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Specialist services ARE special & crucial for those in crisis

I have worked in world of ‘crisis support’ in various roles for 15 years. For me, crisis support is for people who feel they cannot cope or move forward without external help. The people I have worked with who are in crisis are often dealing with a multitude of issues they need support with such as rough sleeping, mental health needs, domestic violence and substance misuse.

All of my roles have all been for small specialist charities, and I have often wondered about the impact on charities and their workers when responding to people in crisis. Similarly, I have also questioned how important these charities really are for those accessing it. Surely there are statutory services that are better setup for this type of work such as hospitals, the police, or GP services?

I used the opportunity open to me through my Clore Social Leadership experience to look at these questions. Specifically my research asks: ‘What do male sex workers experience when they engage with frontline support services?’ Due to my professional experience I felt that the people I had often worked with would not engage with statutory services, so this was my opportunity to see if my thoughts were echoed by other professionals, and also those accessing the services.

My research findings

What became apparent is that the reality of how things should be done and how they are experienced are in stark contrast. Policy and guidance documents that have been around for as long as I have been working are not being followed - either through a lack of resources and time, or a lack of understanding or care. These are my top line findings:

  • Multi agency working practices are just not happening in this sector;
  • Specialist sexual health services are often seen as being aimed at ‘white heterosexuals’ which therefore stops some people feeling able to access them;
  • Funders do not understand the time, money and resources it takes to support an individual in crisis.

My research highlights some of the voices of male sex workers and the staff who support them when they are in crisis. Charities are often not funded or resourced enough to respond to these crises, and this has a huge impact on these men’s lives. Since conducting and publishing my research, several specialist sex work services have closed down. My research consistently states that when in crisis these services were often the only places these people felt they could go for support and respect, so where will they go now?

I have focused my research on male sex workers, but I believe the findings and questions raised from it are applicable far beyond this area of work. Both the workers and men’s experiences are indicative of people across the UK who find themselves in similar crises or lacking specialist support.

To read the full research report, please download it here. Feel free to share your comments about Hayley’s blog and research below, or you can contact Hayley on Twitter.

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