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Project offers support and safety to street sex workers

Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2019 runs from 4th-10th February across the UK. Individuals, groups and organisations may take the opportunity to raise awareness of their support services for survivors of sexual abuse and violence.

In Wirral, one such project is Action for Street Health, or ASH Wirral, for short. A product of Wirral Domestic Abuse Alliance partner and women’s centre, Tomorrow’s Women Wirral (TWW), ASH Wirral offers safety and practical support to street sex workers in the borough.

The project, run by staff from TWW, is funded by Merseyside Police’s Community Cashback Fund, which is made up of cash seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The repurposed funds, diverted from organised crime, are now being used to provide emotional and practical support to vulnerable sex workers in Wirral.

Raising awareness of the issue of sex worker violence and abuse, Karen Horner, Operations Manager at TWW and ASH Wirral’s Coordinator said of the project, “Sex workers are experiencing violence and harassment that wouldn’t be permitted in, for example, an office environment or any other line of work.

“These women experience this purely because they are a sex worker - it is actually classed as a hate crime. It is crucial that these vulnerable people are protected by the law and are not further victimised or exploited because of their status as a sex worker.”

ASH offer their services two evenings a week, all year round. These services range from free contraception and signposting to local organisations, to hot drinks and someone to talk to. According to Karen, some of the women they see when out at night have also started attending TWW to access support in other areas of their life.

ASH aims to increase awareness of the support that is out there for anybody in a vulnerable situation, whilst also supporting the wider community. Since starting up in 2017, ASH have spoken with many residents about their work and signposted people to the correct authorities if they have issues in their local area. Last year, the project even received a commendation at the Howard League for Penal Reform National Awards, for its close working relationship with the police.

Karen continued, “The project is about showing the community that we are there for the women, as well as them, and that they are supported. The women we work with have told us that our bright pink van lets would-be harassers know that somebody cares for these women, someone is watching out for them.”

Assistant Chief Constable Julie Cooke of Merseyside Police said of the project, "Protecting vulnerable people is a key priority of the force, and any partner agencies able to help us achieve that are an extremely valuable resource. It is great that the force is in a position to support Tomorrow’s Women and ASH Wirral in delivering this vital work."

Since 2011, TWW has provided a women-only safe environment with the aim of supporting women to make positive lifestyle choices and changes. TWW offers a monthly timetable of courses, drop-ins and events to empower women to address any issues they may have, with a view to leading happier and healthier lifestyles.

To access support in Wirral, visit www.itsneverokwirral.org.

For more information about ASH Wirral contact Tomorrow's Women Wirral at www.tomorrowswomen.org.uk.