One25 are well known across Bristol for their work with street-based sex workers or those vulnerable to becoming sex workers. We spoke to the CEO, Gill Nowland, about signing the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and what this will mean for the women they work with.
One25 support about 230 women over the course of one year, around 150 of which are on the streets while others are supported to maintain their exit from sex work, and a small number are worked with to prevent them from entering sex work. They provide a holistic service to meet the individual needs of each woman they work with ensuring a person-centered and non-judgemental response, and in 2014 supported 55 women to leave the streets completely. They have 20 paid staff and over 120 volunteers across all services from the drop-in and outreach work, to working in the office and fundraising, as well as some volunteers who speak at events and raise awareness.
Gill spoke about how important a Zero Tolerance City approach is for the women they work with “our vision is for a city where there is no risk of women ever needing to be trapped in street sex work. Where all women are living valued and fulfilled lives. So it should be a city that is free from violence and abuse towards all women and girls and women are fully respected and valued.” For One25 signing the pledge is an extension of the work that they already do “it’s what we fully believe in. It’s part of the reason we exist – to value women and particularly the women that we work with who are incredibly vulnerable and marginalised so women who are often seen as less in society and looked down on. And the men who purchase sex from these women often look down on them and think that they can do what they like with these women and that they are not of any value. So we exist to say to women ‘you are of value, you mustn’t tolerate this, this is not acceptable’. So it’s a lot about trying to raise awareness within the women themselves that they are of worth and of value and they need to respect themselves and it’s supporting them to believe that, really believe it.”
Unfortunately many of the women that One25 work with have experienced gender-based violence, possibly from a number of different perpetrators and over their lifetime, see for example Kay’s Story. Therefore it is important to highlight the message that this is not acceptable and not just a consequence of sex work. As Gill notes being part of Bristol Zero Tolerance and working towards creating a Zero Tolerance City “means that we respect the women [we work with] as women and they should not have to tolerate any violence and abuse. We encourage the women to report violence and abuse to us and they have said that there is an awful lot of it, domestic violence, physical violence, sexual violence, and they are tolerating a great deal of it… and we’re saying ‘you mustn’t tolerate this’… Not all the violence that women are reporting to us is violence at work. So there is violence from the people who are probably exploiting them, and these will often be perceived as boyfriends but actually they’re not they’re acting more like a pimp, they’re pushing the women out to work because the women are earning their money, their drug money, and they might be drug dealers and pimp type boyfriends. With a lot of the violence women experience they are the perpetrators and women will often say ‘I have to do this’ or ‘he’s going to beat me’ etc.”
There are also particular issues around safety that arise for sex workers so as part of Bristol Zero Tolerance it is important that agencies are working with service providers such as One25 to make sure that when measures are put in place they do not have negative impacts and compromise women’s safety. As Gill explains “when enforcement increases on the streets, so against the purchasers and the sellers, violence increases. And I think the reason for that is that it pushes things underground, the women are not so visible to us to be able to support them, and the women become more desperate because there is not so much work and will take more risks. So the women are really very savvy when it comes to assessing ‘shall I or shall I not take this bit of business from this man’ and very often they will assess that situation and have a gut feeling ‘this is not safe I’m not going to do it’. When things become more desperate for finances or there are fewer men around and more police, the women won’t take that time to assess. They will jump into punters cars because they are desperate and then they are opening themselves up to an increase of violence so that’s something we have become aware of so we do work closely with the police but we do make that point known that heavy enforcement isn’t the answer in our view.”
Being part of Bristol Zero Tolerance is an opportunity to include sex workers in the debates around gender-based violence and for One25 as an organisation it is a chance to promote their work and raise awareness within the organisation “we will promote the fact that we have signed this pledge to the women we work with and our staff and volunteers so that everybody is included and understanding the importance of this and of what our pledge is to the city.” It is also an opportunity to work with others to ensure that the voices of the organisation and the women they are working with are being heard through social media, such as with the launch of their new film Green Light District, and networking with other organisations who are signed up to the pledge.