THE LINK BETWEEN TRAUMA AND STREET PROSTITUTION
All of the women we have worked with over the past ten years have been the victims of childhood trauma. Without getting the help they needed they’ve grown up struggling to cope, developing a deep sense of shame, suffering depression anxiety and fear. Most of them discovered in their teens, and sometimes even sooner, that alcohol and drugs can numb the symptoms of trauma. Regularly self-medicating with whatever is available to them, the women slip into addiction. Prostitution and crime become desperate means to support the habit.
PROSTITUTION FROM CHILDHOOD
A shocking number of the women we have worked with were put into prostitution by their family when they were just young girls. Others were bullied into it by a boyfriend to support his habit when they were teenagers. For those women, using substances or alcohol become a way of coping with what they are being forced to do.
BREAKING THE VICIOUS CYCLE
Addiction, prostitution and crime make women extremely vulnerable to further trauma, including rape, violent attacks, separation from family, imprisonment, social exclusion and the removal of their own children when they have them. When women encounter so many problems in their day to day life, it is easy for them to lose sight of how it all began. Our work is to find the cause of the trauma and to help the women find alternative ways of dealing with it.
TRAUMA AND TRAFFICKED WOMEN
Without exception the trafficked women we’ve worked with over the past ten years have experienced trauma long before they were trafficked. Most come from backgrounds of broken families, conflict and exploitation, making them vulnerable to traffickers. On top of that they have lived in fear as victims of traffickers as well as the terror of their escape.
Our work is to provide women with therapy as soon as possible, after their escape, to give them the best chance of recovering. Taking the services into the hostel enables women to access therapy at a time when they need it most urgently without having to travel in a strange city or go on a waiting list for therapy. Where possible our therapists continue to work with the women when they have been dispersed from the hostel, to provide long term work.
WOMEN WITH NO RECOURSE TO PUBLIC FUND
Some of the women we work with, have left everything, to make a perilous journey to our shores. We have worked with women who have journeyed at the hands of traffickers, sometimes against their will, sometimes as a desperate choice. We come across women on the streets who, for fear of being sent back, live in the shadows, supporting themselves through prostitution. They are amongst the most vulnerable women we work with, living in dread of arrest, unable to report it when they are attacked or raped and unable to see a doctor when they are hurt, ill or pregnant. Although these women have survived the journey, life on the streets is dangerous and they are not safe. Alongside the therapy, we enable women without recourse to public funds to get medical treatment, legal help, a roof over their head and where possible to contact family left behind.
Street Talk offers one to one counselling, group therapy and art therapy as well as training and supervision to partner organisations on working with women experiencing trauma. All of our practitioners have had psychodynamic training to Master’s degree level, but practice with this client group has been adapted to overcome some of the barriers to access.
Counselling sessions are adapted to the length of time that each woman feels comfortable. For a woman using substances and not used to counselling they may just start with twenty minute sessions.
Some women are not always able to attend counselling appointments regularly as a result of a chaotic life style; for those women attending regularly is a goal to work towards.
The work is long term because women have different needs at different stages of their recovery. Even when a woman has stopped using substances and exited prostitution we continue to work with her. This can be a lonely period bringing its own challenges which make women vulnerable to relapse
The groups we run provide women with an opportunity to talk together about experiences which are rarely spoken of, such as their children being removed from their care, hostel life, prison life, being arrested, being put under section, overdosing, violent relationships, self loathing and living with mental illness. Women have benefited enormously from being able to talk together in a safe place and support one another.
We provide one to one art therapy as well as group therapy. Art therapy is successful with some of the trafficked women who speak very little English, as well as women who find it challenging putting their feelings into words. We run art therapy as a group activity with women who feel confident enough to participate in group work, or as a one to one activity for women who prefer that.
Continuity of care
One of the problems for women living a chaotic lifestyle is that they move frequently. Where possible we take the therapy into prison, rehab, hospital and bail hostels to continue working with women when they move from one location to another.
Where appropriate the Street Talk therapists will provide support to women by attending court appointments or meetings with other agencies to ensure that her whole story, in particular her mental health history, are taken into consideration when important, life changing decisions are being made such as sentencing in court.
Referring women to other sources of support
We know that the women we work with need a lot of help from all kinds of different agencies. Street Talk works closely with addiction services, mental health services as well as many other agencies who can support the women in different ways, assisting her overall wellbeing.
Some women we assist go on to become volunteers for the charity, helping others who have experienced a similar history to theirs. Not only does this help other women, but they benefit from the experience themselves. Volunteers help women in practical ways as well as running theatre trips and outings.