Today (11th May 2021) we are meeting with a group of MPs, Peers, academics and lawyers to discuss the STAGE Project’s latest research on the experiences of accessing health services for adult survivors of sexual exploitation.

The STAGE Project brings together charities Changing Lives, GROW, A WAY OUT, Together Women, Basis and WomenCentre (Kirklees and Calderdale) to provide trauma-informed support for women who have been groomed for sexual exploitation across the North East and Yorkshire.

This group is chaired by Jess Phillips MP (Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding) and is made up of MPs and experts including Baroness Hilary Armstrong, Chi Onwurah MP, Catherine McKinnell MP, Sarah Champion MP, Louise Haigh MP, Kate Davies OBE, Cris McCurley, Rosie Lewis and Professor Jo Phoenix.

The latest findings from the STAGE Project shed light on the numerous health inequalities and barriers to accessing health services that adult survivors of sexual exploitation face. These findings include:

  • Trauma-informed practice within healthcare settings can make a massive difference to women, but this is often lacking.
  • Lack of flexibility in primary healthcare makes it difficult for women to make and keep appointments, or to fully articulate themselves when they do.
  • A common barrier for women accessing healthcare is fear. This might be fear based on past experiences, fear of being touched by a male practitioner, fear that disclosures would result in child protection proceedings, or fear that medication might be reviewed or stopped by new GPs.
  • Many women have experienced long-term physical harm as a result of their exploitation, which for some took the form of gang rape and torture. Some women only discovered the extent of their injuries during childbirth.
  • The waiting list for mental health treatment is a well-known challenge for many people, and the STAGE project found that during long waiting times women were being treated for a presumed diagnosis. Whilst this was helpful for some, for others presumed to have personality disorders this had a negative impact on their self-esteem as they felt that there is something inherently wrong with them, rather than that their mental health has been negatively affected by the crimes perpetrated against them.

We will be presenting recommendations for how we can improve health support for adult survivors of exploitation. In addition to our wider aspiration for the creation of a National Framework for Adult Survivors of Sexual Exploitation, led by the Home Office, our specific recommendations around health include:

  • Including resourcing for trauma-informed integrated care systems in the government’s Women’s Health Strategy and integrating trauma-informed training and practices into all healthcare settings.
  • Adopting structured multi-agency working in areas affected by sexual exploitation, based on the work of the Trauma and Resilience Service in Rotherham and including opportunities for women who’ve experienced sexual exploitation to influence service delivery.

You can read our full briefing by downloading it here: STAGE Health Briefing May 2021

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