GET IN TOUCH:
Although this is the final episode of CLiCK Cast, we’d still love to hear from you. If you are a woman with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images and would like to make your voice heard in the digital edition of CLiCK Magazine, please get in touch. You can take part in any way that suits you – from anonymous quotes and stories about your experience, to creative pieces of work such as photography and poetry. If you are a support service who would like to be part of the conversation about meeting the rights and needs of women who sell or exchange sex or images, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can’t wait to hear from you.
To find out more about the emotional, practical and financial support provided by CLiCK, check out www.click.scot
If you are a woman with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images, you can make your voice heard through our anonymous RISE survey platform on a range of topics.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
We've arranged our show notes into easy-to-read sections. Please click to expand:
RISE NEEDS ASSESSMENT SNAPSHOT AND WOMEN'S VOICES
We launched a needs assessment on 4/11/2020 via our RISE survey platform. We asked women what their most urgent needs were at the start of the pandemic, what their most urgent needs are now, and what changes women would like to see at the service and government level in order to best meet their needs. Through our programme costs, we were able to provide a £20 Love2Shop e-gift card to the first 50 women who responded to the survey. We received an overwhelming response, with all 50 e-gift cards allocated to women within 3 days of the needs assessment going live. We were then able to secure funding from the Encompass Network to cover a further 20 Love2Shop e-gift cards for women directly supported by Encompass Network services.
To date, we have received 79 responses in total. Data collection is still ongoing; however, we provide a snapshot of our findings below.
Most Urgent Need at the Start of the Pandemic
Women’s most urgent need at the start of the pandemic was money (34%), followed by mental wellbeing (24%), housing (22%), and safety (16%). Only 1% of women said that sexual health was their most urgent need at the start of the pandemic and 3% selected other with responses including support with applying for benefits and support with substance use.
Most Urgent Need at this Stage of the Pandemic
Money is still the most pressing need for women, and this has increased from 34% to 51%. The second most urgent need was safety which increased from 16% to 18%. Fifteen percent reported mental wellbeing as their most urgent need, with 9% of women stating housing as their most urgent need at this stage of the pandemic. Sexual health increased from 1% to 6% and 1% of women selected other, reporting a need for support with substance use.
Women also provided us with quotes around how they are feeling right now. Below we present a snapshot of just some of these quotes. Please see the Our Future Work and Call to Action tab for more information on our plans for presenting this needs assessment in full.
“After going through every stage of grief I’m now in the acceptance stage. Coping as best I can and try to keep positive”
“Very low, finding things difficult. No money for food for me, my partner, or our dog. Having to work on the street to get money. Trying to get support for my drug use. It’s a scary time”
“Due to the covid my clients haven't been Interested and any of the services due to government putting restriction in place I still have some clientele leaven me with benefits witch am not used to this is really frustrating and I struggle day to day”
“My mental health started to become up and down and then became extremely low where was only leaving the house to collect medication. I wasn't even going out for a walk to clear my head.”
“I am really stressed out at the moment as this covid-19 has had a really dramatic effect on my work. I have already been at the end of a clients not wanting to have contact resulting in arguments and me losing clients as they are scared they catch this disease. This has had a dramatic effect on my business resulting in me having to use food banks to eat. Also some clients (2 to be precise) are becoming frustrated and tend to take this out on me!!!! I cant wait till this is all over!!”
We also asked women for their recommendations on what services and the government should be doing to better meet women’s needs:
“Women and their families need housing, food, clothing, condoms and other birth control/protective measures, feminine products, sexual health checkups, safe place to work with preventive ppe measures. They deserve the same help and support like anyone else during this time.”
“Help with mental health, drug use, money, housing and someone to talk to about how I feel.”
“Someone to safe-guard us women. Someone you can speak to, as this is hard times, since this lockdown. These services are vital.”
Unfortunately, this snapshot demonstrates that there has been little improvement in women’s needs over the past 9 months. Many women are facing the same challenges they were at the start of the pandemic, and in some cases women’s needs have worsened. As one woman who responded to our needs assessment said:
“My needs? I need revolution!!!”
There must be a complete overhaul of approach and a solid commitment at the service level and the government level to drive for visible change on the ground for women who sell or exchange sex or images in Scotland.
