Over the Parapet: a short study into the needs and aspirations of sex workers in Edinburgh

Stephanie Sexton, “Over the Parapet: a short study into the needs and aspirations of sex workers in Edinburgh” (Scot-pep, July 2009).

Why ‘Over the Parapet’?

All those who work with people be that in the voluntary or public sectors are very familiar with the terms user involvement or stakeholder engagement. User involvement in service planning and in service scrutiny is a key theme in Government thinking.

We need to find ways to hear the voices of those who use services so that we are able to meet their needs and can respond positively to their aspirations. We need to understand what we are doing right, what we could do better, and what we need to change fundamentally.

This requires us to make space for those who use services to say what they really think, ‘rather than tell us what they think we want to hear’; and to take time to understand the subtlety or complexity of the challenges service users face in their daily lives – directly and indirectly related to their presenting issue.

Those who use our services often feel powerless to affect change. Some feel anxiety that to challenge will be construed as negative criticism and may affect the way services are provided in the future.

Sex workers operate in an environment, which is hostile; rarely valued for who they are; they experience explicit and implicit messages that reduce them to people who represent parts of society that we would rather keep hidden or lose altogether. The implicit message is for them to keep hidden or stop work altogether.

Against this backdrop, women are loath to put their head above the parapet, to talk directly about their needs and aspirations; to talk about their concerns about services and policing; about friendship and family; or about their children.

This study has been commissioned as a step towards that being achieved. It is a first step, but a courageous one. The expectation is that no one cares, will take notice, or will say ‘we are doing all this already’, or say ‘do something else’. We hope that this attempt to stand up and make themselves vulnerable so that others can hear their voices will be respected – as they should be respected, and that the issues and ideas expressed will be considered with a willingness to take steps to meet their overriding need – that to be treated with dignity and respect.

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