Changing Lives secures £1.3m to help tackle violence against women and girls

Published: 4 January 2023

The charity Changing Lives has been awarded £1.3m from the Home Office, under the Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and Supporting Children (PVSC): What Works Funding (WWF).

The funding will enable Changing Lives to expand its existing services, which currently support women who are targeted for sexual abuse, exploitation and grooming online and affected by tech abuse across Northumbria, Durham, Darlington, York, Doncaster, Merseyside, Wolverhampton and Walsall. 

The three-year funding will recruit a Service Manager, Data Analyst, 2.5 Net-reach workers to reach out to women and girls online and 3.5 outreach workers who will provide one to one support to those affected by online harms and tech abuse. In addition, the funding will also recruit a Learning Partner to ensure insights are captured to inform the Home Office’s current and future work on VAWG. 

Working in partnership with Social Finance, who will be the learning partner and support with data collection and analysis, the charity hopes to identify women and girls at age of transition (16–25) who are victims of or at risk of online harms and provide early intervention in the form of light-touch support to address their concerns and prevent escalation of further harms of abuse. 

Their work will address the current gaps in evidence around the causes, levels and types of online abuse and exploitation that are happening. This will enhance the whole system approach to preventing VAWG by identifying and developing the pathways that are needed to improve support for transitional age groups. 

Laura McIntyre, Head of Women’s and Children’s Services at Changing Lives, said: Changing Lives has been providing support to adult women who have been targeted, groomed or exposed to sexual abuse for over 15 years. 

As part of our work, we have developed an approach to reach women online, Net-reach’, for women who are advertising sexual services who may require some support on a range of issues, and/​or have experiences of abuse and sexual violence. Some of the women we connect with, on online spaces, have multiple unmet needs and have told us that offering sex for rent’ or free sex’ to support with other survival needs is a common experience, and is driven by poverty, hardship, and the cost of living crisis.

During Covid-19, we developed a report called Net-reach, where we observed a worrying number of young women and girls (18–25 years old) advertising sexual services online, raising concerns about child sexual exploitation and ongoing vulnerability to abuse in adulthood. 

Thanks to the funding, this project will allow our specialist team to build up relationships with women in a growing environment, where we can offer support to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation. We understand that not all women are abused online but organisationally we see increasing numbers of women accessing our services after being harmed online, traumatised, and feeling suicidal.” 

Nadine Smith, Director of Government and Enterprise at Social Finance, said: We work across all sectors at Social Finance, helping partners to form a whole-person approach to services that are tackling violence against women and girls, and we increasingly see that the online space is ripe for exploitation and an area we perhaps know the least about. This includes the scale, the causes, the pathways to support and, importantly, what works in tackling abuse. We are delighted to be able to support Changing Lives in its expansion of the Net-reach programme.

Our role will be to ensure we collate data in a trauma-informed way and collectively make sense of it with those across the system, especially the Home Office who are funding this vital work. Having learning at the heart of this work will mean we can robustly test the effectiveness of Changing Lives’ Net-reach model, whilst also informing the current and future work of government and its partners to support women, inform education about online harms and ensure policy, practice and funding flows move with the times.”

Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines, said: Tackling all forms of violence against women and girls is a government priority, so that women and girls are safe everywhere — at home, online, at work and on the streets.

We are proud to invest further in projects which identify the most effective ways to intervene early and prevent these crimes from being committed in the first place, which will protect those most vulnerable to abuse.”

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