Exploring available knowledge and evidence on prostitution in Scotland via practitioner-based interviews

Exploration of available knowledge and evidence on the scale and nature of prostitution in Scotland based on practitioner-based interviews.

Question 2 Support for women and men involved in prostitution and help to exit

  • Scale and nature of existing support services and perceptions of gaps and additional services needed as well as any assessment of programmes and services that support people in exiting.

Main findings

Scale and nature of support services

  • In the 4 cities there are a range of specialist support services working in partnership with other key agencies including health, social work, housing advice, employability services etc. to assist people involved in prostitution.
  • The majority of services are aimed at supporting women, with the exception of Roam in Edinburgh and the Steve Retson project in Glasgow, which provide support and assistance to men involved in prostitution (who sell sex).
  • The approach of specialist support providers includes a 'harm reduction' aspect, providing health and safety support for people at immediate risk as well as services to help people exit prostitution. There was some variation on the degree of emphasis on pro-active 'exit' focused element across locations.
  • Some services shared information about individuals with other agencies to provide more tailored support. Other research participants emphasised how women may access services with different aims ( i.e. primarily to address housing or other identified needs) and how reducing involvement is also an important measure of success, given the difficulties that some experience when attempting to exit and their dependence on the income. The majority of respondents emphasised the importance of developing trust with those involved and the reassurance of confidentiality given the commonly cited fear of wider disclosure.
  • The shift from outdoor to indoor prostitution has posed a number of challenges for service delivery. In some locations this has led to the reduction or closure of night time 'drop-in' services, and new ways of working. This has also led to the need for promotion of services to a potentially new group of service users, for example through pro-active engagement with the people who advertise sexual services online.
  • To improve engagement with people involved in indoor settings,
    Police Scotland have developed a new approach in close partnership with health services and other key agencies in Glasgow and Edinburgh where they visit people involved in indoor prostitution to offer support and assess the safety and wellbeing of those involved. Termed SHaW [12] visits, this involves situations where police have received intelligence and/or concerns relating to a particular individual. This initiative is at an early stage and is currently being evaluated. There is therefore limited information available regarding numbers visited and how this has been received.
  • Many respondents identified the importance of developing better knowledge and understanding of those involved in indoor prostitution and their support needs.
  • While the provision of support was identified as key in helping many to exit from prostitution, for some, specific life events were highlighted as a particular catalyst for exiting. These were said to include things like relationship changes, pregnancy and/or child protection issues, seeing peers move on, general poor health and exhaustion, or victimisation or another traumatic event.
  • A range of barriers to exit for people who wanted to leave were identified including poverty, few alternatives for making money, prolonged involvement in prostitution, continued alcohol and/or drug misuse to manage or block out painful emotions due to the impact of trauma, having a criminal record and informal coercion (from a partner or family member).

Perceptions of gaps and additional services needed

  • In terms of perceptions of the sufficiency of current support to women involved in prostitution, this varied by area ( i.e. one area respondent identified a gap in terms of employability services while another identified a gap in mental health services [13] ). In general terms however, a number of respondents felt that more could be done with regards to prevention to stop women becoming involved in prostitution in the first instance, as well as to halt the escalation of problems. Other gaps identified were in terms of mainstream services and flexibility of support available as well as a general lack of understanding of the issues (among some professionals and practitioners) faced by those in prostitution. Further gaps identified included the involvement of women and men involved in prostitution as key partners in the delivery of key services affecting them. There was also a common consensus among respondents that listening to those involved is crucial in understanding gaps in support and how to address them.

Assessment of programmes and services that assist women to exit

  • Given complexities in measuring success in the provision of support ( i.e. that the process of exiting for some women can be lengthy, and it is often difficult to ascertain whether or not women have fully ceased involvement in prostitution), formal assessment of programmes aimed at assisting women to exit was generally considered difficult. Therefore there seems to be limited evaluation of service delivery available. However, some support agencies cited degrees of success and benefits, including giving women the opportunity to make informed choices, improvements in safety, and quality of life more generally, and to increase options available, to enable them to eventually move out of prostitution. A longer-term approach is therefore adopted by many support services, in the recognition that many women may exit and return to involvement at times of financial hardship and/or relapses into drug dependency.


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