An innovative new project in Merseyside to support people with experience of sex work, survival sex, and/or sexual exploitation has already had a life-changing impact after just three months of operation.
Changing Lives was commissioned by the Merseyside Police & Crime Commissioner to deliver the ‘Red Umbrella’ service to any individual who has who has been a victim of crime when selling sex.
‘Red Umbrella’ can offer support to anyone with experience of sex work and/or sexual exploitation, escorts, and people selling sex both on-street and in off-street premises. We work in partnership with Merseyside Police to support people who are victims of hate crime because of their involvement in the sex industry to report the incident(s) of hate crime. As part of this support, we have a dedicated, full-time Police Liaison Detective, the first role of its kind in the UK.
Merseyside is the only police force in the world to treat violence against sex workers as a hate crime.
Since the project began in February 2018, Changing Lives has supported 21 individual reports of hate crime to the police, which have led to 7 arrests. Our Police Liaison Detective is currently investigating 12 crimes, with more being reported on an almost daily basis.
Deputy Police Commissioner Cllr Emily Spurrell said: “The primary aim of this project is to better support women who are extremely vulnerable, helping them to get off the streets, ensuring they are better protected and can live free from violence, abuse and exploitation.
“I am thrilled to see that just three months after Changing Lives began their work, they are already making a difference, helping the women using this service to move towards a brighter future.
“The Commissioner’s decision to bid for funding to deliver the Red Umbrella project is further evidence of the progressive stance taken within Merseyside Police, which includes being the first force in the country to treat attacks on sex workers as hate crimes. It is clear the introduction of a dedicated police liaison detective is already having an impact.
“I thank everyone for their hard work so far and I look forward to seeing the progress that the Red Umbrella project will continue to make to help over the next two years.
As well as supporting people to feel confident in reporting crimes to the police, ‘Red Umbrella’ also supports people to lead a happier and healthier life by providing signposting to sexual health, housing, and employment services, to name but a few. Support is offered through outreach sessions in areas of Merseyside where street sex work is known to take place, within brothels, as well as ‘netreach’ supporting people online.
Since the project launched in February 2018, we have offered holistic support to people working off-street, escorts, and street sex workers to take steps towards a brighter future, including one woman who had been the victim of a multiple perpetrator rape. She has since exited the sex industry and we are offering trauma-informed support around safe and suitable housing, managing her substance misuse, and building her life skills.
Michelle Stoops, Service Manager at Changing Lives, said: “Our team are rightly proud of the work done so far in supporting this often forgotten group who are exposed daily to violence, harassment and other serious crimes. We are working in partnership across Merseyside to enable the best outcomes for these people, to help them feel safe and live happier, healthy lives.”
The ‘Red Umbrella’ service launched after Merseyside's Police and Crime Commissioner secured funding from the Home Office as part of the government’s investment of £15m into the Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Service Transformation Fund. The project, which will run until March 2020, supports sex workers both on the streets and online who are at risk of violence and abuse or have been victims of hate crimes.
‘Red Umbrella’ builds on Changing Lives’ existing advocacy work in Merseyside, as part of our services for women with vulnerabilities and specifically for those with experience of sex work and sexual exploitation. By collaborating in projects like ‘Red Umbrella’, Changing Lives provides specialist support and services to people across the North and Midlands. Their work helps 18,000 people who experience multiple disadvantages and their families each year, to change their lives for the better.
Find out more about Changing Lives here.