Registered Charity Number: 1099006

The Church and Prostitution.

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 28/03/2011 at 12:27 PM

Just a short walk from Southwark Cathedral lies a little known medieval graveyard which not many will have visited. Although a short walk, it is a world away from the life at the Cathedral. 
This Graveyard is known as the Cross Bones Graveyard and was an unconsecrated graveyard for women who were involved in prostitution in London. It closed in 1853 and now all that remains, apart from hoardings for development, is a set of gates which acts as a shrine to the many women who have been murdered. Memorials hang on these gates to the women whose lives were cruelly taken away in Ipswich along with countless other names, reminding us of the violence women face who are involved in prostitution.

Whilst the difference between the Cathedral and the Cross Bones Graveyard is great, they are linked in a surprising and unnerving way. Southwark Cathedral was controlled by the powerful Archbishop of Winchester who had established Winchester Palace in nearby Cink Street as his London residence and power base. Just to the north lay the City of London on the northern shores of the Thames. In the City, prostitution was illegal but to the south it was different. In 1161, the Bishop was granted the power to licence prostitution and brothels in the area he controlled. This power was taken up and the Church gained from the activities.

Today, if you visit the ruins of Winchester Palace, Wolvesey Castle in Winchester or Southwark Cathedral it is easy to get an idea of the grandeur and riches of this Bishop’s seat. The short walk to the Cross Bones Graveyard is a poignant reminder of the vast distance between the lives of the Bishops and of the women who have been buried without name or identity. History in our midst but often missed by busy lives.

For each of the women buried at the graveyard or whose name is remembered on the gates, there is another thread of history – that of a daughter, friend and companion. It’s impossible to say how much the Church profited from the trade it facilitated but there is no denying the power was in the hands of the privileged. We dream of the day when the Church publicly acknowledges the errors of the past, when a memorial to the women is erected at Southwark Cathedral and the reality of the Graveyard to the “Outcast Dead” isn’t hidden away hoping history stays in the past.

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UK Government will be opting-in to the EU Trafficking Directive

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 22/03/2011 at 02:07 PM

The EU Directive is an agreement which offers better protection to children who are trafficked, greater powers to prosecute and also protection for people who have been trafficked in criminal proceedings[1]. Until now, the UK was one of only two EU member states which had not opted-in to this directive, despite the new coalition government promising to make tackling human trafficking a priority. However, today it was announced that the UK Government would be opting-in.

Previously to signing this Directive, the UK did not have the power to prosecute in cases involving British citizen where the trafficking occurs outside its borders; however this will now be addressed through Article 10 of the Directive. In addition, Article 11 of the Directive requires that assistance and support, including safe accommodation and medical treatment should be provided for all individuals who have been victimised through trafficking. Article 12 ensures that any individual who has been trafficked who is acting as a witness will not have their identity disclosed, will receive appropriate physical protection, and care will be taken to avoid secondary victimisation[2].

Beyond the Streets partners with CARE who was one of several key charities which campaigned for the Government to support the Directive.



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The Politics of Rescue

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 08/03/2011 at 01:51 PM

Confronted with suffering, brokenness or trauma our natural response seems to be a desire to rescue; to remove oneself or another from the situation as quickly as possible, to offer advice, to devise solutions.  Working with those involved in prostitution, where many have suffered abuse and degradation, this desire to rescue can be acute.  We want to hear and witness the “success” stories:  people successfully exiting the industry, individuals healed from abuse, those dependent upon drugs freed from their addiction.  Such reactions are to be expected and should not be belittled.  Indeed, the desire to rescue is a response of compassion.  Yet we need to consider how sufficient such an approach is: where does a politics of rescue lead to in the context of prostitution?

The desire to rescue often stems from an emotional identification which serves to activate pity and provoke a sense of injustice.  We are appalled by the suffering or trauma experienced and motivated to intervene.  The danger, however, is that in this process the individual concerned is reduced to an object of pity.  We view them simply as a victim, thoroughly helpless and disempowered.  In doing so, we can perpetuate and reinforce, rather than challenge and dismantle, their existing subjectification.

Associated with this dynamic of persecutor, victim and rescuer is the common link between pity and innocence.  Pity is dependent upon people being able to sympathise; it is rarely evoked in relation to those viewed responsible for the ills that have befallen them or those who are considered dangerous.  In the context of prostitution this can foster a false division between those deemed ‘innocent’ and those deemed ‘guilty’.  Such a dichotomy is unhelpful because it homogenises people’s experiences and fails to deal with the variety, complexity and ambiguity of most people’s lives.  How should we respond to the woman who willingly agreed to be smuggled into the UK and knew her work would have a sexual component?  Or what about the individual who sees prostitution as a reasonable means to transcend the limitations of their current situation? 

The desire to rescue is usually centred on the individual, the ‘innocent victim’, and consequently, in the context of prostitution, can encourage a narrow response to the sex industry as a whole.  By focusing on rescuing individuals and preventing them from experiencing further harm, prostitution as an institution can be obscured and the systems of exploitation and abuses of power involved can be left unaddressed.  This approach has been critically referred to as a ‘first aid’ response: the wound is bandaged up but the factors causing the damage are left untreated.

Finally, what happens when an individual does not want to be rescued or expresses a desire to exit prostitution but repeatedly fails to take any action to back up this expressed desire?  Where does that leave those of us who have positioned ourselves in the role of rescuer? 

Undoubtedly the desire to rescue fuels many engagements with those in prostitution but whether it can or should form the basis of sustainable work with those involved in prostitution is a different matter.


Written by Katie McAvoy

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Freedom is a process not an event…

Posted by Beyond The Streets on 02/03/2011 at 11:36 AM

So often when people think and talk about bondage, chains, prisons, and oppression we view freedom through black and white lenses: you ARE free; you are NOT free. When we think about freedom this way, it more often than not becomes something that is done to someone… “I helped you get free”, “project ‘x’ brought about the rescue of…” The person who is not ‘free’ becomes someone who has ‘no voice of their own’ a victim, helpless and in need of our intervention, and our intervention brings about their freedom. Or does it?

What about if we thought about freedom in another way? What if we understood freedom to be a journey, and our only part in another person’s journey towards freedom is to encourage and enable them to make their own decisions that lead towards that freedom? Freedom is not an event that happens, you are not trapped one day and free the next. As people and organisations who care about seeing people set free it does not mean that we have no role or purpose, but maybe our role is not to be the rescuer but to be the enabler to help vulnerable, exploited, oppressed or maybe even what we would deem to be ‘free’ people to actually take steps towards true freedom.

In the words of Nelson Mandela:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended”.


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