Cheryl Stafford, Exiting Prostitution Development Worker

Cheryl says…

“My role is to support women who want to exit the sex industry. The routes into the sex industry are varied, and so finding the way out, and overcoming the many barriers against exiting, can be complicated. Quite often my first meeting with a woman wanting to exit will just be in a café, to have a chat about what services are available to her and what we can do for her if she decides to go ahead.

“The service we can offer depends completely on each individual woman’s needs. We work closely with women to build their trust and an achievable exiting plan that goes at their own pace. Support includes one-to-one key work sessions and access to counselling, skill-building workshops at our centre, and volunteering and training opportunities to find sustainable employment. Confidence building and understanding the importance of healthy relationships are key factors in enabling a woman to exit. There is usually someone in their lives who has taken away their options and autonomy through some form of abuse, and therefore prevented them from having the life they would have chosen.

“It is hard to put a time scale on how long it takes for a woman to exit prostitution successfully. There are many factors involved, and it very much depends on the reason she entered the sex industry in the first place. Some women I have worked with entered prostitution as children or young women, and their situations can be very complex, meaning that exiting is not a quick process. Some women do come to us in a crisis and then exit immediately, but for most it’s about planning to exit and can take many years.

“Building trust and confidence is key to helping a woman exit, because she may have been let down many times before. Often there is an abusive relationship holding her back from exiting, for example a partner or family member who may be benefiting from her involvement in prostitution. Once a woman removes herself from the abusive relationship, she will thrive and be able to build her life again. It is important for her to recognise the control an abuser has had over her and the harm they have caused. She can then move forward and avoid forging similar harmful relationships.

“I think that one of the most important ways we can help women is to change people’s perceptions and attitudes towards those exploited through the sex industry. Agencies and organisations such as the police, who come into direct contact with women involved in prostitution, and more importantly the men who buy sex, must recognise that she is highly likely to be the victim of some form of exploitation.”

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