DRUG addiction is driving women to enter sex work to fund their habits, a new report has revealed.
All of the women involved in ‘survival sex work’ in County Durham and Darlington regularly use illegal drugs, the report commissioned by Ron Hogg, Police Crime and Victims’ Commissioner found.
The research was carried out by charity Changing Lives’ Girls Are Proud (GAP) Project to uncover truths about the sex industry in the area and examine interactions between sex workers and the services they are likely to come into contact with.
To do this GAP trained individuals, who themselves were engaged in sex work, to interview 20 women and gather information on the nature and context of sex work and sexual exploitation.
Many themes emerged including the ‘hidden nature’ of the sex trade in County Durham and Darlington.
The prevalence of habitual drug use amongst the women interviewed demonstrates the complex needs of sex workers in the region.
The report highlighted many areas including adult abuse and exploitation, child exploitation, mental health and emotional wellbeing of sex workers and service provision.
It also included anecdotal evidence from a handful of women who expressed negative experiences with the police.
It also noted, however, that within Durham Constabulary “attitudes are changing” prompting one woman to now feel more able to contact the police than when she first started working in the sex trade.
Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington said: “I am very grateful to Changing Lives for this report, which contains new insights into the very distressing issues facing vulnerable sex workers.
“The report makes clear that many of them are in a desperate situation, dependent on drugs and at risk of exploitation by dealers and organised crime gangs.
“Durham Constabulary is committed to tackling this and has a track record of success in tackling the drugs trade.
“At the same time, I am campaigning for changes in the law, to reduce the influence of drug dealers and enable more people to take advantage of support that will help them to address their dependency on drugs.
“I am working with partners to identify the scope for a new service to support women to move on from a life of sexual exploitation with a view to commissioning this soon.”
The report made several recommendations which are now being considered by partner agencies.
Detective Supt Victoria Fuller, Safeguarding lead for Durham Constabulary, said: “We welcome this report.
“It is fair to say that women involved in sex work in County Durham and Darlington have not always had the confidence to report and ensure they get the support and understanding they need.
“However I am pleased to say that, as the report notes, attitudes are changing within Durham Constabulary and we are working to improve confidence to report by prioritising this area.
“Just this week officers visited a number of ‘brothel’ premises across the County Durham and Darlington area where it was believed women had been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
“This operation represents a new approach to historic and outdated policing methods and reflects a greater understanding the force has developed over recent years about the complexities surrounding sex work and its often exploitive nature.
“It focused on intelligence gathering from survivors and sex workers, along with users of their services, in an effort to develop a greater awareness of how women are often exploited in the industry and to safeguard people from harm.
“The initial activity is being supplemented with follow up visits by specially trained officers to continue to try and build up trust with sex workers to enable further safeguarding to take place or to enable enforcement activity to take place against identified abusers.”
The report highlighted a need to ‘upskill’ to be able to identify and respond to the needs of individuals exposed to sexual exploitation or involved in sex work.
Supt Fuller added: “We have a range of pioneering projects which are now in place in Durham Constabulary.
“Over the last five years thousands of frontline police officers, health care professionals and social workers have received training from Zoe Lodrick (sexualised trauma specialist) regarding sexual violence, trauma and abuse.
“Taking this further, over 1,000 taxi drivers across county Durham and Darlington have received sexual exploitation and vulnerability training. One result of this is the safeguarding of a young child abducted and then abandoned in the Durham force area.
“Durham and Darlington’s multi-agency ‘Educate and Raise Awareness of Sexual Exploitation’ (ERASE) Team are dedicated to safeguarding young people and adults subject to exploitation in our communities and there is a range of exciting partnership work ongoing.”
Debbie Barker, CEO of RSACC (Rape and Sexual Associate Counselling Centre in Durham and Darlington) and Chair of the Independent Rape Scrutiny Panel which was commissioned by Ron Hogg said: “We have reviewed multiple rape investigations and have found that Durham Constabulary actively learn from victim experiences and use this to improve their response to investigating sexual abuse and exploitation.
“We have also been impressed by innovation used in the force such as video links to court to ensure victims can provide evidence without attending court.”
For more information, and to arrange interviews, please contact
Jon Carling, Head of Policy and Communications, on 03000 265466, 07851 011361 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The report can be found here: Peer led research into sex work in Durham and Darlington
Posted on Friday 14th October 2016