Byline: Madeleine Brindley
THE first all-Wales network to help sex workers access vital services has been set up. Its launch brings Wales into line with the rest of the UK, which has had similar multi-agency forums for several years.
And it could help safeguard sex workers as it will allow information about violent offenders to easily be shared across Wales.
Vital research will also be carried out to determine how many people are working in the sex industry in Wales.
Although the nation is thought to have a "flourishing" prostitution scene - male, female and transgender - no work has been carried out to establish its size.
Pete Clark, national director of the Terrence Higgins Trust in Wales, said: "We're really in a catch-22 situation at the moment - we know that something is going on but we don't have the evidence to prove it.
"We will really be starting at the beginning, but this is an ideal opportunity and the network could and should be the catalyst for a lot of development in Wales."
And Dr Tracey Sagar, a lecturer in criminology and social policy at Swansea University, said: "This is about getting people to open their minds about whether all women are deserving of services, whether all human beings are deserving or services, regardless of the choices they make."
Dr Sagar and not-for-profit company Gibran UK have won a pounds 440,000 Big Lottery grant, which will fund a four-year research project to determine how many people are working in the sex industry. This research will help inform the network's work.
"There has never been a substantial investment in funding to map the numbers of sex workers on and off streets," she said.
"And we have no idea about the size of the male sex worker population."
Mr Clark said: "The majority of women working on the streets are drug dependent but some will work …