An interview with two ex-prostitutes. ‘Kelly’ is a friend of mine and ‘Sasha’ is a friend of hers. These women asked if their names could be changed for the interview.
How did you get involved in prostitution Kelly?
“I was an 18 year old student and living in Manchester working behind a bar – I had to wear a bikini and I got paid £10 an hour for wearing it. Originally I just went for normal bar work and they offered me the job at £5 an hour but they had another bar where the staff wore swimwear and offered me £10 an hour to work there……that was the first time I realised I could use my body to make money.
However, I was interested in performing arts and really wanted to go to drama school, I thought that being a kiss-o-gram might be a way to make it in this area.I figured wearing a bikini in a bar wasn’t much different than being a kiss-o-gram.
I looked into it and discovered I could make more money being a kiss-o-gram so it seemed to be a good idea, after all I didn’t know anyone in Manchester because it wasn’t my home town so I thought it would be relatively anonymous, and it would ultimately lead to me getting an equity card and becoming an actress.
Meanwhile I had fallen in love with a guy who had no money and he was living at my house with me, but I was having difficulty paying for everything. We were smoking loads of weed and with all the bills and everything I was becoming overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing my finances away from home. I tried to talk to my boyfriend about this but he was not interested in finding a job and hinted he would leave me if I couldn’t support him. The guy who I worked for as a kiss-o-gram, also had an escort agency and for some reason I thought this would be a better/more confidential way of making money that would provide me with enough funds to support me and my boyfriend. I did escorts for a year and during this time I dropped out of college.
Then I worked in a brothel and from flats. Escort work was usually one to one, such as me going to a hotel room or house for an hour. This could be scary because you never knew if you would come out alive! When I worked from a flat I was often on my own or sometimes with another girl or two. The biggest threat working from flats was being raided by the police, also violence/threats from gangsters.
The brothel or “massage parlour” that I worked in was massive. There would be up to 30 girls (on a Saturday night) working there at any one time and maybe 15 girls during the week when it was quieter. On the ground floor there was a bar, a pool table, some gambling machines, a sauna, Jacuzzi and changing rooms for the men. There was also loud club type music playing. In the basement there were two VIP rooms that men could hire for £70 for half an hour or £110 for the hour – per girl – some men would pick two or three girls at a time. Each room had a massive bath that could fit up to five people in, a shower, toilet and sink. There was also a double bed with mirrored ceilings overhead and a TV showing porn. In addition, there were also two basic rooms in the basement that had a massage table, mirrored walls a shower, sink and toilet, these rooms were £60 for half an hour. The first floor had a laundry for all the towels to be washed and dried, and eight more basic rooms. On the top floor there were 2 more VIP rooms and a bedroom for the working girls to crash in if they got tired. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The shifts were 12 hours, from 9am – 9pm, or 9pm – 9am, but often I would work one 24 hour shift per week all in one go. To get me through the grueling shift I would take E’s and coke. It was stressful because there was a lot of competition between the girls to make money.” Kelly
And how did you get involved in prostitution Sasha?
“I got involved through friends who were already doing it, I found that amongst my peers it was quite evident that women were making a living in this way I feel that one of the main reasons I got involved was due to my own low self esteem and self worth. I had also been in a difficult (violent) relationship and became a single parent! I started working as a receptionist at a massage parlour that my friend worked in, met some other girls and was encouraged to give it a try.
I would never walk the streets due to the safety element, and funny as it may seem I always felt myself a class bit than that- very snobby in such a seedy world. In some ways I feel I kept some morals and that is why I may have been able to get out of it as I didn’t let it totally consume the person I was. I realised for some people their options were limited due to the way they had damaged their bodies/looks through drug addiction and sheer abuse etc…” Sasha
What did you think of the clients?
“Some of the clients were dead friendly, like lonely men who were shy and desperately wanted a girlfriend. They would book me for an hour, chat to me for half an hour and offer me drinks, have sex for 15mins, and then I would get dressed and say our goodbyes.
Yet many clients were alcoholic, druggies, aggressive, rude, piss-taking, disrespectful misogynists! These sorts of guys were typically married and would take you to their marital home and want sex in the bed they shared with their wife! They would want rough hard sex and this was very uncomfortable for me and stressful – especially with the chance their wife could come home at any moment.
Others were into weird stuff like water sports, bondage or humiliation.