We also caught up with Jenna, a women’s worker at Vice Versa in Dundee, and Rachel, a women’s worker for Edinburgh-based service Another Way, who have been consistent voices throughout this series to find out more about the needs of the women they support over the past nine months. Both Jenna and Rachel noted that for many of the women they support, there has been no significant positive change in the past nine months. Jenna notes that, at the start of the pandemic, many of the women she supports were facing isolation, severe financial difficulties, and precarious housing situations. Nine months on, many of these needs remain:
“[…] Now, their needs are pretty much the same. Nothing’s changed. At the start of lockdown, lots of women had a forced exit because there just wasn’t the demand there from punters. Whereas now I would say it’s back up to pre-covid levels. [Women] have just returned to [selling sex] because they’ve not got other options of how to make money […]”
Rachel highlights that some women she supports have begun the process of exiting the sex industry during the pandemic. However, this has been an extremely difficult process due to a lack of tangible career opportunities for women as a result of the current economic climate:
“What we did find is that women wanted to use this time to fully exit the industry, and that’s for a whole host of different reasons […] and that came with a whole host of needs in terms of thinking of what employment opportunities there are for [women]. […] I think we need more tangible solutions and that comes in the form of a destitute fund again but also employment opportunities, partnerships. Things that can really offer women support.”
Both Jenna and Rachel stated how crucial financial supports like the Encompass Fund and Victim Fund had been in meeting women’s most basic needs but they both stressed that these funds do not go far enough. Jenna said:
“The funding was a lifeline for a lot of women […] it covered service charges for their temporary accommodation that meant that, for at least 12 weeks, they had some place safe to go back to […] we’ve been able to pay for electric and gas […] We’ve paid for fridges, we’ve paid for clothes. Really basic things that are not luxury items, they’re not things that last. The electric can only run for so long […] Although it helped at that time, those 12 weeks for a lot of women are up now. So, now what? They need longer term funding, longer term financial help to actually allow them to have somewhere safe to stay […] to have a coat for winter, have shoes that keep their feet dry. It’s as basic as that”
Rachel supported this and also highlighted long waiting times when accessing some funding streams:
“It was great and it was a massive lifeline […] it was nice because we could get supermarket vouchers for women and it didn’t feel as much like a handout […] but it wasn’t far enough. It is a sticking plaster. 12 weeks, that’s great, but what happens at the end of that? […] We need longer-term solutions. The feedback we had from women about the Encompass Fund was really positive. We were able to offer it fairly quickly, manage women’s expectations, and meet their immediate needs. The Victim’s Fund had a much greater amount of funding available. We did find that process very difficult at times. They required lots and lots of paperwork, which of course we understood, but we didn’t find it a straightforward process. It often took a very long time, sometimes three months, to get the woman that payment. We’re grateful to Victim’s Support and the government for offering that money, but what it meant in that three months…so much more debt had built up. That need was still there and had increased.”
Rachel and Jenna also emphasised the importance of ensuring that women’s voices are a core part of shaping service delivery and government level decision making. Jenna states:
“The women I support who are very vulnerable, very chaotic – they don’t have a voice in policy or decision making or government. It’s hard for them to engage with that because policy, and law – high up things – are things that happen to them. They’re not involved in the decision-making process which we obviously recognise as wrong. Their voices, and their thoughts, and their experiences are essential to the services we deliver so they should be essential to decision making higher up as well. It is hard for women to engage with research or consultations when they’re busy surviving. It’s about us being able to give women the space and incentivise their involvement, and emphasise to them that their voice is important”
CLiCK Women’s Workers also provided some quotes around their experiences of providing support to women during the coronavirus pandemic:
Mel, the CLiCK Women’s Worker for Grampian, said:
“Money, or lack of it, remains the main reason as to why women become involved in selling and exchanging sex. Until gender equality with regards to equal pay, equal job opportunities, and gender poverty or addressed this will remain the case. We need to remember that women who sell and exchange sex are just that - women. Women who have the same needs, desires, and right to dignity and equality as much as any other woman in society. Women need to feel listened to, not to be judged, and for the complexity of their lives to be understood. Women need to be given a safe and open opportunity to express their needs and wants, whatever these may be. The rights of women need to be at the forefront of all approaches, from a governmental all the way down to a service level. Working with women is wonderful”
Isla, the CLiCK Women’s Worker for Fife and Forth Valley, stated:
“In terms of the women I support, being unable to work during the pandemic has caused them to be at crisis point. They have come to me in dire need where they have been unable to adequately clothe themselves and their family, feed their children and keep their home warm. I have had women phone me and tell me that their cupboards are completely empty and any food that they did have left, they ensured that this was given to their children, leaving them to go hungry. This is something which I have been able to support women with, ensuring that their basic needs are met. This is an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment and we are now approaching Christmas so that concern of how women will afford basic needs has shifted to how they will afford to provide a Christmas for their children. I feel that for women who have refrained from selling and exchanging sex during the pandemic that this could be a factor contributing to them becoming involved again so there is a real concern around safety. I think there needs to be more recognition that selling and exchanging sex is often not a choice for women and this would help to reduce stigma for women accessing other services.”
