Red Umbrella, a specialist project supporting people who experience crimes against them including sexual violence is at risk of closure.
Red Umbrella works with some of the most vulnerable people across Merseyside, the majority are women with complex needs and have experienced trauma, childhood abuse and exploitation. As such they have found themselves in a position where they are selling sex often as a means of survival. The project supports people to safely report crimes against them and bring offenders to justice. Despite its success, this project is at risk of closure in March 2022.
Merseyside became the only force in England to treat attacks against people selling sex as a hate crime in 2006. The Red Umbrella project began back in 2017 and is now currently funded by Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership and ADDER. This unique partnership is the only one of its kind in the UK and an example of best practice in making communities safer for all.
Rachel Fowler, Service Manager at Red Umbrella, said:
“Too often, people selling sex fear that their reports will not be taken seriously or that they will be reprimanded by the police. While not all people feel they are exposed to harm, many of the people we support have existing vulnerabilities, such as experiences of addiction, homelessness, poor mental and physical health, poverty, exploitation and abuse.
“These vulnerabilities make them easy targets, with perpetrators believing they won’t report crimes, that nobody is looking out for them, or that they are undeserving of support.
“Together with Merseyside Police, Red Umbrella has helped remove some of the barriers for people selling sex to report crimes and to feel confident they will be believed and supported when reporting cases of abuse and violence against them.”
Despite its success, Red Umbrella is at risk of coming to an end in March 2022 if it cannot secure new funding. This threatens to put people who are selling sex, many of whom are already facing significant challenges in their lives, at further risk of harm.
Laura McIntyre, Head of Women’s and Children’s Services at Changing Lives, said:
“Red Umbrella is a unique and innovative service that has helped bring cases of violence and abuse to justice. At a time when violence against women, in particular, has gained national attention, we are proud that the service has helped people to feel confident to report crimes and know that they will be believed and that they matter.
The project is an excellent example of partnership working and its success is a credit to the long-standing good practice with Merseyside Police Force in their commitment to supporting sex work across the region, which is supportive, inclusive and non-judgemental.
It is worrying to think what the broader repercussions of this partnership ending could mean for our communities.”
Detective Superintendent Siobhan Gainer, head of the Merseyside Violence Reduction Partnership (MRVP), said: “The MRVP assisted with the funding of the Red Umbrella programme, because it recognised that it was making a tangible difference to some of the most vulnerable women in Merseyside.
Ours is the only force area in the country to class crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and together with our colleagues at Merseyside Police, we treated the people we served as being trauma survivors. This policy insured that more crimes were reported, and a better dialogue established.
What this programme needs, is sustainable funding. The kind of relationships Red Umbrella has forged are not made overnight.
This programme is innovative, effective, and preventative. What it needs is someone to support it long-term and indeed set-up similar projects elsewhere.
Merseyside and its communities need Red Umbrella to support vulnerable people and assist in preventing crimes against sex workers.”
DS Tracy O’Hara of Merseyside Police, who has worked closely with Red Umbrella, said:
“Since its inception, the work with Red Umbrella has seen some life-changing moments for many people.
We have seen dangerous offender’s brought to justice, many people safeguarded and countless positive interventions. Covid was testing for many communities in many ways, but the way our partnership adapted was incredible. We continued to be out there ensuring people had the right support, their health needs were looked after and they knew they weren’t alone. I wouldn’t be able to do my police role without the phenomenal work of Rachel and Karen. I believe we have made a difference too many lives and in some cases, saved lives to”.
Changing Lives and Merseyside Police are calling on commissioners and funders across the Merseyside area to support the work of Red Umbrella. Together, they will host a roundtable on 17th December, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, in an attempt to raise the profile of this work, locally and nationally and how this work should be prioritised as part of the VAWG strategy.