News about nia

Why are we supporting the call for the erasure of prostitution–specific criminal records for those who have been prostituted?

05 December 2016

Why are we supporting the call for the erasure of prostitution–specific criminal records for those who have been prostituted?
Wherever you stand on the prostitution debate, one shared ground is that those selling themselves or being sold for sex should not be criminalised and their records should not be disclosed. Criminal records are widely recognised to be a bar to the reintegration of those affected by the criminal justice system. However, prostitution specific records present an additional set of barriers to women exiting prostitution and trying to build a new life.

If you would like to support our work to help women exit prostitution, or any aspect of our work with women, girls and children who have experienced sexual or domestic violence, please donate here

Why are we supporting the call for the erasure of prostitution–specific criminal records for those who have been prostituted?

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When’s the Right Time to Work with the Police to Support Women in Prostitution?

28 October 2016

Reading about the police raids in Chinatown and the arrest of 18 people, including several women, for trafficking related matters throws into relief some of the challenges we face as an organisation working to support women in, and exiting from, prostitution. We explore some of them – and what we do and don’t do – here.

When’s the Right Time to Work with the Police to Support Women in Prostitution?

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Comment on Home Affairs Select Committee report on prostitution

01 July 2016

The Home Affairs Select Committee published its first report into its hearings on approaches to prostitution on 1 July 2016.

Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia, a charity working on all forms of violence against women and girls and with a specialist project, London Exiting Advocacy, that supports women trying to exit prostitution, said;

“There is much to be applauded in this report. It highlights the current lack of vision and direction in policy and practice on prostitution. We fully support calls for the decriminalisation of those who “sell themselves” or “are sold” for sex – the majority of whom are women; and the recommendation that women’s past criminal records for prostitution offences should not be disclosed. We gave evidence to this effect on all these points and welcome such a robust response.”

She continued;

“It is a mistake to believe that the report is calling for full decriminalisation of prostitution, that would be an approach that we could not endorse. We note that the committee intends to continue to seek further evidence before making recommendations about a wider response to prostitution, and has so far reserved judgement on responses to dealing with the role of demand, overwhelmingly men’s demand, for prostitution. We will of course feed into that as well; it is vital to recognise that men’s demand feeds the trade in women.“
“When we talk about prostitution, it is vital that we have a clear understanding of what full, free and informed ‘consent’ and ‘choice’ are. Many women are involved in prostitution as a financial survival strategy. Poverty and economic inequality underpin prostitution and must cause the committee to interrogate the concepts of ‘consent’ and ‘choice’ and whether they are meaningful in this context. It is no coincidence that the women with fewest options are over-represented in prostitution”.

“The committee seems to have a limited understanding of exploitation and inequality – it’s not just about the stereotype of the “pimp”, though they are there in abundance. Seriously, if a woman or girl is hungry or homeless or trying to look after her kids and is desperate, thinking “I know I’ll get a blow job from her and give her £5 or £10” is nothing if not exploitation. It’s certainly not help, it is placing a man’s desire for an orgasm above a woman’s need to survive.”

“We are hugely concerned that women involved in prostitution and wanting to exit, need specialist support to leave prostitution and start anew. An approach that facilitates total decriminalisation, or appears to accept that prostitution is just work like any other and is about choice and consent, is clearly not an approach that is going to understand the need for and investment in, specialist support to exit and build a new life”.

“Having said all that – this report is a step in the right direction and we give it a cautious welcome but a full response to prostitution needs to tackle men’s demand and attitudes that find the exploitation of women and women’s poverty acceptable ”

Announcing our Exciting New Collaboration and Joint Project!

19 May 2016

We’re thrilled to announce our exciting new partnership with Disablement Association Barking and Dagenham (DABD) and Barking and Dagenham Council for Voluntary Services (B&DCVS), working together to open a new women’s centre in Dagenham.

Together we will develop the Huggett Women’s Centre, a women only-service provided by women, providing a range of services for all women and girls aged 11 and above, with a focus on those affected by sexual and domestic violence.

We bring together nia’s 41 years expertise of supporting women, girls and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence, DABD’s specialism in working with and supporting disabled and socially excluded people, and B&DCVS’s advocacy and support of voluntary sector and community groups.

The project is funded by The Big Lottery who today announced funding of £48.5 million to support at risk women and girls. They received 495 eligible expressions of interest and 93 were organisations were shortlisted to apply. In the end, 63 applications across the UK were awarded funding.

The centre will provide a programme of rolling group work support, workshops, drop-in sessions, training for professionals and community groups and volunteering opportunities. We will develop and provide a new model of wrap-around woman-centred support to women and girls who have experienced any form of sexual or domestic violence based on a holistic integrated service with a group work methodology provided from a feminist perspective.

