It is widely known and researched that there is a relationship between women who street sex work and substance use.
It is widely known and researched that there is a relationship between women who street sex work and substance use.To highlight this relationship at SWWOP, we currently support 48 ‘active clients’ and 43 of these women are using alcohol or drugs. The women lead lives that are complicated by factors such as poor mental health, domestic violence, the trauma that accompanies street sex work, unstable housing etc; and these act as barriers for accessing drug support.
Below is a table that details the substance (opiates being the primary substance in cases of poly-drug use).
Substance Number Percentage
Alcohol 2 4.7%
Non-opiates (e.g., crack cocaine) 12 28%
Opiates (e.g., heroin), or poly drug use (where an opiate is main substance used) 29 67.4%
From the 43 SSWs who use drugs and alcohol, only 17 are in treatment (39.5%). This means that 60.5% of the women we support are not accessing drug treatment. This is particularly alarming when taking into consideration that SSWs have higher mortality rates than other cohorts of drug users (Jean et al., 2017).
Having a Substance Use Engagement Worker based at SWWOP working directly with the women means that they are used to a familiar face to discuss their problems to. They have reported that they feel able to disclose information and build a trusting relationship due to the presence in their safe space.
The role of Substance Use Engagement Worker has been beneficial: many women are choosing to come to SWWOP for needle exchange rather than pharmacies, as they can have a coffee and to discuss their injecting practices while they’re there. Many SSWs have very limited choice about their harm reduction knowledge – we have observed that it is often delivered by men in their life who encourage riskier injecting practices. Having a female-only space means it is easy to deliver simple harm reduction messages and encourage safer injecting practices. They can ask questions in a person-centred and non-judgemental environment. We provide transport for appointments, phones if needed for appointments, support getting to and from appointments, needle exchange, up-to-date drug alerts and harm reduction advice. We have also recently signed up to the Drugs Monitoring Network so we have up-to-date information around nationwide drug trends.
Jeal, N. et al.(2017) Identifying possible reasons why female street sex workers have poor drug treatment outcomes: A qualitative study, BMJ Open. Available at: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/3/e013018.abstract (Accessed: 25 May 2023).
 Measured using data collected from office and outreach van accesses. If a woman is seen 5 times in the last 6 months, I have defined her as ‘active’.