Crawley based charity Streetlight received a Queen's award - the highest award a voluntary group can be given - on Wednesday (October 27)
Mrs Susan Pyper, the Queen's representative and Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, presented the charity with the award.
The charity, which provides a support service focused on providing women with tangible and material pathways out of a lifestyle of prostitution and violence, was founded in 2012 by its director, Helena Croft.
Upon receiving the award, Ms Croft said: "It is wonderful to get that recognition. The award has helped our partners have more confidence within us; it has helped strengthen that partnership."
The charity also received an extra award that recognised its frontline work during the pandemic.
Ms Croft continued: "We had suicide attempts within four days [of the first lockdown] in Sussex. Women were suddenly penniless, homeless. We had never done it pre-COVID, but we ended up feeding women, women that were literally starving. We saw things that we never thought we would see in this country, like malnutrition. This was a direct result of COVID."
"Getting the extra award because we were now keyworkers meant that we could be back out there during the pandemic. The women were our primary concern, and it was brilliant to see that recognition."
RT Rev. Lord Bishop of Chichester, who hosted the ceremony and endorses the charity, said: "Streetlight does great work by disturbing us with information about this modern slavery; it also provides hope for those who are victims. I am glad to be associated with Streetlight UK's fearless and compassionate work."
Dr Timothy Fooks, former high sheriff of West Sussex, said: "Streetlight has become a beacon of hope to those exploited by sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Their compassionate and practical outreach and support changes the lives of those with whom they work. As a Doctor, I am both inspired and deeply grateful for all that the charity does and stands for."
Ms. Croft explained that in 2010 she started looking into whether there was support for women who have been sexually exploited; "There wasn't anything. People didn't think there was a problem. So we started researching and found out there was a massive problem and no specialised provisions. So that's how Streetlight was born."
"I like to say that it's hidden just below the surface, but if you are brave enough to lift the lid and have a look you, will see that it is flourishing."
The majority of Streetlight's work directly supports women who have been involved in prostitution, and in 2020 Streetlight engaged with 2,807 women within Sussex alone.
Streetlight has also set up two separate operations in collaboration with the Met. Police and HM Prisons. The charity work with the Met. Police by providing educational courses for men who have been arrested for solicitation of prostitution or outraging public decency. Ms. Croft said: "I always wanted to do something that tackled one of the root causes. Instead of going to court, men can take an educating course, which saves them around £10,000 in court costs and police time, and it has got a 95% success rate."
Dave Deal, who has worked with Streetlight on behalf of the Met. Police at attempting to reduce on-street prostitution, about the work 95% non-reoffending rate he said: "There's no project in the Police, that I am aware of, that has any non-reoffending rates at 90%, it just doesn't happen. I don't know of another project that has that kind of figure."
About the issue of prostitution, Mr. Deal said, "I think people are naïve about it; I think you will find that the percentage of men who have solicited sex is much higher than you would think. They [the men I arrest for procurement] are just normal men, no criminal record, married, middle-aged, with kids and a job."
Ms Croft added: "1 in10 men in London have paid for sex and 2.4 million men nationwide. The thing this addresses is it gets men to see that they can be part of the answer, not the problem. There's a culture among some men that it is acceptable; the first time they've done that [solicited sex] is with either a relative or a friend." In fact, 8 out of 10 men's first-time experience of prostitution is encouraged or accompanied by a male friend or family member.
Ms. Croft continued: "At the first course, there were five men who ended up in tears, all of them were like: 'We had no idea about the women'!"
Streetlight also provides educational courses for women in prisons, as Ms. Croft explained: "We also run a wellbeing course for women within the prisons on healthy relationships, on sexual health, on when they are released and how not to get back into controlling relationships. Bearing in mind that 80% of women in prison have some form of relationship with sexual exploitation."
"We have grown broadly, but the majority of our work is still with women on the frontline. In the last two to three years, Streetlight has grown dramatically, but sadly that is due to demand, which is also continuing to grow."