Huggett Women’s Centre will be named in commemoration of Anne Huggett (1892-1996) a local militant suffragette whose family moved to some of the first council houses built by the borough of Barking in 1903. From the age of 19 she played an active part in the suffrage campaign for women’s right to vote, and claimed that she often got into trouble for her approach. She later became chairman of the women’s section of the local Labour League. Anne Huggett lived to the age of 104, and was proud to be both the country’s oldest surviving Suffragette and the oldest card-carrying member of the Labour Party at the time of her death.

In addition to enabling more women to access support and enhancing what is available in the borough, The Huggett Women’s Centre will embrace the spirit of Annie Huggett, encouraging women to become more actively engaged in their own development, the development of the women’s centre, as feminists and in their own communities. There will be a focus on developing provision targeted to disadvantaged and discriminated-against groups with a community-cohesion ethos.

Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of nia said

“_nia have been supporting women and girls affected by men’s violence for 41 years – but we don’t have a women-only building to work from. That can really make a difference to how women feel about the service they receive._
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We’re delighted to have been awarded the funding and looking forward to working with DABD and B&DCVS to create a vibrant and welcoming environment for women and girls to be supported and address the multiple disadvantages that they experience, in particular those relating to sex inequality, race, class and poverty, sexuality, disability and domestic and sexual violence and exploitation.
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Listening to women and delivering the services that women want was a key driver of our vision for the centre. We started as we mean to go on – by talking to local women, and asking them what they thought a good women’s centre should do and be, and what was missing from or could enhance existing provision in Barking and Dagenham. Their ideas were woven into the plans for the project. We can’t wait to get started and use our different expertise to try to create something that meets the needs of women from all sections of the community.”

Elaine James, Chief Executive of project partner Disablement Association of Barking and Dagenham, said

“The timing of this project is fantastic. It comes at a time when police receive one domestic violence call every minute in the UK. For women with a disability the incidences of abuse are double those of non-disabled women. No woman should have to live with violence and abuse. Thanks to the funding for Big Lottery DABD , nia and BD – CVS can work together to ensure that all women live without fear and have control of their lives.”

Erika Jenkins, Chief Executive of Barking & Dagenham CVS, said

”The rate of domestic abuse reporting in the borough is one of the highest in London and is consistently so. This innovative project brings together specialists in a unique framework to support women and girls, both directly and by developing services in the borough.”

The project has the support of the Leader of Barking and Dagenham council, Darren Rodwell, who said

“I am delighted that nia are working with Barking and Dagenham CVS and DABD to deliver services to women, girls and children who have experienced domestic and sexual violence in Barking and Dagenham, through the Big Lottery funding. Domestic violence is a significant issue in the borough and the holistic approach to women and girls in a dedicated women’s centre is an excellent development for the borough, which I welcome.”

Comment on Amnesty International vote

11 August 2015

nia, a London based charity supporting women, girls and children who have suffered sexual and domestic violence, expresses disappointment at Amnesty International vote

Chief Executive, Karen Ingala Smith said

“We are disappointed to hear that Amnesty, an organisation that is supposed to protect human rights, has voted in favour of facilitating trade in women.

Women who sell sex face daily abuse, rape, and physical violence, along with humiliation, social isolation and stereotyping. The majority of assaults are committed men who buy sex. Approximately half of women in prostitution in the UK started being paid for sex when they were under 18, that is while they were legally children. Every day through our work supporting survivor-victims of domestic and sexual violence, we hear the realities of women and girls who have been commercially exploited.

At nia we believe that the best outcomes for women, girls and children would be to end demand, to end men’s belief that women are a commodity and to end the poverty and inequality that push women in to prostitution. When asked, 9 out of 10 women who sell sex report wanting to exit, but they face barriers to doing so. We agree that women who sell sex should have full legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and men’s violence. They should be supported and not face criminal sanctions.

We agree with Amnesty that women who sell sex “are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.” Marginalised women, women in poverty, black and minority ethnic women are hugely over-represented in women who sell sex. So-called ‘choices’ that result from economic necessity do not represent consent, but coercion.

Men’s sense of entitlement to women’s and children’s bodies and sexuality is endorsed when their demand for purchasing sex is legally protected. We believe that this approach will lead to an increase, not decrease, in men’s violence against women and children. Men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and a consequence of inequality between women and men. The majority of those who sell sex are women, the majority of those who buy and profit from women who sell sex are men. Women and men will never be equal of one sex is a commodity and the other is the seller and purchaser.

nia will continue to ensure that all our services are accessible to women who sell sex. And we will continue to campaign to end men’s violence against women, girls and children. With regards to the selling and buying of sex, we will continue to campaign and support campaigns that end demand and support women.”

