The Need We Address
Every woman we support has experienced significant trauma and struggles with its impact. Over 95% are routinely subjected to at least one form of male violence against women and girls including domestic or sexual violence, and/or sexual exploitation. Many are are victims of an abusive perpetrator, often a partner, family member or dealer, using violence or intimidation, withholding money, food or drugs.
Almost all were subjected to childhood abuse, including child sexual exploitation. For those involved in prostitution, most were groomed into it as teenagers, some as young as 14. Three-quarters grew up in care and most have never experienced a safe, loving relationship. Unsurprisingly, 97% turn to drug or heavy alcohol use as a coping strategy, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.
90% struggle with their mental health, usually a result of their trauma.
63% of women we currently support have spent time in prison, usually HMP Peterborough. In line with national figures, more women are sent to prison to serve a sentence for theft than for violence against the person, robbery, sexual offences, drugs, and motoring offences combined and over half (58%) are sentenced to 6 months or less (Ministry of Justice, 2021). Most crimes are related to women’s poverty, homelessness or drug addiction. However, short sentences have a long-term impact on women’s stability as women lose their accommodation, mental health support, addiction support and children are placed in care. Nationally, 19% of women are released from prison with nowhere to live (MoJ, 2019), increasing their risk of re-offending.
85% of the women we support have experienced homelessness or housing vulnerability.
In our young women’s service (Feeling Safe), all have mental health issues linked to trauma and half have a diagnosed or self-identified learning disability or are neuro-diverse (ADHD/Autism). Many have had children, who have been removed from their care. We support women like 23-year-old Abi (name changed) who has had eight pregnancies; four babies were immediately removed into care, three pregnancies were terminated and one miscarried. She has autism, grew up with abusive parents and spent her teenage years in care, as a result of domestic violence. She lost her brother to a drug overdose. She is currently in a relationship with a violent man.
The quotes below reflect the experiences of women we support:
“I have been used by dirty men since I was 6, now I’m in my 30s and it’s still the same. If I died, the first person who would miss me is my drug dealer.”
“My Grandad, oh I loved him so much. The only man I’ve ever known who never raped, violated or attacked me in some way.”
Many of the women we support live in Coventry’s Hillfields, Willenhall and Foleshill areas; all lie within England’s 10% most deprived areas (IMD, 2019). Hillfields, Coventry’s ‘red-light’ district, is ranked Coventry’s most deprived area. It has one of the highest crime rates in the city, with over 2,000 violent and sexual offences recorded between March 2020 – February 2021 (Coventry City Council, 2021).
In 2021, Coventry City Council produced an ‘On Street Sex Workers Needs Assessment’, to which we contributed. They were unable to identify the prevalence of ‘sex-workers’, however, we estimate over 100 women are caught up in street-based prostitution locally. The Needs Assessment highlights a growing understanding that “sex work is a marker for complex physical and mental health needs and substance misuse.” It references research finding 70% of ‘sex workers’ cite child sexual abuse as a major reason for entering prostitution.
Many of the women we support are deemed too ‘high risk/complex’ for single-focused agencies. The level of complexity in women’s lives means these services find it hard to reach or maintain engagement with them. Many women are dismissed as ‘time-wasters’. As one woman told us “One of the nurses called me a waste of space junkie who doesn’t deserve treatment.”
Without our intervention, many women will ‘fall through the cracks’.