A study of the support needs of sex workers across Norfolk
June - December 2014
Research Team : Dr Jane Dodsworth, Dr Penny Sorensen, Birgit Larsson
Funder: Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust
There is increasing diversity both in the types of sex work undertaken and the environments where sex work takes place. Street work, although a visible aspect of sex work, constitutes a small proportion of the number of people engaged in sex work with the majority of individuals being more hidden and harder to access. This has implications for support service providers as needs and access are likely to differ between the groups of sex workers.
The aim of the study was to provide a picture of sex work across Norfolk, including sex workers’ expressed needs for services and services currently on offer. This included ascertaining:
- What is already known about the needs and best practice in delivering services to sex workers?
- What are the needs of different groups of sex workers in various locations across Norfolk?
- What are the perspectives of specialist and other professionals involved in supporting sex workers around service need and provision?
The study involved interviews with fourteen sex workers (on-street and escorts), questionnaires for professionals and agencies to establish a picture of prevalence across Norfolk, interviews with professionals and agencies, a focus group with professionals, data from an on-line forum and a detailed search of a website where sex workers advertise their services.
There was ample evidence to suggest that it is no longer enough to only support the visible population of female street workers in Norwich and there is a need to rethink services so that they more effectively support all sex workers who seek support. This may need more integrated services which are more discreet, whilst still offering relationship based support for as long as needed.
New ways of accessing and engaging sex workers who work alone and secretly will be required and are likely to include more virtual relationships between services and those they seek to support. Likewise, harder to reach male and transgender sex workers need to feel included in service provision and efforts have to be made to engage this group with appropriate services for their needs.
The sex workers interviewed for this study had mostly positive experiences of their involvement with the police. However, there is still reluctance to involve the police, particularly by street workers. Adapting the Merseyside model where all crimes against sex workers are viewed as hate crimes may encourage sex workers to report violence and abuse against them but also, as suggested in the literature, increase rates of prosecution of those who attack sex workers. The availability of a sexual assault referral centre in Norwich (The Harbour Centre) and increased confidence in reporting would put Norfolk in a strong position to increase convictions and protect sex workers from abuse and violence.
A report has been produced with recommendations for agencies who support sex workers in Norfolk.
You can read the full report by clicking on this link - A study of the support needs of sex workers across Norfolk, UK