Reviewing 2014

15 June 2015

In the year between April 2014 and March 2015, we provided face-to-face support to 1,060 women and girls and delivered 1,200 hours of counselling support, plus responded to 2,145 contacts to the Information and Support Line and delivered training to 277 professionals:

  • 243 women at high risk of repeated and serious domestic * violence including homicide were supported by our Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy services in Haringey and Hackney
  • The East London Rape Crisis Information and Support line had 2145 contacts – 1533 contact by phone and 612 contacts by email – with survivors of rape and sexual violence/abuse, as well as family/friends of survivors and agencies enquiring on behalf of survivors in Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest
  • East London Rape Crisis Independent Sexual Violence Advocates provided practical and emotional one to one support for 105 women and 28 young women who had experienced sexual violence. The ELRC counselling service provided 1200 hours of counselling support.
  • Safe Choices supported 283 young women and girls at risk of or affected by sexual violence, sexual exploitation and gang involvement, 29 through one-to-one intensive support work and 254 through group work and workshops.
  • The Ascent Advice and Outreach Service supported 214 women through individual casework and workshops who had experienced recent or historic domestic and/or sexual violence
  • 156 women experiencing domestic violence and abuse were supported through the IRIS service based in medical surgeries in Hackney
  • The Emma Project refuge supported 10 women who have problematic substance use and were experiencing sexual and domestic violence, including 4 women exploited through prostitution; and a further 11 women through outreach provision and 10 women through group work.
  • Safe Choices trained 277 professionals to better identify and support young women and girls at risk of or affected by gang association/involvement, sexual violence and sexual exploitation

Reviewing 2014

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Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of nia wins Positive Role Model for Gender at the UK’ Largest Diversity Awards

29 September 2014

Karen and her award We’re delighted to announce that our Chief Executive, Karen Ingala Smith, has won the Positive Role Model for Gender at The National Diversity Awards.

The National Diversity Awards is an annual celebration of the outstanding achievements of positive role models, entrepreneurs & community organisations across the UK. This year, over 21,000 nominations and endorsements were received paying tribute to inspirational individuals and groups nationwide that have dedicated their lives to enhancing the equality, diversity and inclusion in today’s society.

Karen has worked in women’s charities for 24 years and for the last five years has been CEO of nia, a north-east London based charity supporting women, girls and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. nia has been transformed under Karen’s leadership at a time when the unfavourable economic climate has created difficult conditions for women’s organisations. The charity, which was facing imminent closure, has built a highly regarded reputation for responding to the needs of the women, girls and children with an integrated feminist approach to addressing all forms of male violence.

In her spare time, Karen runs a campaign ‘Counting Dead Women’ recording and commemorating women in the UK killed through suspected male violence. The campaign has transformed perceptions of male violence in the UK, with many journalists crediting her with opening their eyes to the reality of men’s fatal violence against women.

Talking about her job, campaign and winning the award, Karen said,

“ I was compelled to start counting dead women in January 2012, when in the first three days of the year, 8 women were killed through men’s violence. Eight dead women in three days: 3 were shot, two stabbed, one strangled, one smothered and one beaten to death through 15 blunt force trauma injuries. I was outraged that these were being reported as isolated incidents and that connections weren’t being made about the occurrence and impact of men’s violence. I didn’t intend to start a campaign, but once I’d started, I just didn’t feel able to stop. We won’t be able to end or even reduce men’s violence against women if we can’t name and analyse it as the problem that it is.

I was pleased to be nominated, delighted to be shortlisted and shocked to win the award for a Positive Role Model for Gender, it means even more coming from the National Diversity Awards with their focus on diversity and inclusion, especially when I frequently talk about gender being a social construct which maintains women and men’s inequality!

Working at nia is never boring and sometimes it’s very challenging, but I feel grateful and proud to have a job working with committed and dedicated women trying to make a difference for other women, girls and children. It’s getting harder and harder to raise the funds to support our work but while women and girls tell us that what we do is important to them and sometimes even lifesaving, we’re going to do our best to carry on.”

To support nia’s work, text NIAX14 £5 or any other amount to 70070 to donate and help us make a difference today.

Karen Ingala Smith, Chief Executive of nia, nominated for Positive Role Model for gender at the UK’ Largest Diversity Awards

17 June 2014

We’re very proud that our Chief Executive Karen Ingala Smith, has been nominated for the Positive Role Model for gender award at The 2014 National Diversity Awards.

