“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Lila Watson, Aboriginal Activist
The women we support are some of the most marginalised in our communities, as well as the most resilient. Most women are battling a range of issues including a history of past physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, trauma (including within childhood), poverty and homelessness, and a significant number have experience of the care and criminal justice systems. The majority are drawn into selling sex as a means of survival, and moving forward with their lives without dedicated support is extremely difficult. Alongside these issues they face a daily risk of violence and harm on the streets.
Each week trained staff and volunteers go out on the street between 11:30pm and 2am on Friday evenings and 5am and 7am on Thursday mornings. We build trust with the women and raise awareness of our services; alongside distributing hot drinks, food and essentials, providing sexual health support, and sharing information and signposting to other services.
During the day we provide practical support across a range of areas relevant to the women’s lives. We provide information and essential items, advocacy and referrals to specialist organisations and agencies, as well as befriending and mentoring.
Our experienced Women’s Support Workers provide 1:1, in-depth, holistic, trauma-informed support over the long-term. The sessions are a safe space for women to process feelings, learn grounding techniques, and safety plan. We advocate so women can access vital services including suitable housing, mental health support, and drug treatment and recovery. We attend meetings with them and work with multiple agencies to enable the best outcomes; journeying alongside women as they reach their self-determined goals.
Change and transformation
Outreach is usually the place where initial contact is made and relationships of trust begin to be formed. At whatever point of engagement, we treat every woman with compassion and understanding, and see the individual first. We are opposed to the idea of ‘fixing’ or ‘rescuing’ women; the power and decision making should sit with them. Their voices influence from initial assessment to their collaboratively managed exit from the project. We use a person-centred model, enabling increases in their confidence and self-agency, so they can identify their own needs and devise their own journeys. Each woman’s journey reflects her own personal situation, what the change looks like, and the time it takes, is as individual as the women themselves. We celebrate the women of these hard won journeys and capture their achievements through anonymous case studies.
Common impacts identified, for women on caseload include: improved access to support and specialist services (creating long term impact changes in housing, finances, physical health and substance misuse); improved personal safety and self-agency; improved mental health; reduced isolation & expanded support network; reduction/ceasing of selling sex and entry into education, employment and training.
We work to signpost women to local support and work with other agencies to give women a range of options. Below is a service directory from Tower Hamlets council which may be of use.
Tower Hamlets - Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) service directory
Changing the Context
To challenge the current narrative around the sale of sex, and other themes from victim blaming to violence against women, Beyond the Streets who run the Door of Hope project have been running a walking tour of Whitechapel in East London since 2017 that explores the lives of the five women who were killed by the unidentified murderer known as 'Jack the Ripper'. This tour is a springboard for conversations around the experiences of women, both past and present.
We have now been able to bring this tour online as a free experience. You can watch it anytime, from wherever you are, at www.whitechapelwomen.com