Laura: Hi Moira, could you first tell me about the particular challenges that our service users face with respect to domestic and sexual violence?
Moira: The majority of the women that use One25 have experienced domestic and sexual violence at some point in their lives. My role comes in mostly at a crisis point, if it’s a current situation that they’re wanting support with. The main obstacle that we find in helping the women move on from that is housing. Because the women that we work with have very complex needs and are linked in with various services so need to be in particular areas, it makes it a lot harder for housing to go down the usual route of supporting someone fleeing an abusive relationship.
Unfortunately, too, when the women go into housing, they still experience a lot of stigma and discrimination. Housing can be really, really unsuitable. For example, two days ago I spent about three hours in a housing office only for the officer to offer a hostel that we’d already explained was completely unsafe. So it’s just going round and round in circles. The women’s needs are not always taken very seriously. And if you have housing then it gives you an opportunity to move on and start engaging with other services. You could go into drug treatment because you’ve got an address. But if you’re just staying in crack houses or rough sleeping, you haven’t got access to anything like that. So that’s a huge part that I find really, really difficult for the women to try and overcome. And I find a lot of my role is advocating for the women, in regards to that.
"The majority of the women that use the organisation have experienced domestic and sexual violence at some point in their lives."-
I think another barrier that they face is huge discrimination from many members of the public. And that seeps into other areas of their lives too. So, say if a woman’s raped and I’m supporting her through the criminal justice system, and it actually gets to trial then of course the jury are members of the public and each member of the public has their own opinion on who they think a sex-worker is. They may have their own biases. So how the public view the women has a massive impact on all different levels, on a criminal justice level and also the abuse that the women get in the street.
Laura: And how does your role fit into all of this? What do you do on a day-to-day basis to support the women that One25 works with?
Moira: So my days vary hugely. I have, in comparison, to the other caseworkers, a relatively small caseload, but a lot of the women that I work with are on a very intense basis. So I could be spending a day in housing, advocating and bringing out all the legislation and saying why somewhere isn’t safe. I support women to mental health appointments and assessments. Supporting them as well in reporting to the police, so I spend a lot of time doing ‘Ugly Mugs’ and then actually doing all the paperwork that’s involved with the ‘Ugly Mug’ and all the follow-ups, which is quite a long process. Especially if I’ve got maybe three or four on the go, which is quite common.
And the part of my job that is a nice kind of respite is I always try to just go for a nice coffee or lunch with the women. I find that really really lovely, really rewarding. It just strengthens the bond and the trusting relationship that I have with the women and it’s just something that I really enjoy doing. I love all of the women that I work with. They’re all really intelligent, amazing, strong women that I find really inspirational. So I love being able to just sit down and have a chat with them.
Laura: Your role is fairly new in the organisation and that kind of level of emotional support as well as practical support is quite specialist to your role. Do you think that’s important having that specialisation within the team?
Moira: I think it is, yeah, because my history is working within domestic violence and I’m a survivor of domestic violence myself. So I understand this on a personal level and on a professional level. I’ve been working in the sector for about seven years so I really understand the ins and outs and the complexity of an abusive relationship and I’ve had a lot of professional training in that area. And I think it is really important to have somebody there that’s specifically dedicated to domestic and sexual violence because they’re such specific forms of abuse that have huge knock-on effects on anybody’s life that is affected by it. It’s like a ripple effect…it’s not just one incident and then you’re expected to get over it, there’s a knock-on effect for a really long time. And from the sexual violence side of things, I think because the women experience such a high amount of it, it’s something that they’ve unfortunately learned to accept. But if I’m here and able to spend some really dedicated time explaining how it can have a knock-on effect, then they can see that actually it’s something that they need to challenge.
Laura: OK, so it’s changing perceptions amongst the women as well?
Moira: Yeah, definitely.
"I love all of the women that I work with… They’re all really intelligent, amazing, strong women that I find really inspirational."-
Laura: It sounds extremely worthwhile work. If you could give a little message to the supporters who make your work possible at One25, what would you like to say to them?
Moira: Well, as we know from national statistics, domestic violence affects one in four women across the UK. However, with the women that engage with One25, domestic violence and sexual violence has affected every single one of them. I’m yet to meet a service user that hasn’t experienced it in the past. Being able to talk openly about domestic and sexual violence is a huge benefit for them. The worst thing that you can do as a survivor is be quiet, because that’s what your abusers want you to do. So having One25 here as a safe place with people who really love and care for the women is so important because it gives them an opportunity to talk about their experiences, realise that they’re not alone and realise that there’s support there and people really care about them.
Laura: So it’s a really important part of the moving on process?
Moira: Yeah, definitely. There’s something so healing about being able to talk with somebody about your experiences and say ‘yeah… actually I was manipulated in that way… I’m not going crazy’. It’s really, really healing and therapeutic.