Women’s Work’s street sex work outreach time provide a vital service, and a unique insight into the lives of the women who find themselves drawn into these difficult circumstances. Lyndsey Rook, is one of the charity’s Senior Project Workers who has been helping and supporting women on the streets for the last 13 years. In this series of articles, based on interviews with Lyndsey, we hear more about the social circumstances that the women are in, and the reality of earning money by selling sex on the streets.
“We were on outreach the day after the body of the man was found on Harriet Street and the street sex workers were crying. Some of them ( about 10) just knew him socially, and were upset by the news – apparently he was a substance misuser; they all know each other and stick together. They quite often go to the same dealers, and share what they buy. It was upsetting for them to say the least, and upsetting for us to see the women crying – it probably hammers home to them about their own mortality – that it could happen to them…..especially if they’ve just come out of prison. If they’ve not had heroin for a long time their tolerance level reduces . Typically, they come out and they think they can use the same amount or a little less, but it’s still too much, and that’s how they overdose….and it can potentially kill them”
“I saw 6 women last night, and they were all hiding in the shadows. I’ve been involved for so many years I know where to look – I saw one hiding behind a lamp post. That particular woman came to the car and her face was heavily swollen and covered in bruises – I’ve known her for at least a decade. She’s had a number of children and they’ve all been removed, and her partner, who she’s been with for about 3 years, beat her during the day in the town centre. We explained to her about the Freedom programme and everything she said was explained by the various personality types – “The Sexual Controller”, “The Persuader”, and “The Liar”. She was telling me that he tells her that the sex they have is the best that he’s ever had , and he’s never experienced anything like it, and she’s blushing when she’s telling me this. And I said to her – do you realise that this is all part of the control. I tried to persuade her to come to the Freedom programme, which I do every time I see her. All of the things he says like – ‘He can’t live without her’ or ‘He’ll kill himself if she leaves him’ are part of their persuasion. It’s all tactics that they use.”
“She was showing me her bruises – all around her ears and her forehead, her nose was swollen – he’d actually just targeted her face. She’d been to the Police and they were supporting her with the Domestic Violence team and were doing a safeguarding review on her. There’s a history of domestic violence with her, as I know she’s had at least 3 long-term partners and they’ve all treated her exactly the same. I know some women say – ‘Have I got a ticket on my forehead that says HIT ME’. They seem to target a vulnerable type of woman. This woman is such a lovely person. She was, and is, a good Mother but she’s had children removed, not because of the substance misuse, as she’s been on a script and taking the methadone, but it’s because of what these men do to her, psychologically and physically. Most of the men she has been with are known to the Police as being violent towards women….and she is vulnerable to being perpetrated”
How would her partner cope with the fact that she’s involved in sex work?
“She’s probably targeted for that as well. As far I know the men that she gets involved with are drug users ….and they use her for their own gains – for money. As a “cash cow” in their own words. It’s not a one-off need for money. You’ll probably see one woman a week who has a black eye, or face swollen and that’s from within their relationships with the men that they love – not a dodgy punter, although that does happen. For most of the women who’ve been out for years, they will have been raped numerous times, and there is only the odd time that they’ll report it. We actively encourage that they do report it. We try to get across the message that if they don’t say anything then that punter will go on to repeat it again and again. And I reiterate that they’ll get more and more braver each time, and they try to get to that next level which is what is in their mind…they know that they got away with it last time!”
Is this behaviour from the punter much different from the perpetrator-partner situation?
“I think with punters it is a control thing and abuse as well – it’s not like “Pretty Woman” – there’s always abuse involved. The number of times I’ve heard women talk about men (punters) who they have had long –term ‘relationships’ with and they say ‘I don’t want you doing this, I’ll give you enough money to feed your habit, I don’t want you on the streets anymore…and that’s because he doesn’t want to share her with anyone else.’….and then the man’s money runs out, and then it turns into an abusive relationship, and he’s controlling every move she makes. And the woman will break away, and then you’ll see her again back out on the street and you’ll know what’s happened. You don’t even need to ask the question most of the time”