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Merseyside Police launch Red Umbrella project to support sex workers on Merseyside

Merseyside Police has launched an innovative new project to support sex workers on Merseyside. This will be the first time a dedicated Police Sex Worker Liaison Officer has been appointed to help sex workers.

Following a successful bid for funding of £650,000 from the Home Office, Project Red Umbrella is set to help protect street sex workers from sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. The project is part of a wider initiative which sees £15m of funding for Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) Service Transformation Fund.

Red Umbrella will be working in partnership with South Wales Police who have also received funding, and with Changing Lives, a charity responsible for advocacy work on Merseyside.

The project, which will run until March 2020, will put in place victim-focused processes to better support sex workers who are already victims and those who are at risk, both on the streets and online. The funding will enable the police to increase and improve the support they can offer to street sex workers in light of a recent increase of migrant sex workers and a shift which has seen more people take up the work online.

The project will also be able to improve the gathering of intelligence on those who inflict violence on mainly women, and also transgender workers and men, while encouraging more victims to report the offences committed against them, in order to bring more offenders to justice and prevent further offences from taking place.

Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “Many of these women are extremely vulnerable and enter this work because of difficult life circumstances. This project will better support these women to ensure they get the help they need, ideally so they can get off the streets but, for those who remain, to ensure they are better protected and are able to work free from violence, abuse and exploitation.

“Merseyside Police has led the way for many years in prosecuting and securing convictions against those who commit crimes against sex workers, in large part by being the first force in the country to recognise these offences as hate crime. In January 2018 Merseyside will also have a dedicated Independent Sexual Violence Advocate for sex workers.

Since 2006 Merseyside Police has deemed crimes against sex workers as a hate crime following the Suffolk murders of a number of sex workers and the recognition that some people target sex workers specifically. This project will cover on street, off street and online sex workers so is much broader in terms of what many perceive sex work to be.

Assistant Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “Sex work is an issue that can be challenging for some communities however, as a police service it is our duty to seek to protect everybody, especially those who are the most vulnerable within our communities, and this extends to all citizens including sex workers.

“Merseyside Police force will not tolerate violence against sex workers and we will make every effort to ensure that offenders are tracked down and face the full force of the law and that victims receive the justice they so rightly deserve.

“As a force we have already taken a progressive stance, which has influenced national policy. We treat attacks on sex workers as hate crimes, because they are a vulnerable targeted group.”

The project is working in partnership with Changing Lives, a national registered charity that provides specialist support services for 21,000 vulnerable people and their families every year, and will also be working with existing services on Merseyside such as Armistead street project.

Joe Sheppard, Changing Lives Area Manager North West said: “We feel we are in a privileged position in working in partnership with Merseyside Police and many others to deliver such an innovative and important service across Merseyside. We have an increasing understanding of the needs of women with experience of survival sex, sex work and sexual exploitation so it is fantastic to see specifically targeted funding being made available for this important work. We are acutely aware of the challenges but are confident that all partners will work together to deliver and continue to improve our Services to Women across Merseyside.”


The aims of the project are to protect and support service users, gather intelligence, increase reporting for law enforcement to pursue and prosecute perpetrators of (VAWG) Violence against women and girls (including men and trans ) keep victims safe, prevent further offences and provide pathways for those wishing to exit sex work through sustainable programmes.

Type of interventions and support required;

• Drop in and case work*
• Safe space – internet access for those engaged in on / off street*
• Outreach – including sexual health, national ugly mugs and safety warnings*
• Netreach – online services for support including above
• Health and Mental health services / referrals*
• Awareness and reporting mechanisms for on line / off street sex workers
• Diversion programmes and information
• Exit, routes out and aftercare for those engaged in on and off street sex work
• Education and training advice and referrals
• Employment advice and referrals
• RSL / housing support advice and referrals
• Drug and alcohol services, advice and referrals*
• Legal – Criminal justice support and advice / referrals
• Migrant support / sessional worker
• Interpreter
• ISVA/ IDVA or ISVA with specialist training in Domestic Abuse and Human Trafficking
• Police Sex Worker Liaison Officer
• Evidence gathering facilities, including ABE, Court / video link
• Project manager
• Monitoring and Evaluation
• Sharing best practice
*where current provisions exist, this service will enhance and expand and the tenderer will be expected to build a strong partnership with current service provider


Changing Lives is a national, registered charity that provides specialist support services for 21,000 vulnerable people and their families, every year.

They work in four key areas:

• Drug and Alcohol Services
• Employment Services
• Housing and Homelessness Services
• Women and Children’s Services

Changing Lives understand that women have experiences that are different to men’s experiences but many mainstream services do not recognise those distinct needs.

Childhood abuse and domestic abuse are common features in the lives of the women we support, and we understand the on-going impact this has on health and wellbeing.

Underpinning all our services is an in-depth understanding of trauma and a focus on recovery, resilience and community integration.

Changing Lives is the only national organisation reaching out to women with experience of sex work survival sex and/or sexual exploitation in the UK, with services across the North East, Doncaster and Wolverhampton.

They started their services within a ‘hidden market’ where there was no visible red light district, and have developed a unique model of peer research to highlight the needs of women with these experiences. They now also support women in areas where there is a visible ‘red light district’.