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Street Youth Work Project

1 June 2006

Street Youth Work Project

Twelve young sex workers in Christchurch have been helped to leave the streets permanently in the last 12 months through the Street Youth Work Project.

Run by Youth and Cultural Development (YCD), the project is one of few intervention programmes working to keep young street workers safe and despite its success in providing an essential service in the city, each year it struggles to find the funding to remain operational.

In an evaluation of the project, Dr Lesley MacGibbon and Ruth Greenaway said young people who worked on the streets of Christchurch as sex workers were among the most vulnerable groups in the community.

The Street Youth Work Project has been operating for three years, employing two workers who work with young people on the streets three nights a week, operating a once-a-week Drop-In Centre, a monthly sexual health clinic and undertaking one-on-one case work.

With more funding, the report says workers could be on the streets more nights and work on a one-to-one basis with more young people. "It is through contact on the streets that the relationships of trust are established."

Young people aged under 18 are the project's prime target, working to minimise harm to young people by providing information and education on safe sex, improving access to health services, encouraging support and safety practices and broadening the young people's lifestyle choices.

"Often these young people are affected by a multiple of issues including a lack of financial resources; solvent, alcohol and drug abuse/addiction; lack of support; mental health problems; family abuse histories; sexual identity confusion; and attraction to crime."

The evaluation found many of the young people were not consistently using safe sex practices or taking precautions to maintain their sexual, physical and/or mental health.

In the last 12 months, the project has had 538 contacts* with young people on the streets. Of the 538, only five contacts were aged under 14. Forty-six contacts were with young women aged between 14 and 15. One hundred and forty-three contacts were with young women aged 16 and 330 contacts with young women aged 17. In addition, there were 14 contacts with young men aged 16 and 17. It is important to understand these are the number of contacts not individuals.

The majority of the young sex workers - 56 per cent - were Maori, 44.5 per cent Pakeha and 1.5 per cent Pasifika. The report says the large representation of Maori was disturbing with the city's Maori population only 13 per cent.

The project focuses on "at risk" young people engaging in opportunistic sex work or regular prostitution, providing them with the resources to empower them to make informed choices. "This harm minimisation approach is considered more effective then attempting to eliminate the behaviour itself."

The report notes that one of the prime reasons why young people enter sex work is because they have run away from home or foster care and have no place to stay.

"They will often do sex work to make some money to then have somewhere to stay the night. If they do not make enough money, they have nowhere to stay."

Existing emergency housing (shelters) does not always cater for youth aged under 18. This is something YCD is pursuing to reduce the risk.


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