Allison, the CLiCK women’s worker for PAN Ayshire and Dumfries & Galloway, shared this:
“As a worker I would be hoping that there is better access for women to mental health services. In my experience of working with women most of them say “why do we have to wait so long to speak with mental health services and why do mental health services always focus on the addiction?” It is never about what I’ve been through in life or what took me to develop an addiction!”
And Linzi, the CLiCK women’s worker for Dundee and Angus, highlighted:
“I observe a training need for many statutory services to understand the impact of VAWG starting with cultivating use of a gender lens.”
WHERE HAVE THE WOMEN'S VOICES GONE AND WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?
At CLiCK, we have been carrying out work over the last year around the issue of the non-consensual sharing of women’s content from sites like OnlyFans and AdmireMe. We first began working on this issue back in September 2019 when we realised that the existing Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm 2016 (Scotland) Act does not protect images that were already disclosed consensually to some section of the public. This means that if a woman had her content stolen from behind a paywall by a subscriber, and this content was then shared elsewhere without her consent, the women and her content would not be protected as the content had already been consensually disclosed to some section of the public (e.g. paying subscribers). One woman who responded to our RISE needs assessment said:
“Profiles being stolen from Adultwork etc - this should not be allowed to happen and this should be made illegal and prosecuted when reported. This needs to stop. Creates anxiety about where my profile is and any of my images, especially when they may be on underage sites which I think is disgusting.”
During the pandemic we have been working intensively with a number of different organisations to raise awareness of this gap in the legislation. In October, as part of the Encompass Network, we partnered with Revenge Porn Helpline to a host a webinar for professionals called From Fans to Pirates which featured inputs from Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Rape Crisis Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the GMB Union’s adult entertainment branch. The webinar aimed to raise awareness of the legislative gaps, subscriber’s content piracy behaviour, women’s experiences on platforms like OnlyFans, and signpost to available supports. You can watch the webinar in full here. Off the back of this webinar, a second webinar specifically for women involved in selling content online – developed and lead by a group of women with lived experience – took place on 07/12/2020 to provide women with information around potential legal options and sign posting to available support. In October, we also carried out an online workshop in partnership with White Ribbon Scotland to find out more about men’s attitudes towards the non-consensual sharing of women’s content. Crucially, this issue has been raised at the legislative level as Rhoda Grant MSP has submitted a letter to the Lord Advocate highlighting the gaps in the existing legislation and outlining the risks women face online.
Women’s voices have also shaped important strategic pieces of work. CLiCK contributed to the Encompass Network’s Moving Out of Lockdown report which aimed to amplify the voices, needs, and experiences of women during the pandemic to raise awareness across various sectors, policymakers, key strategic working groups, and MSPs. This report had a significant impact and sparked off further strategic work. The report was used to inform the development of a core working group – composed of COSLA, Public Health Scotland, the Improvement Service, the Violence Against Women Network, and the Encompass Network – who have been tasked to progress thinking, ideas, and recommendations for women involved in selling or exchanging sex or images. As a result of the establishment of this working group, women involved in selling or exchanging sex have been identified as one of COSLA’s key priority groups and have been placed further up the policy agenda within COSLA. On 02/12/2020 The COSLA Community Wellbeing Board met to explore how women can be better supported on local levels and what needs to be in place to push this agenda forward. There are commitments to look at flexible models of service delivery for both harm reduction and pathways to exiting. The work will be progressed in 2021 and will be part of the delivery of the Equally Safe Strategy.
OUR FUTURE WORK AND CALL TO ACTION
The funding for CLiCK ends in March 2021 and right now we are not clear what the future holds for us as a service beyond this point. However, we have various pieces of work that we are hoping to progress during this time in order to continue amplifying the voices of a range of women with lived experience of selling or exchanging sex or images in Scotland:
Crucially, these bodies of work will have women’s needs, voices, and experiences at the core. Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, women involved in selling or exchanging sex are still facing extremely difficult circumstances with no clear end in sight. As Scotland continues to move through the pandemic, services and policymakers should be endeavouring to hear from a range of women with lived experience – from women who wish to remain involved, to women who have no choice but to continue selling sex, and women who have exited the industry – to ensure that Scotland’s support landscape meets the rights and needs of all women. Women need to be actively consulted and should be appropriately renumerated for their time. Importantly, women need to know that if they take the time to share their opinions, their experiences, and their stories that their contribution is going to be part of shaping meaningful change. We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over or for the dust to settle, this work needs to be happening now on local level and national level. Within services, within policy making, and within legislation. Women must hear that commitment.