Language barriers isolate Sydney sex workers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and limit their access to services and support.

In response to this, BaptistCare HopeStreet Women’s Services offer free English classes and employ staff who speak multiple languages so they can deliver services to enhance community, connection, opportunity and choice.

The classes, available at both Sydney Women’s Services locations, are facilitated by Mandarin, Cantonese and Thai educators and are in demand. They are offered alongside other services and support like translation services, counselling, advocacy, case management, support with sexual and mental health, and visa and immigration support.

“Low English skills is definitely an area that can limit how people can access support services and the choices they have available to them,” said Jess Davidson, BaptistCare HopeStreet Women’s Services Manager.

“When you look at language skills for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds that are working in the sex industry, about 50% of workers identify they have low to fair English skills,” said Ms Davidson.

This was the case for Cici*, who arrived in Australia from China on a partner visa ten years ago. After a few years, Cici made the decision to leave her relationship due to domestic violence.

“Once I did, I had no support and no idea how to access help due to my language barrier. I had nowhere to go. I became homeless and lived on the streets,” said Cici.

With minimal English and no knowledge on how to access support, living rough took its toll. In wanting to get off the street, Cici found an opportunity to work in a brothel giving her a roof over her head and some financial independence.

“There were good and bad things about working there, but more and more I was becoming overwhelmed and stressed. I felt so alone. I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” said Cici.

When Cici was introduced to BaptistCare HopeStreet Women’s Services, she found that someone to talk to. It was here she met her caseworker fluent in Mandarin, who understood her.

Cici attended the English classes and received support such as food and hygiene packs, or simply went to the Women’s Services space to feel safe. “I always felt safe. These spaces are hard to find, but so important. It always felt like home,” said Cici.

BaptistCare HopeStreet Women’s Services see every woman as an expert in her own life. “Our role is to walk beside women, support them in their journey with the goals and dreams that they have,” said Jess.

“Here women have access to casework, counselling, support with sexual and mental health, and a place to just be, knowing they are accepted for where they are in their journey,” said Jess.

“There’s the English classes, and also information available around health and housing.”

After many months working with her caseworker, Cici moved into stable housing, and with her improved English, she has flourished. Cici is now involved with other social groups, she’s a regular at her local coffee shop, she’s adopted a dog from a shelter she named Lucky, and has made friends at the dog park. She is also in a healthy and safe relationship.

But perhaps most importantly, Cici feels like she has a home, a place where she belongs, where she is an equal in our society.

“Cici has an incredible strength and has shown this in how she has applied herself. She’s worked hard to get where she feels she needs to be,” said Jess.

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 *indicates name change, images for illustration purposes only.

On Tuesday 3 December leading not-for-profit care organisation BaptistCare HopeStreet released the findings from its Women’s Services division’s first research report on Sydney’s sex industry, providing insights into the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women working in the city’s lower-end brothels. Read the report and learn more.

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