Government funds charity bringing “biblical truth” to sex workers

Posted: Mon, 14th Nov 2022

Government funds charity bringing “biblical truth” to sex workers

The National Secular Society has criticised the government for funding a faith group which aims to bring "biblical truth" to trafficked women.

The government has awarded £7,747 to All Souls Serve the City, a charity which exists to "advance the Christian faith" in London, for its 'Tamar' project.

According to the charity's website, Tamar is "a team of volunteer women who aim to restore hope to people exploited in the sex industry". This includes offering "prayer for individual need".

The funding was awarded as part of the government's £1.3 million 'faith new deal pilot fund' for faith-based organisations that provide community services. Nonreligious groups were unable to apply.

Sixteen groups, mostly Christian, were awarded funding under the scheme.

Tamar: Being a Christian "essential" but not experience in supporting women in the sex industry

According to a support worker job description on the charity's site, it is "essential" to be an evangelical Christian for the role, for which key tasks include "conducting one to one Bible studies".

In contrast, experience with supporting women involved in the sex industry and safeguarding reporting is not essential.

The job description says Tamar "seek to bring gospel hope and biblical truth to those who find themselves homeless, women involved in the sex industry including those who are trafficked and exploited".

According to a 2020 report from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds, faith groups should avoid proselytising when working with victims of modern slavery. The report found some survivors who had sought help from religious organisations had experienced pressure to attend religious services because they felt it was a requirement of the support.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it had "undertaken an equality analysis" on the faith new deal pilot scheme to ensure services delivered by faith groups with Government funding "do not proselytise or promote religion".

Women's rights campaigners "appalled"

Selma Taha, Executive Director of London-based women's rights group Southall Black Sisters, said: "We are appalled that the government should have set aside funding specifically for religious groups to provide such sensitive services when many organisations, with years of expertise and experience in the Violence Against Women and Girls Sector, are facing funding crises.

"Evangelical proselytising is the more egregious end of a spectrum in which religious-based services, in any case, are not an appropriate solution for supporting women who may be judged for not conforming to gender stereotypes. "

Megan Manson, head of campaigns at the National Secular Society, said: "Helping vulnerable women who are homeless or exploited by the sex industry is a noble cause, but there are serious concerns where the support offered comes with religious strings attached.

"While Tamar may have the best intentions, the requirement for workers to be evangelical Christians and for them to hold Bible study sessions suggests this group may be prioritising a religious agenda.

"This demonstrates why the government providing exclusive grants that only faith groups can access is wrong. Not only does this discriminate against and marginalise the already struggling secular charities – it also opens the door to religious groups using the opportunity as a mission field.

"The government must discontinue discriminatory grant programmes and ensure any religious groups that are given public funds do not use that money to proselytise to vulnerable people or discriminate against those who don't share their faith."

MPs push for more faith-based public services

In a report launched in September, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on faith and society says the public should expect faith groups to be "increasingly involved in the leadership and management of 'secular' referrals and key worker care in the community", and to receive "increasingly significant amounts of public funding to do this".

Some projects have already received "hundreds of thousands of pounds from public funds", according to the report.

The APPG on faith and society, which is chaired by evangelical Christian and Labour MP Stephen Timms, aims "to highlight the contribution to society by faith-based organisations".

2016 polling by the Oasis Foundation found 65% of people have no confidence in church groups running "crucial social provisions such as healthcare" with only 2% expressing a lot of confidence.

Update 02/01/23: The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has confirmed to the NSS that All Souls Serve the City do "offer prayer and Bible studies as part of their services", but they say "they offer this on a voluntary participation basis and only when they are first asked by a service user."

Image: Madison from Pixabay

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Tags: Charity, Public services