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Keane, Martin (2005) The Next Step Initiative. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 15, Autumn 2005, pp. 9-10.

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 A model of intervention to support women involved in prostitution

The Next Step Initiative (NSI) report1 was published by the voluntary organisation, Ruhama, on 7 June 2005. The report covers a participatory action research project undertaken by Ruhama and funded through the Equality for Women Measure. The aim of the NSI project was to develop a model of intervention to support women involved in prostitution to access the social economy, community education or local employment. The core objectives of the initiative were:

  • to undertake participatory research with a cohort of women who have experienced prostitution in order to identify the range of barriers, internal and external, that affect them
  • to use this learning to develop a model of intervention that could facilitate marginalised women in taking the ‘next step’ in their personal development.

Third Systems Approaches (TSA) conducted the research in Dublin over a 14-month period between 2003 and 2004. The women were recruited through the Ruhama organisation and were assured of back-up support in the event of sensitive issues arising for them. The research engaged with a total of 19 women in the course of 350 hours of fieldwork. The majority were interviewed five times for an hour each time, with some women engaging in nine interviews and two engaging in single one-hour interview. The spacing of interviews allowed time for the women to revise and reflect on what they had previously discussed. The interviews consisted of open-ended questions around five key areas:

  • childhood experiences
  • financial situation
  • circumstances of prostitution
  • survival strategies
  • relational issues with family, clients and support networks.

The interviews were not recorded but researchers made notes which were written up when the interview terminated. The interviewees were then asked to review the notes and approve and make changes or additions.

Most of the women interviewed had engaged with the support services of Ruhama for a number of years and were keen to explore ways of taking further steps away from their experience of prostitution. For some, this experience included additional problems of alcohol and drug use. For example, when actively engaged in prostitution, some of the women reported being 'out every night' to support a drug habit and a pimp. The women were also aware of the dangers of not being fully alert due to the effects of alcohol and drugs and the inherent risks involved in prostitution.

The research identified drug and alcohol use as primarily a survival mechanism for some of the women. For example, they would habitually get drunk or stoned or use prescription drugs in order to work and then use drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of prostitution.

The authors report that, for women working in prostitution, the ability to maintain strict boundaries between their private and public selves is an extremely important psychological tool for survival. However, for some of the women in this research, the use of drugs acted against this separation and 'mixed it all up'. In addition, when some of the women tried to access drug treatment services, their experience was that the policies in place in such services were a major barrier to their moving on.

The NSI project developed a model of support and intervention through interviews with women with experience of prostitution, women with experience of addiction and with staff from a homeless support organisation. The model is designed to respond to the following:


  • The factors affecting women's entry into and experience of prostitution, which are largely outside the control of the women and often include structural barriers to taking the next step, such as reduced access to employment and training;
  • The individual challenges for women as they take the next step and overcome the impact of prostitution; services need to be long-term, one-to-one and flexible;
  • The need for specialist knowledge on the part of service providers to deliver supports as well as understand the realities of prostitution for women.

The authors note the lack of research into the experiences of women engaged in prostitution in an Irish context; this report deserves to be welcomed as an attempt to narrow this gap. However, the real strength of this research is the development of the support model, which has come to fruition through the participation of the women in the research process. During its development, the model was tested for credibility and legitimacy among a number of marginalised women, service providers and specialist services, and the feedback suggests widespread endorsement.

The authors make a number of recommendations to policy makers, service providers and specialist services on the premise that the model of support and intervention proposed is accepted and endorsed as the optimum means of supporting women involved in prostitution to take the next step in their personal development journey. In essence, the recommendations represent the aspirations of marginalised women who seek to partake in the activities of mainstream society. It is incumbent on generic service providers and specialist services that engage with women in prostitution to facilitate these aspirations by implementing the model proposed.  

1. TSA Consultancy (2005) The Next Step Initiative: Research report on barriers affecting women in prostitution. Dublin: Ruhama.

A copy of the report can be obtained from Ruhama, Senior House, All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin 9. Tel: 01 836 0292; Fax: 01 836 0268; Email: admin@ruhama.ie ; www.ruhama.ie



Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 15, Autumn 2005
July 2005
Page Range
pp. 9-10
Health Research Board
Issue 15, Autumn 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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