I’m Tina Newman and I am, I probably have the strangest title in Avon & Somerset but I’m the sex work liaison officer.
Back in 1997 Avon & Somerset recognized that it was so so important that we tried to get a better understanding of what the issues were for the women that sex worked in Bristol. Cleary it was felt that they were amongst the most vulnerable in the city and the role was devised to help build trust and confidence not only with the women to report perhaps when they had been subjected to crimes or serious sexual assault but also to have that liaison with the agencies.
I committed to the role for 2 years and here I am 17 years later still in post. I felt that it is so important to have this consistency in the role hence obviously I’ve stayed and there have only been 3 liaison officers in the 23 years it’s been in existence.
I think having chatted to so many of the women and hearing their stories and just hearing how you know the challenges they faced, and you just thought well you know they need support and they need help. And the One25 obviously is there to do just that but it is integral for us to really have an understanding of what the picture is for them out there so you know where there are issues and where unfortunately they do get subjected to some really nasty assaults they need that support and we want them to be encouraged to come forwards and tell us what’s happening so that obviously we can look to bring offenders to justice.
And ultimately you know by us enforcing legislation it’s not going to stop them sex working. It’s the support that they’ll get from all the various fantastic support agencies we have in Bristol so important that we try and linked them in with these services where possible.
Well, when I took on the role I was introduced to the One25 and I think it was Val that was first around. And I was taken down to the One25 to see the drop-in and it was very different then and I remember going up into the office for the first time and it was so tiny and everybody was crammed into this tiny space. But I was very lucky also because I asked the staff if they would mind asking the women at drop-in if they would allow a police officer on site so that I could have some conversations in their relax space. It was there I could really see how the women valued the space and it was also there that I was able to sit with the women round the dinner table and have the conversations. Sometimes uncomfortable conversations when they have to report that they’ve been subjected to some really nasty assaults but it was lovely also to have those chats about everyday life and to hear their stories and have a laugh with them. And equally to see how talented and creative some of them are sitting in their creative corner.
The drop-in is like a little haven and you can see the women can come in, they can relax, they’ve just got that safe and secure space and for those few hours they can really switch off and I can image for a lot of the external stuff that’s going on for them that’s just not the case so yes, so, so, important.
But certainly when I was first in post for several years I would be supporting the women when they’d go to court when they’d been seriously sexually assaulted. And we were at Crown Court so along with the One25 we’d support that woman through the process. And being in Court is tough and I defy any police officer to not be nervous in the box to give evidence and we’re not relaying something you know that’s as traumatic as a sexual assault and so you know sitting there and then my heart racing when the verdicts coming in and when you get the right verdict how satisfying it is to know you know they’ve got their justice but awful that they’ve had to be there. But then soul destroying when the verdict doesn’t go our way and so lucky that the One25 are on hand to pick up the pieces and support the women because it’s so traumatic for them to have to give evidence at Court but it is essential to lock these really nasty guys up.
The resilience they show is incredible but I also feel that it’s a massive testament to the One25 because they are that wrap round for the women and you know ultimately the women shouldn’t be defined by their sex work, you know they’re someone’s mum, someone’s daughter and you know having that One25 you know to support them can really help them because they just need that support to see the wood from the trees and to make that difference for them.
The van is so so important as well and the fact again I’m humbled by the fact the volunteers will give up their time and it’s all through the year and into the early hours or very late at night. It’s been really lovely as well when I’ve been able to send a supportive letter when the One25 have applied for funding for the outreach van in order to support the service because it’s not a cheap service so it’s vital that they get this funding.
I was clearing out my locker the other day and I’ve got one of my drawers and I came across some of the cards the women had given me and that always chokes me a little bit because you know in all their chaos and all that might be going on for them they’ve taken time out to put pen to paper and thank me. And yeah it’s really lovely that they’ve done that and I treasure them I’ve still got them and you know I’d never part with them.
We’re so privileged in Avon & Somerset to have such a service because I know in other parts of the country other forces don’t have such a service and they are integral to our partnership working and so I really hope that you know long may our partnership work continue.
For myself and [my sergeant] Emma and Avon & Somerset Police I wish One25 a very happy 25th birthday. I’m so pleased that they’re there for all the women in Bristol that need their support.