The Changing Lives organisation in Doncaster held an event on Wednesday, 24 January to celebrate the peer-to-peer research they have been carrying out with sex workers.

Using funding of £3,700 awarded from the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, Changing Lives have been carrying out peer-to-peer research to find out why people engage in sex work and what support they need to protect themselves and their well-being.

Changing Lives is a national charity with a women’s centre and community hub in Doncaster. One of their projects works with women with experience of sex work, to help them stay safe and exit sex work if they choose to.

Many of these women have experienced repeated trauma in their childhood or in their past, or have experienced some form of violence and abuse in their personal lives. The peer-to-peer research has enabled women to support one another, and to uncover insights into their lives and experiences, and what motivates them to participate in sex work, and how they can be better supported.

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “It is important to understand how and why women turn to sex work if we are to help them make a new life or not become involved in the first place.

“Changing Lives is unique in its approach. Sex workers are enabled to speak candidly to researchers who were once sex workers themselves – peer to peer research. The women will be talking to people who understand their circumstances from direct experience and this will encourage them to be frank and open. We believe the findings will be very valuable in expanding our knowledge, which is the first step in being able to make a difference.”

The funding from the Commissioner’s grant scheme will pay for the training of five peer researchers, who will interview over 20 women involved in sex work.  Their findings will be published in a report for key stakeholders in the area.

The interviews will focus on: routes into sex work; support needs; experiences of violence and abuse; and barriers to accessing support services.

The event held at the Changing Lives Women’s Hub in Doncaster heard from a lady named Sally, who spoke to the audience about her own circumstances that led her to turn to sex work.

Sally was leading a relatively good life with her husband and children, when her circumstances were quickly turned around.  Sally’s husband and the father of their two children was arrested and imprisoned for a sex offence that she knew nothing about.  Almost immediately her financial circumstances changed and, in order to continue to provide a home and education for her children, she began to engage in sex work

Sally is now a trained researcher and carried out the peer to peer research with the sex workers in Doncaster.  She is hoping to move back in to mainstream employment, away from sex work and help others do the same.

Debbie McKinney, Changing Lives Service Manager said: “The funding provided by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner will allow us to carry out some valuable research.

“The findings from the peer research will be shared with key partners including: police; adult and child safeguarding; sexual health; domestic abuse, substance use and housing services.

“We will also incorporate the findings from the research in to multi-agency training for front-line staff to help them better engage with women and meet their needs”

For more information about the charity, or to access the services provided by Changing Lives, please see here –