The ceremony celebrates some of the excellent and inspiring achievements of positive role models and community organisations from across the UK. The awards aim to recognise nominees in their respective fields of diversity including age,
disability, gender, race, faith, religion and sexual orientation.

In her free time, Karen runs a feminist blog about male violence against women and has been recording and commemorating UK women killed through suspected male violence in a campaign called Counting Dead Women, each month adding the women killed in the previous month to her list. She said
“Between January 2012 and the end of May 2014, 333 UK women had been killed through suspected male violence, that’s one woman dead every 2.6 days. These are not 333 isolated incidents. We need to make connections and look at male violence against women as a social problem.

I’m delighted to be nominated for a positive role model award but whether or not you endorse my nomination, please sign the petition ‘Stop Ignoring Dead Women’. I’m trying to persuade the government to fund an independently run ‘femicide observatory’ – a fit-for-purpose record of fatal male violence against women where relationships between victim and perpetrator and social, cultural and psychological issues can be analysed – because I think we can do more to end male violence against women.”

The National Diversity Awards 2014 in association with Microsoft will be held at The Hurlingham Club, London on September 26th. The largest diversity awards ceremony of its kind has attracted a growing list of top employers such as Sky, Financial Ombudsman Service and Price Waterhouse Coopers. The prestigious black-tie event has also gained support from a number of celebrities including Stephen Fry, Misha B and Ade Adepitan honouring the rich tapestry of our nation, recognising individuals and groups from grass roots communities who have contributed to creating a more diverse and inclusive society.

Nominations are now open and close July 18th 2014. Shortlisted nominees will be announced shortly after this date.

Endorse Karen’s well-deserved nomination at https://nominate.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/Nominate/endorse/18804

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Annual review: Looking back over 2013/14

12 June 2014

nia is a London based charity providing cutting –edge services to end violence against women and children. Our services are developed within a feminist framework which places the responsibility for violence solely with the perpetrators of that violence whilst recognising the social context of male violence against women.

The organisation was originally established in 1975 in response to a growing need for safe accommodation for women and children who had experienced to domestic violence in Hackney. In 1994 the organisation achieved charitable status and broadened its remit to working to end all forms of violence against women and children.

In the year between April 2013 and March 2014:

  • 431 women at high risk of repeated and serious domestic violence including homicide were supported by our Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy service in Haringey and Hackney
  • The East London Rape Crisis Information and Support line had 1238 contacts – 902 contact by phone and 336 contacts by email – with survivors of rape and sexual violence/abuse, as well as family/friends of survivors and agencies enquiring on behalf of survivors in Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest
  • East London Rape Crisis Independent Sexual Violence Advocates provided practical and emotional one to one support for 87 women who had experienced sexual violence and a further 75 women were supported through counselling.
  • Safe Choices and East London Rape Crisis Young Women’s Advocates supported 141 young women and girls at risk of or affected by sexual violence, sexual exploitation and gang involvement through both group and casework support.
  • The Ascent Advice and Outreach Service supported 143 women through individual casework and workshops who had experienced recent or historic domestic and/or sexual violence
  • 94 women experiencing domestic violence and abuse were supported through the IRIS service based in medical surgeries in Hackney
  • The Emma Project refuge supported 13 women who have problematic substance use and were experiencing sexual and domestic violence, including 9 women exploited through prostitution and a further 14 women through outreach provision.
  • Safe Choices trained 312 professionals to better identify and support young women and girls at risk of or affected by gang association/involvement, sexual violence and sexual exploitation
  • The Family Support Service supported 31 women with 48 children affected by domestic violence in Hackney
  • 34 children who have lived with domestic violence were supported by the Play Therapy Service
  • The IRIS model was commissioned in 10 new Local Authority areas through our partnership with the University of Bristol and Nextlink, extending the range of medical practices supporting women who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse
  • 15 new volunteers have been recruited, trained and joined the Information and Support Line Team. The volunteer team is now 22 women strong.

Feedback from women and girls included

“I took part in a nia course and at first I went along because of my group, I thought we’d have a laugh and spend gossip time together. But after our first session was over, I was excited for the next session to come. Your first thought is, this is about gangs and being involved in gangs, and you don’t want to be classed as a gang member so you’re sceptical, but it’s not. It’s about what is going on around us as women and situations women can get into. I found out a lot through this course, but what I found out the most was my own value as a woman, my rights and what others are going through. I would encourage anyone to do this course – I don’t know if everyone will have brilliant mentors like mine but if everyone on the Nia team are like them you’ll have a blast. The best thing about this course is I learnt a lot about things I thought I knew about, and group work and activities brought a new understanding of others’ opinions, thoughts and experiences to me.”

