Royal award for organisation which helps Sheffield prostitutes

An organisation which helps Sheffield prostitutes working the city’s streets has won an award for its efforts.

By Claire Lewis
Friday, 05 April, 2019, 10:20
L-R: Swwop Ambassador Jane Copeland, manager Sali Harwood, finance and admin worker Lis Storey and crisis and exit support worker Annette Swaby.

The Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunities Project has been honoured for ‘excellent work in its own community’.

HRH The Duke of York presented the award as part of his ‘Community Initiative Award’ programme.

He also presented an extra individual award to SWWOP manager, Sali Harwood, for ‘outstanding leadership’.

SWWOP, which was launched in the early 1990s in response to the rise in HIV at that time, was initially a sexual health initiative where help was offered to women working in the city’s red light district once a week.

But since then the service has developed and is now aimed at supporting the city’s vulnerable street prostitutes while they are working with the aim of eventually helping them exit the sex trade.

Staff and outreach workers now offer help with benefits, housing, bills, healthcare and childcare issues and they take a van out onto the streets three or four times a week offering a needle exchange service and handing out free condoms, food and drink.

They also display the photos of known dangerous punters the women are urged to avoid.

Sali, who has run the service since 1996, said: “Swwop was known as Praise in the early days and was run by Tracey Nathan with the emphasis on sexual health, but over the years it has developed and we now support women with a whole range of issues to help them make informed choices with the ultimate aim of helping them exit.

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“The award is recognition of how far we have come over the years and we are all very proud.”

Sali described life on the streets as ‘rough’ for Sheffield prostitutes, where drug abuse is at the heart of the industry.

“There are not as many as there used to be but those who are on the streets are really suffering physically and mentally. They are not in a good place,” she said.

“They need drugs to go out, they need drugs while they are there to get them through it and they need drugs afterwards to help them forget.

“They often have open injection sites and I would say they are at rock bottom.” She said many of the women are also homeless and are subjected to regular violence.

Sali said the organisation is committed to helping women out of the sex trade.

“It is very easy to get into but so difficult to get out of,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone every really understands what goes with it, such as the level of violence.

“In the past it was very difficult for women working on the streets to keep their children, but there have been some success stories with women being supported to exit and keeping their babies.

“We will keep doing all we can to support the women we work with to help as many as we can make new lives for themselves.

“We have an exit strategy and we hope that when women are strong enough they will take up the intensive support we offer and that is needed to enable the women to change their lifestyles. Exiting is also a very long process taking years rather than months.”