An edited version of this piece appeared in The Big Issue (Southwest edition) on 26/06/2017
At One25 we are the people reaching out to women who are street sex-working in Bristol. If you just listen to the stories of women who street sex work, they are often lives without love. Almost always, there are long histories of childhood abuse.
UNICEF’s Building the Future report this month showed that 1 in 8 young women in the UK today experienced sexual violence before the age of 15. Many of the women we work with, who have next to nothing, say that they “only want to be loved”. But having not experienced healthy love, they accept that abusive lives are the ones that they will live. The streets are extremely dangerous.
In many cases, young women have fled this abuse and find themselves street sex-working at a very young age; early teens and in some cases younger. They have been exploited by men and trapped by drug use.
The women we meet have extremely complex needs: homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues, children in care, criminal records, sexual and domestic violence. One25’s team of specialist caseworkers and ethos of unconditional love support women wherever they are and whatever they’ve done for as long as they want us. We have a drop-in centre open four afternoons a week and our van is out late on the streets five nights a week.
"The horror of endless dark nights out there… and to have that van there was an absolute lifesaver. It helped me start to believe that someone would show me some kindness."- Sandra
The outreach van offers street sex-working women food, hot drinks, condoms and clean needles if they need them. It’s the point where trust is built, from where women can be taken to hospital or to a refuge, and where they can find out about the drop-in centre. Drop-in is a women-only safe space offering hot meals, clothes, shower and laundry facilities, activities, rest and caseworkers.
Last year, One25 supported a record 59 women in Bristol out of addiction and away from street sex work.