Eight charities in the North of England have been awarded £1 million of National Lottery funding to support women who have been groomed and sexually exploited.
Changing Lives and The Angelou Project in Newcastle and A Way Out on Teesside are among the charities who will benefit from the National Lottery Community Fund award.
The Stage Project partnership operates in areas where there are emerging, live and recent sexual exploitation investigations, including Operation Clover in Rotherham and OperationSanctuary in Newcastle.
Many of the women who survived those grooming scandals were above the age of consent and Laura Seebohm from Changing Lives told ITV News Tyne Tees there is a gap in recognition that adult women can be vulnerable to grooming just as much as under-aged girls.
She said: "It doesn’t suddenly stop when someone reaches the age of 18. We know that perpetrators target women who might have existing vulnerabilities, particularly around homelessness, maybe addiction and they might have started to be exploited in their teenage years, but it doesn’t stop on their eighteenth birthday. However, sexual exploitation for adult women just is not recognised."
One woman who has been supported by the Stage Project is "Claire" from Newcastle. She told ITV News she was sent onto the streets to sell sex by a man who groomed her in a city outside the North East.
She said: "Within a couple of weeks he started hitting us. We’d go out to the shops and he’d attack us in front of shoppers. I was like 'why is no-one helping me?'
She continued, "he put us on the street. He put us in saunas and massage parlours. I was working the streets and he just kept the money. I was so terrified, because this guy used to say he would kill me."
Adding, "he used to chain us to the cooker with handcuffs and leave us there for hours and hours and I’d not know where he was or anything, because he’d turn the lights off."
She said since being referred to the Stage Project via Changing Lives, she has been able to turn her life around and is now looking forward to the future.
She said: "I wouldn’t be here (without Stage). I would have probably went back to prison. I would probably have hurt myself, but I won’t do that now, because I’ve got a full-time job and I’m putting back my life now. I’ve got therapy, one to ones with my support worker who helped me get settled into a new home and that’s the first time I’ve had somewhere safe and secure. I meet other women who’ve been through similar situations to me and it made me feel more comfortable."
Changing Lives, GROW, A Way Out, Together Women, Basis Yorkshire and Women CentreCalderdale and Kirklees, have together supported over 300 women across the North East and Yorkshire since the STAGE project began in April 2019, initially funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Tampon Tax Fund.
National Lottery funding will enable the project to continue supporting women, and see the partnership extended to include Ashiana and The Angelou Centre, specialist providers of support to women from black and ethnic minority communities.
The partnership's aims are to improve policy and practice that prevent women from accessing the most basic support, such as justice, healthcare and safeguarding services.