Every year Changing Lives hold events to mark December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW). This blog is an abridged version of the speech given by Laura McIntyre, Head of Womens Services, at the 2019 service of remembrance in Newcastle City Centre.
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW) is a day to remember those who have been effected by violence and harm when doing sex work, and for those who learn that someone they love has been victim of abuse when exchanging sex. At Changing Lives, we also use the day to think about those who are exchanging sex for survival and often targeted. Some women we support may not identify with term “sex work” but we all come together on this day and can relate to each other in some way, feel connected, feel safe and feel able to “let go” of any emotional trauma we hold.
This is the 10th year the GAP MAP Project have held an event for IDEVASW at Brunswick Church, in the centre of Newcastle. This is one of the most important days in the year for the project (as well as the amazing Christmas party!) Today our other sex work and sexual exploitation services nationally are holding similar events: the Amber project in Doncaster, the Iris Project in Wolverhampton and the Red Umbrella Project in Merseyside. We are thinking of you all!
All year round our dedicated staff teams help people report crimes to the police, to feel heard and listened to. We hear stories that are truly unbelievable; one woman who was trapped in a hotel room for hours and repeatedly raped from a man who posed as a punter, men who have reported that getting a ‘free’ place to stay means that you offer sex in return no matter what is asked of you.
It’s important to recognise that reports like this take time and understanding that building up a trusting relationships is paramount to help people feel able to report crimes, and get the support they need to overcome it.
I began supporting people involved in sex work and those vulnerable to sexual exploitation over 12 years ago, and learnt very quickly that people have different experiences. In Newcastle we don’t have a visible on-street sex market (a “red light district”) but we have found that women sell sex in many different environments, I have supported women working for local escort agencies, women working independently as escorts and running their own businesses, women working in brothels, women who have been trafficked into the country and forced to have sex with multiple men and heterosexual men exchanging sex for survival.
Sex worker, escort, selling sex to survive, working girl, doing business, doing the deed, street-based sex worker, parlour worker, migrant sex worker…
There is a lot of terminology used by people who exchange sex and those who support individuals engaged in sex work. At Changing Lives we work with people – real people who have life experiences that are diverse.
Sex workers and people exchanging sex for survival are people living in our local communities; our sisters, mothers, friends, colleagues. They are people who deserve to be treated with respect and understanding.
Reducing levels of stigma is crucial to help people report crimes, but is also essential to help people overcome the trauma and violence they have experienced.
Let’s start with language.
We are all people!
Changing Lives support people who sell sex across five different localities in the North and Midlands: covering Northumbria, York, Doncaster, Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Merseyside. Read more about our specialist services.