Rachel Searcey is a Post-Graduate Researcher at Loughborough University, based within the departments of Social Sciences and Human Geography. Here she outlines her research and highlights implications for practice and service development.
My research focuses on the past lives of female street sex workers who were sexually exploited as a child. The aim is to examine the transitions to adulthood of female street sex workers who experienced CSE, and to explore the factors behind their pathways into street sex work to inform policy and practice. The research is not to under-value or discredit the voluntary, community and independent sector who support young people who have experienced CSE and street sex workers, but often the services are age-bound due to funding remit, nor is it to condemn sex work, as in some instances, entry into sex work is by choice; but in the case of street sex work, women are more likely to experience physical, emotional and psychological abuse from the men themselves, the community within which they live and the wider public arena including the media.
The disproportionate abuse street sex workers can face is often due the perception that they choose to sell sex because of their age – eighteen and over. However, if the women are under the age of eighteen, society recognises that they are ‘coerced, forced, exploited’ and provides them with advice, guidance and support. From researching the data, approximately one street sex worker will be murdered every six weeks, with street sex workers at more at risk of violence than indoor sex workers. This startling fact alone provides some reason as to why further research and support is needed during the transition period for young people who were/are sexually exploited to reduce the entry into sex work; little is known about the lives of young people who were sexually exploited.
What we do know is that the transition into adulthood can be a very turbulent time for young people, even more so for those who have, or are still experiencing sexual exploitation. The recently published report by The Children's Society highlighted that young people aged between 16 and 17 are more likely to experience sexual exploitation, and, less likely to access or receive the appropriate service(s) to meet their needs, with recommendations for Local Safeguarding Boards to implement a coordinated multi-agency approach for child to adult transitional services. The evidence provided by The Children’s Society is reinforced in the recently published Home Affairs Select Committee paper on prostitution which the Government accept that young people who have experienced child sexual exploitation should be supported past their eighteenth birthday; but as yet, there are limited pathways for child-adult transitional services.
Child to adult transitional services do exist for some vulnerable groups such as young people with special educational needs and looked after children which is laid out within the Children and Families Act (2014). For these vulnerable groups with a variety of often complex needs, continued support into adulthood is an automatic and well-needed process on which all services involved, provide a transition of support into adult services. This transitional process provides the young people with time to express their wishes and needs to the adult services, time to build trusting relationships, exert agency and an arena where they do not have to relive their past lives because of the information sharing procedures in place. A well established and timely pathway for SEND and looked after children exists within local authorities and could be extended for young people who have experienced CSE.
The Children and Families Act (2014) has introduced a framework where support can extend from adolescence to adulthood up to the age of 25. However, whilst this piece of legislation is to ensure young people do not ‘get lost’ or ‘fall through the net’, the remit, it could be argued, is not used to the full extent. Whilst there are clear guidelines for implementing the transitional service for looked after children, SEND and children who are in receipt of CAMHS, a report by NICE notes that two-thirds of young people were either lost within the system or had interrupted care from CAMHS. This single piece of research conducted by NICE evidences the fact that young people on the cusp of adulthood often require continued support from mental health services, and could further be argued that support in other areas of a young adult’s life may also require extended support.
For all looked after children and SEN, whilst a pathway is in operation with agencies, I am seeking to identify if this service should or could also be available for young people who have experienced sexual exploitation, and not necessarily solely within the social care remit.
The separate services available to street sex workers and young people who have experienced CSE interlink include:
· Independent Domestic Sexual Violence Service
· Safe and secure access to housing
· Education, employment, volunteering support
· Mental Health Services
· Drug and Alcohol Service
· Sexual Health Services
· One to one counselling
· Mentoring Programmes
The main function of a transition service is to enable the vision of adulthood to develop using a person-centred approached, focusing on the strengths rather than presumptions and opinions. It is important to provide an inclusive service with all partners and agencies with the young person and their family to provide a plan of aspirations, needs and wishes rather than a pre-determined set holistic service. It is widely documented that positive outcomes can be increased if a young person has a voice and drives the change themselves; however, the essential element of a transition service is for all partners involved to explore the aspirations, needs and wishes of the young person and provide the best placed and appropriate service(s) to meet those needs.
I have recently begun my second year of the research and will be published around September 2019. Whilst I am in the early stages of arranging data collection the academic literature and government policies express a need for more joined up working between agencies with further discussions around transition services. My research will explore and expand on these ideas and potentially include suggestions on what services could be involved and provide a framework on the processes.
If you have any question about this blog, or wish to get in touch with the author, please email Ruth.Atkinson1@beds.ac.uk.