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Solidarity

Sarah* came from decades of forced sexual exploitation at the hands of her partner. She was completely isolated in this life with nowhere to turn and found herself just trying to survive the everyday trauma of being forced to work in the sex trade. When Sarah came to HerSpace, she found a place of safety and solidarity that she was searching for.

She had reached out for help in the past; however, the services she spoke to didn’t understand her pain, trauma and the lack of choice she faced working in the sex trade. At HerSpace Sarah was able to share her grief and loss within the group program, Healing and Solidarity Circles. It was through the nurturing, warm, accepting and safe space that was created by trained counsellors that Sarah started to accept herself more and build strong connections with women sharing similar experiences.

These connections with the other women in the group became a support network for Sarah that will continue outside of the group.  HerSpace provided her with a haven where she could be herself without judgement. Sarah shared that she no longer lives in the pain of her past and is now able to experience some of her successes. Sarah tells us her life has changed, and she now has more support, safety and community in her life.

Healing

Kate* could only identify as a victim trying to survive after years of exploitation through abusive relationships. When Kate became free from these relationships, she faced the aftermath of trauma as a consequent of this abuse. She experienced nightmares and extreme fear when leaving her home. She felt completely powerless and alone, not knowing how to deal with the mental, emotional and psychological pain she carried. HerSpace became a place of safety and healing for Kate to process some of this overwhelming pain, grief and loss. Kate shared that the group helped her to express her feelings in a safe way, equipping her with the mental health needed to go on the healing and recovery journey ahead.

Building Self-Esteem

Jane* came to HerSpace as part of the HerCircle program. Before joining us, she was extremely isolated and had limited self-confidence. Having been sexually exploited by family members in her childhood and with a severe lack of people to support her and nowhere safe to live, Jane had learned to survive on her own from an early age. When she joined the HerCircle program, she was facing a major crisis in that she was living increasingly dangerous and unsafe housing arrangements, constantly at risk of physical and sexual harm.

Jane began to build relationships and positive connections within HerSpace. The physical and emotional safety of the group meant that she felt empowered to share her own very real story of the every-day danger and risks she was facing in her current housing environment. While Jane had already accepted this as her reality, her stories shocked the other women and group facilitators. They helped her understand that she didn’t have to live life in this way and that she deserved more. With the support of her peers and HerSpace counsellors, Jane’s confidence grew, and she took a bold step to initiate a meeting with housing services to find alternative accommodation.

A few weeks later, Jane arrived at the group with exciting news: she had been able to secure a new house and would finally have the safety and refuge that she so desperately needed! She would no longer be at risk of attack, violence and assault in her own home. Jane shares her story to demonstrate how HerCircle has helped her to feel more empowered, take control, and develop the confidence to access practical support and reduce the risk of being sexually exploited again.

Finding Voice

Tammy* is a young woman with various children; her last child being born from gang rape. She has been exposed to domestic violence and sexual exploitation for most of her life, becoming pregnant at 16 to a man much older than her and whose ongoing exploitation lead him to father three more of her children. She has had a number of restraining orders on this man without much success or hope for her and her children’s safety. Tammy turned to street work to escape her financial dependence on this man but has since suffered harassment and controlling emotional abuse from another client/boyfriend. In addition to ongoing health issues which require hospitalisation and surgery from time to time, Tammy is emotionally void, extremely anxious, has insomnia, low appetite and in constant fear of her life.

Since joining HerSpace, Tammy has received 6 x 1.5-hour individual counselling sessions, and we have also been able to connect her to other support services. After being homeless for some time, she now has secure housing in place.

Tammy’s HerSpace sessions begin with deep breathing and conversation. She always requests ‘that relaxing thing’, a technique which involves soft lighting and being tucked into a blanket to slow down the central nervous system. She then goes on a journey to reach a deep state of relaxation; connecting to breath, body and emotions using metaphors. During these journeys, we have made contact with wise, strong, playful and child parts of self, and have undertaken regression work to gain new learnings and reflections of situations. To concretise these hypnotherapy sessions into the conscious mind, we then move into art therapy processes to draw key messages and parts of self.

Tammy has now discontinued her relationship with her boyfriend and disconnected from all forms of social media. She has an improved sleep routine and is taking some time out for herself in the coming weeks. She says she feels “lighter”, as she smiles and breathes deeply. Connecting to her feelings in this way, by way of metaphor, marks a significant and meaningful moment in what continues to be a long, gradual healing process.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of participants