Prostitution fears following demise of support group

SWAN Partnership will be closing due to lack of funding for the Women's Support Service..
SWAN Partnership will be closing due to lack of funding for the Women's Support Service..

Prostitution problems that were eradicated from Spring Boroughs could return with the demise of a support group for vulnerable women.

That is the fear of the co-ordinator of the Supporting Women Across Northamptonshire (SWAN) Partnership which helped declare the former red light zone was all but free of sex workers after eight years of effort in 2011.

Despite SWAN widening its scope to include all vulnerable women last year, NHS Northamptonshire Healthcare’s £65,000 stopgap funding has run out and the free service will close on February 28.

Samantha Benfield said a rise in crime could be the result: “If we’re not supporting women and helping them continue to be motivated to keep off drugs and alcohol, it escalates, and we all know the links between substance abuse and offending.

“A lot of what we do supports women to maintain a level of normal functioning and if they don’t have that, our concern would be that there might be a rise again in Spring Boroughs in terms of prostitution.”

Northamptonshire Police said it is confident they and other agencies can keep vulnerable women from resorting back to prostitution without a specific project.

However Mrs Benfield insisted there are no other comparable agencies to replace SWAN that she is aware of.

Since SWAN relaunched in April 2012, it has had up to four fresh referrals a week – from police, mental health services, social services and women’s charities – and reached saturation point in October. However, no long-term funding has been forthcoming.

Mrs Benfield said: “We are a victim of our own success. There is no longer a significant sex working issue because we have worked really hard with other agencies.

“We expanded to cover all vulnerable women but they have probably taken a decision based on not needing a sex worker project any more.”

SWAN’s vulnerable client base will now be left without low-level support in areas such as housing, voluntary drugs tests, child protection meetings, linking women to a GP or encouraging them to engage with social workers.

Mrs Benfield said: “There’s a lot of legislation coming, like bedroom tax, which means it’s going to get harder to get housed. Without support, women will potentially bury their heads in the sand and ignore it and you’ll end up with them evicted or having their children removed.”

“Without the levels of support it becomes much harder. This impacts on children and on society, not just women.”

SWAN’s troubles began when NHS Northamptonshire and Northamptonshire County Council cut their funding in 2012.

NHS Northamptonshire Healthcare, which runs sexual health and mental health services, stepped in and gave a year’s worth of funding.

However, because no public body has taken over, the money will run out later this month, despite the service now helping more types of vulnerable women.

Joe Joyce, the chairman of Spring Borough Residents Association, said: “It is particularly disappointing in that SWAN did a huge amount of work and had a big impact on encouraging prostitutes that there was another route to take.”