An innovative project aimed at better protecting street sex workers from sexual and domestic violence, exploitation and trafficking will be launched on Merseyside and South Wales after receiving £650,000 of Home Office funding.
The Umbrella Project was awarded a share of the £17m Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Service Transformation Fund after a successful collaborative bid led by Merseyside’s Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, and Merseyside Police, in partnership with South Wales police.
The three-year project will put in place victim-focused processes to better support sex workers who have already been victims of violence and those who are at risk, both on the streets and online.
The funding, £463,000 of which will be used in Merseyside and £187,000 going to South Wales, will enable the police and partners to increase and improve the support they can offer to street sex workers in light of a recent influx of overseas sex workers and a shift which has seen more women take up the work online.
The funding will also be used to improve the gathering of intelligence on those who inflict violence on the women, while simultaneously encouraging victims to report offences, so that more perpetrators can be brought to justice. This will also prevent further offences from taking place.
To support this work in Merseyside, the grant will be used to find an appropriate venue to act as a one-stop shop of support, where women can access help and services, give statements and even give evidence in court via video-link.
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “Merseyside has the largest street beat of sex workers outside of London. Many of these women are extremely vulnerable and are forced into this work because of difficult life circumstances.
“This bid is designed to better support these women to ensure they get the help they need, ideally so they can get off the streets but, for those who remain, to ensure they are better protected and are able work free from violence, abuse and exploitation.
“Merseyside Police has led the way for many years in prosecuting and securing convictions against those who commit crimes against sex workers, in large part by being the first Force in the country to recognise these offences as hate crime. Merseyside also has a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advocate for sex workers.
“By successfully applying for this funding, Merseyside Police in conjunction with South Wales police, will be able to take this work to the next level – keeping more vulnerable women safe and doing everything possible to end the stigma and marginalisation they face.”
Assistant Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “Sex work is an issue that can be challenging for some communities however, as a police service it is our duty to seek to protect everybody, especially those who are the most vulnerable within our communities, and this extends to all citizens including sex workers.
“Merseyside Police force will not tolerate violence against sex workers and we will make every effort to ensure that offenders are tracked down and face the full force of the law and that victims receive the justice they so rightly deserve.
“As a Force we have already taken a progressive stance, which has influenced national policy. We treat attacks on sex workers as hate crimes, because they a vulnerable targeted group.
“This money allows us to provide support for the work around that vulnerable group of women and look towards targeting violent and sexual offenders, as we know their crimes are not limited solely towards targeting sex workers.”
A total of 41 projects, including a bid by Liverpool City Council to provide multi-agency Early Help hubs, have been awarded a share of the VAWG Service Transformation Fund, which aims to help prevent violence and increase early intervention so that fewer women reach crisis point.
The Umbrella Project received the third largest amount of funding, after a bid from South Wales Police Commissioner and the Mayor of London.