Charity co-director, Emma Goulds writes about the importance of a safe home for the women she works with this Christmas.
The run up to Christmas can come with a dizzying amount of choice - decisions on who to buy presents for, how to manage family politics, whether to brave the office Christmas party (!) However, for many women across the UK this Christmas, the “choice” is between selling sex or homelessness.
The word ‘choice’ implies there are two or more reasonable options available to choose between and that you have the means and freedom to choose. Within a national housing crisis, we are seeing an increase in women selling sex for the first time, being unable to exit or returning to it just to cover their rent and utility bills, their food bills even. This situation is being further exploited by landlords offering sex for rent.
Within a national housing crisis, we are seeing an increase in women selling sex for the first time
In 2007, I began volunteering in the chaplaincy at Holloway Prison and met many women with stories of sexual exploitation. Some were self-harming in a bid to avoid being released to a worse life outside, because life outside meant abuse and coercion to sell sex – a life they could see no way out of.
A key barrier to moving forwards was that they had no safe place to live and no real spaces to process the trauma they had experienced.
For the next seven years through outreach and one-to-one support work I encountered many more women who had experienced prostitution or trafficking for sexual purposes.
During this time, I met my friend and Co-Founder Jenny Walker who was also working in this field and was training as a trauma counsellor.
We saw first-hand that lack of safe affordable housing is both a reason for entry into exploitative situations and a major barrier to exit. We saw women who wanted to leave the sex industry but could see no way out as they faced seemingly insurmountable barriers of debt, unemployment, poverty, violence, trauma and stigma.
We also saw the women’s outstanding courage, beauty and strength as they overcame hurdle after hurdle in their journey out of sexual exploitation.
We saw first-hand that lack of safe affordable housing is both a reason for entry into exploitative situations and a major barrier to exit.
After five years of research and prayer, consultation with women, churches and other projects in the field, we gathered a wonderful team and Orchards was born. A safe and nurturing space where those barriers could be broken down, where women could breathe, dream, grow and take steps forward towards a future where they can truly thrive.
We provide safe housing, counselling and support work embedded in local churches whilst training and equipping those churches to come alongside survivors who choose to connect into their communities.
“Before moving to Orchards, I was in survival mode. This is no way of living, as the stress is constant - where to sleep, how to get money. I was rushing all the time, just trying to survive…. A lot of things helped me through this time, including weekly counselling, having a befriender, time with my support worker and being part of a support group. I feel like there has been a circle of support around me with Orchards and other organisations. The spiritual side has helped me a lot. I’ve done an Alpha course and a bereavement course and joined a church. God has helped me to make the decision to start from scratch and rebuild my life. I’m proud that I made this decision and did what’s right for me.”, (Deborah, shared with her permission).
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The dual impact of the national housing shortage and the cost-of-living crisis has led to a significant increase in demand for our services. As Christmas approaches, we are preparing to open a housing hub in a new location. Donations made via the Big Give Christmas campaign from 28th November to Midday on 5th December will be generously matched to ensure that more women like Deborah can find the safe, secure housing they urgently need.
We invite your prayers and support for the women we are supporting this Christmas; that they would find safe, secure housing and hope for a future free from exploitation. With your support, we can reach more women and train churches to become safe, welcoming spaces where women can find belonging and acceptance.