Independent sexual violence advisors: a successful outreach intervention in East London
- Sarah Longwill1,
- Jacqui Vennard2,
- Anya Charnaud3,
- Elizabeth Harrison3,
- Mark Yexley4,
- Kim Leverett5,
- Georgina Perry2,
- Vanessa Apea6,
- Shelly Stoops7,
- Greta Forster8
- 1Genito-Urinary /HIV Medicine, The Ambrose King Centre, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London, UK
- 2Homerton University Hospital, London, UK
- 3The Haven, Whitechapel, London, UK
- 4SCD2 Sapphire, London, UK (retired)
- 5Open Doors Outreach Team, The Ambrose King Centre, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London, UK
- 6Genito-Urinary Medicine, The Ambrose King Centre, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London, UK
- 7The Armistead Project, Liverpool Community Health, Liverpool, UK
- 8Genito-Urinary Medicine, Haven Whitechapel, London, UK
- Correspondence to Dr Sarah Longwill, SpR in GUM/HIV medicine, The Ambrose King Centre, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London E1 1BB, UK;
Contributors SL and VA contributed to the manuscript. JV, AC, EH, MY, KL, GP, SS, GF were key to the delivery of the project. GF highlighted the need to respond to the paper by Platt et al. This letter was written with contribution and input from all stated authors.
- Accepted 16 October 2011
- Published Online First 28 November 2011
- sexual assault
- service delivery
- outreach services
- public health
- sexual health
The paper by Platt et al reports that recent experience of physical or sexual violence from a client was commonly reported among female sex workers in London.1 Experiencing violence from clients was associated with drug use at work and a history of arrest or imprisonment.
Migrant women were as likely as UK-born sex workers to report sexual violence. This rate was felt to be an underestimate. There was a perceived reluctance among the migrant group to report to the police.
We would like to highlight some successful and important work in the East London. This work supports those working in the sex industry who have been raped or sexually assaulted. In 2010, a locally commissioned Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) was appointed for the Olympic boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and City and Hackney. Appropriate strategic governance arrangements were made in association with the Haven Whitechapel, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) and Open Doors, an NHS specialist sex worker project. This follows a successful pilot scheme in Liverpool, pioneered by the first Specialist ISVA for Sex Workers, Shelly Stoops, which resulted in an 80% increase in reported crime and a greater than 70% increase in conviction rates (unpublished data).
ISVAs work with victims of recent and historic serious sexual crimes to enable them to access the services they need in the aftermath of abuse. They provide impartial advice to the victim and can guide them through the criminal justice process. They provide information on reporting to the police, accessing SARCs, seeking support from specialist sexual violence organisations and other social support services such as housing or benefits.
The East London ISVA has received 33 referrals since her appointment last year. Twenty-seven have reported their experience to the police. There are three closed convictions to date. Thirteen police investigations are currently ongoing. Collaboration with the police has shifted their focus to the safety of sex workers rather than enforcement. Enforcement (arrest for soliciting) has been shown to disperse women underground into higher risk situations.
The East London Open Doors team would also like to advocate a national roll out of the publication ‘Ugly Mugs’ which describes perpetrators of sexual violence who are at large and may repeat their offences in several geographical areas.
This model of community outreach for sex workers will be presented at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Conference taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2011.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.