Three representatives from Southend-on-Sea were asked to speak about the health and professional empathy shown to women who sell sex at a national conference.
Speaking at the King's Fund conference on Tuesday 19 September were Tracy Harris, head of communities at Southend-on-Sea City Council, Kerry Mayers, psychological services lead for the South-East Essex Trauma Alliance in Essex Partnership University Trust, and Marie Edmonds, founder of Aspirations.
Called; ‘Putting a spotlight on women's health: addressing disparities in access, experience and quality of care for women', the conference looked at all aspects and barriers to women seeking health care.
Tracy, Kerry and Marie, spoke about their work at developing a joint strategy to understand the health needs of women who sell sex, to put in place harm reduction measures to make them feel safe to ask for health support, and work collaboratively to develop trauma informed support.
Tracy said: “Speaking at the conference allowed us to demonstrate the partnership working that has taken place across our organisations to understand, help and support, this small but significant community.
“Our understanding is that women will exit the sex trade when they feel they are properly supported and the first step of that is taking care of themselves, taking care of their health. If they are not met with a compassionate doctor, who can respond to them, understanding they are coming from a place of trauma, then the trust is immediately broken.”
Marie, who still lives with the trauma of her own lived experience and founded Aspirations to support women, spoke powerfully about her own experience and viewpoint. While Kerry spoke about the importance of providing women with trauma informed services and how Essex Partnership Trust (EPUT) provide free training and support organisations across the whole system to embed learning through trauma infused actions around Essex.
Since work started on the strategy in 2021, the service has achieved:
- services are working together to provide services under one roof in trusted female only environments
- nine hidden homeless women have been helped into accommodation
- one woman has exited prostitution with significant support from Aspirations
- police have reported a reduction in crime amongst the cohort
- women report feeling cared for, invested in and safer
- a separate pot of funding has been given to assist fast access to detox and rehab
- 31 local organisations and services have committed to working as part of a local Trauma Alliance, with a further 7 invested in signing up
- police are treating the women as the vulnerable individuals that they are through ongoing consultation and the Trauma Alliance's community policing workshop
Cllr James Moyies, cabinet member for public health, adult social care and constitutional affairs, said: “It is fantastic that the hard work that has taken place in Southend in the last few years has already had such a profound effect, but also that this work has been recognised at a national level amongst other like-minded professionals.
“Women who sell sex are often in that situation out of desperation and we, as a society, need to put our preconceptions to one side and treat them with care and compassion.
“In simpler terms, it means we're working together with the people who need our help to make our services better. This gives them more control and can help them lead better lives. It's a good way to support vulnerable women in Southend. This is a great example of how partnership working can have a real life-changing impact on those it is serving. Well done to all involved.”