How I reach out to the ‘difficult to reach’

Published: 12 October, 2015
How I reach out to the ‘difficult to reach’

How I reach out to the ‘difficult to reach’ – an interview with Jo, Sexual Health Outreach Worker with Foundations Substance Misuse Services.

First off, let me tell you a little bit about Jo. Jo is the Sexual Health Outreach Worker who is based at Foundations Substance Misuse Services, in North East Lincolnshire. Jo has been working in sexual health outreach for over a decade and has a vast experience and knowledge of her field of work.  She has kindly agreed to chat to me and give me an interview, telling me a little bit about herself and the role she plays.

Becky: Hi Jo, thanks for chatting to me today! So, first off, tell me what your job title is and how long you’ve been doing your role.

Jo: My Job title is, Sexual health outreach worker (Practitioner) and I have been in this role for 11 wonderful years and I have enjoyed every year of it, it’s good to be able to say I do love my job. I really care about my clients and their wellbeing.

Becky: Fantastic, it’s great that you are so passionate about your work. So, what does your job involve?

Jo: The service I provide is to all sex workers in North East Lincolnshire. I think it is best firstly if I clarify the what ‘sex worker’ means. A sex worker is someone, who can be male or female who works within the sex industry. This can range from phone sex workers, escorts, to those working online, in massage parlours, and working on the streets.

The main aim of my role is to prevent  the spread of Sexual transmitted Infections (STIs) and Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs).  In particular I work with people who are working from massage parlours, private flats and houses, and street sex workers.

I provide a non-judgemental, one to one support for educating my clients in the practice of safer sex as they are deemed to be more at risk of STIs and BBVs by being in the sex trade. I accompany clients to other services, such as, the centre of sexual health for regular check-ups, hospital, dentists, probation, courts, housing, maternity, mental health, GPs, solicitor appointments; this isn’t an exhaustive list!

As I work at Foundations, the substance misuse service, I speak to service users, both males and females regarding their sexual health needs.  I am also involved with the group work at Foundations, giving sexual health training and advice.

 I work closely with my police liaison officer who will sort out problems we may have; for example, if there is a problematic punter (person using the services of a sex worker). The police liaison officer also offers other advice when needed.

Becky: You provide an after-hours service for street sex workers too, tell me a bit more about that?

Jo: I run an outreach service on Monday nights between the hours of 7pm and 10pm. This job involves engaging with the street sex workers, which I enjoy immensely. There are times when professionals like trainee Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers accompany me.  This helps to raise awareness around sex workers, substance misuse and their health needs.

On this outreach I provide the workers with condoms and build working relationship with them, helping to break down barriers to help them access sexual health screenings, and drug treatments. I give the sex workers advice and help were ever needed. Each night my team goes out on outreach can bring different problems which I do my best to sort out, if I can’t solve the problem there’s always  another service provider I can put my client in contact with.  

Becky: Do all sex workers use drugs? 

Jo: No not at all, I have some mature ladies working, who work to give themselves and their families a better life.  They have lovely homes, nice cars, and go on regular holidays. They are really selective with the clients that they service, and they obviously earn a lot more money than the street workers. There are sex workers who do use drugs, and it is my role to try and get my clients into treatment which can be really hard, as the client has to be ready to make the change in their life.  

Becky: Why might someone turn to sex work? 

Jo: A street sex worker could be coerced into it by a boyfriend or partner, or drug dealers. Some girls work to fund their substance misuse or alcohol misuse or their partner’s habits. Some just generally need the money to pay for food, fuel, rent, clothing, or other bills and expenses. Girls are also trafficked and forced into prostitution. There can be lots of different reasons.  Reasons vary between the female or male sex worker, too.   

Becky: Has there been an increase in sex workers in North East Lincolnshire in the last year? Generally how many people do you work with?

Jo: Well girls come into the sex working trade all year round. There has been no increase, or a decrease; numbers of sex workers in North East Lincolnshire have remained pretty much constant over the years. I have 186 working girls on my books at present. Obviously they’re not all working at the same time; they work in and out of town as they have to go where the money is, which can mean the larger cities and towns. If a new girl starts work in any of the working establishments I visit, the manager phones me and I would go to meet them. I then tell them about the service we offer, and the danger they might come up against whilst working and how to stay safe and not to put themselves at risk. I remind them that just because they’re working in an establishment doesn’t mean they are 100% safe.

Becky: That is very true. There is always an element of risk. So, what part of your job gives you the most satisfaction? 

Jo: I can honestly say going home knowing that I have helped my clients that day or night and left them feeling that someone does care.  A grateful “thank you”, makes me smile. My clients are so appreciative of my help. It’s nice to be nice, don’t you think?

Becky: It is! And it sounds like you do a great job of it! But, what parts of your job do you find the most challenging?  

Jo: Most challenging would be getting the street sex workers in to any services, including for STI/BBV screenings. They work late every night, and don’t get up till late afternoon .It is such a struggle.  The good thing is if they need help they would contact me, as most of the girls have my work contact number or know someone who has it. Over the years I have built a great working relationship with the street sex workers. Such as, if I need any information about a certain worker there’s always someone willing to speak to me, or help me out. Or if there’s word on the street about a girl having a STI, I am always made aware.

Becky: It sounds like it can be difficult at times, so how do you encourage people to engage with services? Especially if they aren’t ready to at present?

Jo: Well I have a lot of really difficult, chaotic clients that I deal with. I always try my best to encourage them to access services, but if all else fails I just give the client information about what is available,  let them know that I’m always there for them, but I can’t help until they ready to make the change. I also give them my number so they can contact me. I just keep a positive attitude and being there for them, still engaging with them when I can, really does make a positive impact. And that’s about the best anyone can do.

Becky: Wow, that’s a really fascinating job that you do there, Jo, and such an important one! It sounds like a lot of people benefit from the service you provide and that you are doing a great job! Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me today and telling me, and my blog readers about you and what you do. It has been an absolute pleasure and I’ve learned a lot! I think it’s safe to say that my readers will have, too!

Well folks, thanks for reading and I hope that you enjoyed. That’s it for now from me. Until next time, Toodles!



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Written by: Becky Wellington

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