The challenge of change: improving services for women involved in prostitution and substance use

Document type
Singleton, Nicola; Lousley, Gemma
Date of publication
1 July 2013
Substance Misuse, Social Policy
Social welfare
Material type

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Women involved in street-based prostitution who misuse drugs are one of the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in society. However, they are rarely discussed in these terms, and too often they are absent from policy and practice addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. At a time when sex work can be normalised, and even glamourised, the reality is that women involved in prostitution often use drugs and alcohol to cope with selling sex, and often sell sex to support addiction.

The focus of this research study is on policy and practice to address the drug and alcohol treatment needs of women involved in street-based prostitution. Tackling substance misuse is fundamental to reducing harm and supporting women to exit prostitution. Currently, appropriate support that addresses substance misuse in the context of sex work can be difficult to access. With evidence that a significant proportion of women seeking help for drug and alcohol problems have been involved in prostitution in some form, this is the challenge of change.

The report recommends that a range of services should be available to women involved in prostitution and substance use, from needle exchanges and treatment to housing and employment support. More work is needed to map out recovery pathways that address the particular issues experienced by this group. The development of tailored support for this group should be considered - by policy makers, commissioners, funders and service providers – as a key priority within the emerging multiple needs agenda.

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