“[nia’s] IRIS [project] has made my journey much easier for me to deal with. I have not had such help or support with all the other services involved with my family. The women that worked with me and supported me and my family, I am very thankful for. Without them I would not like to think what would have happened to us. I am still trying to heal the wounds but am well and on my way. It’s a long process but from being in that dark place, I am glad to say that IRIS were there to help me see that I was not alone and there is light. Thankful, grateful, confident, willing, optimistic and finding my happy.”

“[My] solicitor contacted me just now and he apologised for his non efforts so I’m happy to accept that (manners get you far) so all systems go… So once again thank you for your efforts and hard work… I wish I met you years ago … Even though I still get angry ‘n’ stuff but meeting you gave me a little bit of hope n you kept it alive … If only the world was full of feminists, eh?”

“I feel more confident when I leave here, when I’m walking home, I feel more confident in myself on these afternoons. I’m learning new things and it’s motivating me”

“These sessions have changed me in the outside world. Like you think it’s ok because you grew up in it but now I’ve started to think differently. I think girls should help each other out more when something happens, instead of just calling her a slut and saying it’s her fault”

“It’s changed what I think about how my brother talks about girls now, like I think what if that was me? It’s not just with my friends, but family too.”

“I’ve learnt a lot of things I didn’t know, and I actually remember what I’ve done in this lesson!”

“We can talk about things here that we couldn’t in front of boys. I’m learning how to deal with problems with men.”

And from professionals:

‘I am very pleased with the programme that was delivered to the girls. The activities and discussion allowed the girls to express their own thoughts and opinions, and the girls all felt that this was one of the main factors which made the group enjoyable and successful. I found the sessions to be very interactive and flexible to the needs of the group. Each session had a purpose and each topic was delivered very well so that all the young women were engaged in the activity. Following the group work all the girls have shown that there has been a positive impact and they have a better understanding of particular issues affecting them. Consequences and anger are the two main topics which had a general impact on all of the girls and how they conduct themselves within school. All the young women found the sessions enjoyable and I would definitely like to consider delivering the programme again to a different group of girls, possibly in the next academic year with the new year 10’s’.

“I was impressed by the content and the facilitator’s skills and control of the group. I expected it to be more subtle but was surprised (in a good way) at how challenging it was for the young people. I was also pleased that it was an unapologetic feminist model. I really appreciate the opportunity to have observed and it really does help me to be able to talk positively and knowingly about work being done in our schools.”

A huge thank you to the volunteers who give their time to run the East London Rape Crisis Information and Support Line, including Michelle Beckford, Bryony Beynon, Amanda Boateng, Lona Chaloner, Gina Floyd, Katherine Gill, Faye Harrison, Kate Higgins, Josephine Hocking, Soraya Janmohamed and Jennifer Parillon

Print version: Annual Review: Looking back over 2013/14

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Hooray! Eva Wiseman is nia's new patron!

28 August 2012

We’re delighted to announce that the brilliant columnist Eva Wiseman is our new patron.

We’ve long admired Eva as a champion of issues affecting women and girls, so we’re particularly pleased that she’s supporting our work to end gender based violence.

Eva writes:
Every hour in London, a sex attack is reported. That meant 6,718 sexual offences and 3,267 rapes in one year, with many more unreported. Domestic violence is even more common; 46, 900 offences were recorded by the police in the same year. That’s 5 per hour, or 128 per day. Whether or not women want to go to the police, they can come to nia.
A service local to north east London, nia is constantly developing new services to support those experiencing gender based violence. In addition to practical support, they help women put the abuse in context – placing their personal experiences in a wider framework of gender discrimination – which can stop them blaming themselves, and increases their commitment to changing their lives.
They are vocal about how class and race relate to disadvantage, and they make a point of working with the women other organisations have refused – they run the only refuge dedicated to women who have problems with drugs and alcohol, and never deny access to those seeking a route out of prostitution as well as other forms of gender violence. “We’ve really tried to think about the causes of violence, and we want our work to contribute to ending violence against women,” explains the nia project’s chief executive, Karen Ingala Smith, “So preventive work with young people is important. Again this is in the context of their life experiences so we’re particularly interested in working with young women who might be labelled as problematic or who are involved in violent offending.” The people nia helps are the people searching for a voice. Some who, since finding the courage to seek help, have been turned away by other charities. Says Karen, “We don’t like to say no.”
Your support will allow nia to help more women, children and young people. Donate today, so they can continue saying yes.