Covid pandemic 'exacerbated' harms to women in prostitution, finds survey

Services which support women involved in prostitution will receive a further £90,000 from the Scottish Government after a consultation found the Covid pandemic had “exacerbated the harms” against them.

The money, which brings the total spent during the pandemic to £170,000, will fund services run by Victim Support Scotland (VSS), the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre (SWRC) and the Encompass Network. The SWRC has said it will now launch a pilot scheme to offer legal advice to women abused during prostitution.

The Scottish Government announced the funding as it published the findings of the Equally Safe consultation on prostitution, which received more than 4,000 responses.

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The survey found the pandemic had “exacerbated the harms experienced by women involved in prostitution and underlined the importance of a wide range of support to address their multiple, underlying needs”.

Services supporting women working in prostitution have received a further £90,000 from the government.
Services supporting women working in prostitution have received a further £90,000 from the government.

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Minister for community safety Ash Denham, said: “As this consultation shows, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on women involved in prostitution.

"There was clear evidence that in many situations women were already experiencing poverty or additional challenges, such as immigration status.

“The pandemic put women into further precarious positions, with some reporting that they had no choice but to continue to sell sex. The stigma and the hidden nature of prostitution has created a further barrier to getting help through mainstream services.”

Ms Denham said the government would build on the consultation findings and “develop a model for Scotland to challenge men’s demand for prostitution, learning from other jurisdictions and international approaches, engaging those with lived experience to help shape and strengthen services”.

Launched last year, the Equally Safe consultation focused on challenging men's demand for prostitution, working to reduce the harm it causes and helping women to leave prostitution.

The government’s position on commercial sexual exploitation, which includes prostitution, is that it is a form of gendered violence and all women engaged in prostitution deserve the support of services “without fear of judgement and discrimination”.

Welcoming the £57,172 the SWRC will receive, co-ordinator Katy Mathieson said: “Women who sell or exchange sex often face immeasurable barriers, stigma and discrimination when it comes to seeking justice after an experience of abuse or violence.

“With this funding we will develop a pilot project which will enable us to identify the specific legal and advocacy needs of women involved in selling or exchanging sex and support them to exercise their rights.”

Chief executive officer of VSS, which will receive £30,000, Kate Wallace added: “Victim Support Scotland has built strong relationships with partner organisations to ensure financial support reaches all those who need it, including those supporting women who sell or exchange sex.

“With today’s announcement, we are looking forward to building on these partnerships to ensure women who sell or exchange sex can continue to access this vital support.”

The Women’s Support Project will receive £3,000 for its Encompass Network. National co-ordinator Heather Williams said: “Women involved in the selling or exchanging sex or images have told us for some time that the lack of access to appropriate mental health support has been a problem.

“As such the Encompass Network welcomes the funding for the pilot project, which will help identify the specific needs of women and will provide evidence of what is needed to fill the gaps within current provision.”

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