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It’s not the easiest of careers but it’s extremely rewarding – I’m very proud that I’ve been responsible for taking some extremely dangerous men off the streets and I feel so privileged to have been allowed into these women’s lives.

Shelley Stoops left school at 15 with no qualifications and believing that a series of low-paid, uninspiring retail jobs was the nearest she was going to get to a career.

Twenty years later she is the proud owner of a Postgraduate Certificate in Gendered Criminology, Rights and Justice and has improved the safety of thousands of women in her role as the first Specialist Independent Sexual Violence Advisor for Sex Workers in the UK.

“When I was 33 my friend died suddenly and it was a real wake up call for me. I thought “is this really it for me?” My son was three at the time and I wanted a better life for him, and for myself, and I knew education was my only way out.

I saw an ad in the Liverpool Echo for the Fastrack programme at Edge Hill and I knew I had to give it a try. When I started the programme I couldn’t even turn on a computer, but I passed the course and it gave me the confidence to carry on and study for a degree.

I chose Social Sciences because I felt that I’d been held back in life but until I went to university I didn’t understand why. I wanted to know why, as a working class woman, I had fewer opportunities. Studying Social Sciences allowed me to articulate what I had always felt.

To get some work experience, I started volunteering at Worst Kept Secret, a Merseyside domestic violence helpline, which was a real eye-opener for me, and when I graduated I went straight into a full-time role there as Helpline Co-ordinator.

We shared office space with a sex worker safety project and I realised that was an area that really interested me. I started working for them so I was out on the streets most nights visiting hostels, taking women to GUM screenings, giving out condoms and offering advice and support.

As part of a pioneering police initiative in Merseyside, I was appointed the first ever Independent Sexual Violence Advisor, working with sex workers in Merseyside to encourage them to report sexual violence and supporting them throughout the prosecution process – a role which is now replicated across the UK. I was the first point of contact for sex workers who had been raped, so I could get a phone call at any time. I was always available to them because I’d given them my word that I would and they trusted me – I think that’s why the model works.

Since the scheme started in 2006, there has been a 400% increase in cases reported to the police and conviction rates in Merseyside have risen to 83%, 11 times higher than the rest of the country. Rape is no longer seen as an occupational hazard for sex workers.

I now run the SAFE Place Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Liverpool, part of Liverpool Community Health Trust, which is a support service for anyone, male or female, who has been raped. I still go out with the outreach team once a month to offer practical support to sex workers.

It’s not the easiest of careers but it’s extremely rewarding – I’m very proud that I’ve been responsible for taking some extremely dangerous men off the streets and I feel so privileged to have been allowed into these women’s lives.

None of this would have happened without Edge Hill and I’m so grateful for the support and encouragement I received. Edge Hill empowered me to believe in myself and aim high. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn to do the Fastrack course – it’s never too late to change your life.”