the factors that may discourage them from reporting in the first place do not come to fruition.

As Police Liaison I am fully involved in any disclosure of sexual assault from one of our clients, and here to support them with anything throughout the process of reporting, such as attending the police station to report incidents, contacting the police on their behalf, being available to accompany to interviews, and generally offer advice on how the criminal justice process works. As well as this practical support I am also here to advocate for the individual reporting, ensuring their rights are being adhered to, they are being treated fairly and equally, and are not being brushed away as has happened with so many sex worker cases throughout history.

I think it is important to note here that sex workers face many forms of violence, such as physical and emotional, not just sexual, as well as indirect forms of violence such as harassment, stalking, threatening, blackmail, sharing intimate images without consent etc. No form of violence towards a sex worker is acceptable, despite the oftentimes popular rhetoric that sex workers invite this treatment onto themselves due to their line of work, which I’m sure I don’t have to point out is obviously wrong. Just as with sexual violence POW are here to support any victimization a sex worker might experience, and point them in the direction of further support they may need.

POW would encourage anyone who works within the sex industry to engage with our service for the wide range of support that we offer, many details of which can be found on our website (http://pow-advice.org.uk/). But I would like to take this opportunity to personally encourage anyone who has been a victim of violence of any kind to get in touch with us so we can support you in your choices regarding the offence and accessing other services, no matter how you choose to proceed.

POW can be contacted on:

Landline: 0115 924 9992
Email: admin@pow-advice.co.uk
Outreach Phone: 07895 364 031

POW Police Liaison Worker – Sam Richardson-Martin:

Mobile: 07784 687850
Email: sam@pow-advice.co.uk

Other services:

Topaz Centre – 0800 085 9993, notts.sarc@nhs.net

Nottingham Sexual Violence Support Services – (Helpline) 0115 941 0440, (24hr Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline) 0808 800 0340

Revenge Porn Helpline – 0345 6000 459, help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk

National Ugly Mugs – 0161 629 9861, admin@uglymugs.org

For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.


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