Sooner or later every charity and NGO has to ask itself: What do we need to do in order to ensure the safety of our staff, our community and the people who come to us for help and support?

Even before our partners offered to help, we had already equipped our office with surveillance cameras and access control (a button-press system to unlock the door). We thought we had done well. But was it enough? And then we had a stroke of luck – an offer to have professionals assess our security arrangements and to adjust, work out and install systems that could deal with all eventualities.

Assessing risks

Our curator V.L., is a top-class professional. She assessed the individual concerns and risks of each staff member and volunteer, remotely and as part of a two-day training. Then she brought all the information together in a single system and designed a step-by-step work schedule on that basis.

Sex workers come to us with all sorts of questions and requests. How can we make sure that all of information we collect and record, is fully protected? How do we set up an online security platform? What can be published on a social media page, what should never be published, and (most importantly) why not?

Our incredible internet consultant explained some very complicated things in language we could understand – things that only a specialist would think of. Now we are confident that the information we collect and keep, will remain confidential and safe from unauthorised access. 

Between a rock and a hard place

That’s what we called our next stage: Three days of training on “How to work with law enforcement agencies”. This made us look again at everything we thought we knew and left us with so much to think about. We teach our sex workers basic skills for using the law to protect themselves. Because the violence that people in uniform can subject you to just by means of a conversation, are enough to destroy your faith in human nature. In these 3 days we studied, grew stronger, and learned how easily you can be dubbed a criminal when you thought you were a witness. The less you say, better your chances of emerging safe from difficult brushes with the police.

No less important, and perhaps most important are: DOCUMENTS. Contracts, reports, requests for financial information, incoming and outgoing mail and much more. How do you keep your documentation up to date and file the required reporting to supervisory authorities? Knowledge, skills and an external audit to correct any mistakes you make are fundamental to your work, and to pursuing it successfully.

We hope and believe that everything we have done in these six months will make us better at helping 3 million people in our country, people who are constant risk of humiliation, theft and murder.