NUM’s Response to Sex Worker Exclusion in Scotland

Last week SACRO announced over £1 million pounds from the UK Government for a scheme that aims to provide online support via an app to 1500 sex workers in Scotland through a network of support services.  Sex workers and their groups in Scotland, such as SCOT-PEP and Umbrella Lane, who are also members of NUM, have raised the issue that they have not been consulted in the design of this project. NUM stands with sex workers in advocating for a new standard, where their leadership is a basic requirement, and is a non-negotiable element of effective service provision to their communities.

Dr Anastacia Ryan, CEO of Umbrella Lane (Glasgow) states in response to SACRO:

'Umbrella Lane, registered Charity since 2015, is a a sex worker-led support service based on meeting holistic needs to improve sex workers health, well-being and safety. Our programs are trusted by sex workers given peer involvement and leadership at every level, a unique approach in Scotland that is not fostered within the organisations involved in the development and running of this app. Given the exclusion of Umbrella Lane from discussions on the development of this app that has been awarded a significant amount of funding, we are highly concerned as to the real intentions behind this project, particularly in light of cuts to wider service provision for sex workers and a decrease in sex worker engagement. Many services hold views that all sex work is commercial sexual exploitation; a political stance that prioritises exiting of women over a harm reduction approach.'

NUM History

National Ugly Mugs (NUM) was founded 2012 after 10 years of advocacy for a resource to support sex workers who are victims of crime. NUM received just over £100,000 funding from the Home Office as a one-time investment to set up and run a 1 year pilot project and following the success of the pilot NUM diversified their funding streams to sustain our successful reporting and alerting scheme. NUM services have continued to grow with the addition of case work support and training for professionals to improve practice alongside the vital advocacy to influence good policy around improved safety for sex workers.

Reporting & Alerting

NUM’s membership exceeds 6,200 members, with over 5,200 of these being individual sex workers. These diverse individuals are from across sex industries working on and off line and on and off street and identify in diverse ways. We receive between 60 and 80 reports of crime against sex workers per month, and since inception we have shared 805,443 alerts to our membership. These incidents range from assaults, robberies, and stalking and harassment to rape and other violent crime.

NUM Casework Support

NUM has an established Casework Team who provide support to these victims in keeping with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (2015) with goals to aiding in their coping and recovery. Our case work support is primarily funded through trusts and foundations.  Each individual victim of crime is contacted by the NUM casework team and signposted to local services relevant to their needs and offered support from the NUM casework team where appropriate services do not exist in their area.

Research and Development (R&D) Team

Despite the value NUM has provided historically we have recognised that only sex worker leadership from within can ensure that programmes and services are relevant and effective. Over the last year, NUM employed active and former sex workers and subject area experts, specifically a Research and Development (R&D) team, who are evaluating and influencing all of our activities and services. They will lead on community education and policy advocacy to support the changes in conditions necessary to ensure that professionals respond appropriately, pursue predators and provide robust support to sex workers as victims of crime.

Organisation Members

NUM has over 800 support worker members that represent over 300 organisations throughout the UK.  These organisations provide a variety of support services to sex workers and include specialist sex work projects, sexual health services and other front-line services. SACRO are members of NUM alongside other front-line services who have submitted reports over the years. In 2013, SACRO along with several other organisations won a star project awards through our 'six pillars of good practice accreditation.'  Our new way of evaluating services will be led by sex workers.

Sex Worker Leadership

With respect to sex worker inclusion, Dr Anastacia Ryan adds:

'Umbrella Lane works to provide a more holistic sex worker-led service that works with people who do sex work - whether that be through choice, circumstance and/or coercion. Umbrella Lane believes that political views on sex work should not underpin essential support services.  Initiatives that exclude sex workers may be politically-driven and will further alienate, marginalise and create a climate of fear amongst sex workers, which reduces access to justice, health and safety for this community.'

Today, NUM encourages our member organisations to include sex workers in any initiatives that are directed to their communities. We have made adjustments to centralise the voices of sex workers at NUM, and as we forge ahead with the R&D team, this will become an additional criteria for any services wishing to be accredited by NUM.  This respects the expert position of sex workers, increases the efficiencies, reduces duplication, and supports a robust evaluation by users.

Dr. Raven Bowen, CEO of NUM states:

Sex workers are capable of designing services and eliminating conditions that contribute to exploitation in their industries. We must use our resources as directed by sex workers. Sex workers use the organisations and the services that they trust. They are not service resistant, they resist to their exclusion.’

In order to make a positive change to the safety and well-being, funded initiatives and programmes must be developed for, by and with sex workers. As a respectful process of evaluation, organisations must look to the future and ensure that no interventions go ahead without sex worker involvement.