I am part of a Hull-based collective of 12 women who published a book An Untold Story, telling our journey to the streets and back. We wanted our book to be honest, even if that honesty is brutal, and to also have integrity in highlighting the issues we have, or are still facing. We did this in our own words with stories, artwork, poems, and photos. We wanted to talk about what led each of us into street prostitution, how we ended up surviving on the streets and living with the many disadvantages we faced or are still facing including extreme poverty, domestic violence, childhood trauma, homelessness, mental health problems and addiction.
An Untold Story originally started as a research project funded by Lankelly Chase. Emma a Psychologist recorded the life experiences of 19 women who have been supported by the Lighthouse Project. In telling our stories we wanted to help other women who are struggling with life, facing the disadvantages each of us have faced. We ultimately want to change perceptions and opinions regarding street prostitution, to let people know prostitution and sex work are sometimes the only option.
For the past 10 years I’ve volunteered for The Lighthouse project as an outreach worker in the red light district of Hull. When I do a shift I am reminded of what my life was like, how much of a battle it was to escape that way of life. Over the past 10 years I have become more and more frustrated because every time I do a shift I see women struggling with life, being failed by broken systems, staff shortages and budget cuts. Often it is left to small charities to pick up the pieces of peoples shattered lives. These charities are often underfunded, understaffed and under pressure.
In the book we all shared our stories under pseudonyms but in 2017 I decided to waive my anonymity to speak at sounddelivery’s storytelling event Being the Story.
After being involved with the book project ‘An Untold Story’ I wanted to continue speaking out regarding multiple disadvantages. For over a decade I have seen hundreds of women, working the streets, face the same problems I had faced all those years ago. Nothing has changed, in fact it has only become worse because of budget cuts, service cuts and broken systems. I want to tell as many people as possible that the services that are supposed to help and support women are failing. I’ve seen hundreds of vulnerable women being failed and that is just in Hull. Unfortunately, if you look at other cities it becomes thousands. I want to do more than hand out coffee and condoms.
‘Because of this support I felt, no matter what, I could overcome my nerves and speak out about a subject that is often overlooked, not spoken about or hushed up.’
I was pretty nervous about standing up on stage, talking about my experiences with multiple disadvantages, especially street prostitution. The team supported me every step of the way, encouraging me to tell my story, in my own words, which I put in a script that made sense. Because of this support I felt, no matter what, I could overcome my nerves and speak out about a subject that is often overlooked, not spoken about or hushed up.
It has also given me a purpose, not just to tell my story, but the story of so many vulnerable women.
Speaking at the Being the Story event has given me the confidence and passion to continue to speak out about these subjects. It made me realise what I have to say matters, that people do want to hear my ideas. It also made me realise I can do so much more. And it has enabled me to do so much more.
‘Lack of representation of voices like mine with experience of multiple disadvantages are vital in understanding what is needed.’
For the past year and a half I have continued to do outreach work with Lighthouse Project, spoken at a number of events, I have also delivered workshops on street prostitution. I’ve been interviewed by BBC Women’s Hour on several occasions speaking about multiple disadvantage. I’ve also been on ITV Yorkshire and Lincoln, talking about domestic violence. I have used my new skills to become a peer researcher for the charity AVA and was involved with interviewing participants as part of their project Breaking Down the Barriers -The national commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantages.
Lack of representation of voices like mine with experience of multiple disadvantages are vital in understanding what is needed. We need to find solutions that allow vulnerable women to access services that can help and support them in ways that actually work. Being given a more public platform has really helped me reach a wider audience with my expertise and I think a network of spokespeople with lived experience who receive ongoing support, mentoring and training will have a huge impact.
Watch Amanda share hear story at Being the Story 2017:
Amanda is a campaigner, volunteer outreach worker and peer researcher.
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