Helping women who sell sex to turn their lives around
A former addict is earning the trust of women who sell sex on the streets of Southend as she devotes her life to giving them a route out.
Marie Edmonds broke the strong hold her 25-year addiction had on her eight years ago and is now helping others to turn their lives around thanks to support from the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst.
Having spent time in prison and lost her children to the care system, she returned to Southend and began using her experience to help others to escape a life of addiction, abuse and selling sex.
Aspirations Program was established to empower women on their journey of recovery.
Through the Carrie’s Outreach project, Marie – working with various partners including probation and sexual health organisations – is gaining the trust of women who have historically been impossible to engage with for the authorities.
She said: “Having seen how other agencies work together around the country, I realised there was a gap in Southend. Nobody had been able to reach these women. But, because I’ve been there and am able to truthfully say ‘I understand’, it is easier for me to build that relationship with them. We have been able to pull the barriers down and to reach the women who had previously been invisible.
“Through building relationships based on trust and respect, we are now engaging with women who were previously deemed unresponsive and non-engaging. This is the first time these women have had wrap-around care from all of the appropriate authorities and organisations.
“We are the only service led by someone with lived experience. We work collaboratively with so many partners, the women are beginning to now trust them, too.
“We have taken nine hidden homeless women off the streets and helped them into their own homes. We can safeguard people and keep them safe.
“I would not have felt so alone had this kind of support been around for me in the past.”
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, contributed £13,829 to Aspirations Program in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2019-2020 Community Safety Development Fund for a part-time project support worker. The grant was provided to protect vulnerable people and crack down on domestic abuse, both key priorities for the Commissioner.
Carrie’s Outreach runs three days each week to engage with women selling sex on the street in Southend, supporting them with emergency accommodation and access to housing, accompanying them to probation appointments, and collecting prescriptions, healthcare or food.
The joined-up approach is not only seeing women turn their lives around, but cases of domestic abuse and coercion are being brought to court and County Lines operations interrupted.
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said: “Protecting those most vulnerable from harm and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse is so important, and this money makes a huge difference to the services and support that we provide in Essex. However, it takes more than money to change our communities. It takes people like Marie whose passion, commitment and drive to make a difference in their communities makes all of our lives safer and better. We all have a part to play to build the communities we want to live in and it is a pleasure to be able to support Marie in tackling such crucial work.”
Of the PFCC funding, Marie said: “We could not function without this kind of grant. Girls would not be made safe and the police would not be pressing charges against the really violent boyfriends.
“It means everything.”