I tried not to judge the clients because I didn’t want them to judge me, yet sometimes they were just absolute bastards who said unkind things about my body, made unwanted comments about my breasts, screamed insults at me whilst shagging me, and some even physically hurt me like pulling my hair and biting me……’ Kelly
And you Sasha?
“Some clients I didn’t like as they made me realise what I was doing, and they held very little regard for my welfare! This was to be expected from some but not all. It didn’t just involve sex, many clients wanted some one to talk to, make them feel valued, of help to support them through a difficult time in which they needed some comfort. In turn some made me feel that way too- some didn’t! I found that eventually I had to have drink or drugs to be able to carry through the job and this was dangerous.” Sasha
If its not too personal to ask….What goes through your mind when having sex with clients?
“Ha ha! Loads of things… money money money! What will I buy with
my money? Which bill am I going to pay? Often “when will he come so I can go?” or “the expression on his face is so funny I want to burst out laughing but I better not cause he won’t be amused” or “oh my god I wish he would hurry up I’m not enjoying this at all”. I would often detach myself from my body……Kelly
How did you get on with other women working as prostitutes?
‘We became intimate in a way I hadn’t experienced before. We went through a lot together.” Kelly
Did you ever experience violence and did you report it?
“Yes I experienced violence on many occasions but I never once reported it. Once when I was working in a flat on my own I got robbed of a full day’s money, about £400. I was devastated but I never reported it because I didn’t want the police to know what I was doing.” Kelly
Have your experiences had an impact on your everyday life now? Have your experiences changed you?
“The experiences I’ve had through sex work have definitely impacted upon me, mostly in a negative way but some in a positive way. It gave me a very low opinion of men and it impacted upon my self esteem and personality badly. I ended up taking a lot of drugs to get through the working day/night, and I saw myself as a sex object. This means I have difficulty trusting people and being in a relationship now. It has also made me paranoid and I suppose you could say that I’m scarred for life. Furthermore, because I’m such an open honest person, when I stopped doing it I told people (friends, boyfriends) what I used to do in an attempt to “get it off my chest” and now I have a bad reputation. Living with stigma is not nice, I know people talk about me behind my back but no one asks me to my face.
Yet at the same time it sort of made me a woman of the world and gave me an interesting perspective and an insight into a secretive part of our society and culture. I also learned a lot about myself.” Kelly
Do you think prostitution should be legal?
‘Yes, I think the minimum age for doing it should be 25 years. This would help to stop young girls from being exploited.” Kelly
“I’m not sure whether I feel that it should be legal” Sasha
Why did you stop Sasha?
“I stopped working because although I had tried to keep myself safe I was frightened of people finding out and what could happen to me. I choose to work in a different area in a massage parlour, and I stayed there for 3 years. During that time I saw many girls come and go, some were lovely, however some had no regard for themselves or any one else . I found this difficult and become to realise that if I didn’t get away from the situation my life could take a very different track. I did not want to end up like some of the girls that I met. Now I have completed a degree and have worked with young people for 10 years, I still find it difficult being intimate with someone but I am working on that. Overall it is down to the individual person how it will/can affect them and why they are doing it.” Sasha
And you Kelly?
“I stopped doing sex work because I got really sick of it. I was crying before and after work and I was an emotional wreck. When I was 19 I got pregnant and worked till I was 5 months pregnant. I went back to work 3 weeks after my son was born. That was a very low point for me. My boyfriend still didn’t work and he had started abusing me, verbally, physically and sexually during my pregnancy. We split up when my son was 6 months old and I moved back home. I tried to give up the work but found it hard financially because I was used to smoking lots of weed and having money. I stayed working till I was about 25. Then I got ill and nearly died. I had anorexia and bulimia since my teens and all the peculiar eating/purging habits wrecked my digestive system.
During this time I was hospitalised but they couldn’t operate because I was so ill, I was on a drip and was nil by mouth for 2 weeks. This made me re-assess my lifestyle and realise that money was not so important. For the first time in my life I actually wanted to live. I wanted to live for my son and be a good mum. Although I was always a good mum anyway, being a prostitute was making me ill and causing me to live an isolated, secretive lifestyle. Prostitution urged me to make the wrong decisions about the person I really was, I felt it was becoming all consuming and eating me up. The adjustment period was very hard, to go from making on average £600 a week, to living off £100 a week on benefits, so I relapsed a couple of times. Luckily I had confided in two amazing friends who really helped and encouraged me to stop. If it wasn’t for them I might be dead by now.
Some girls I worked with are dead. The recent serial killer known as the “crossbow cannibal” murdered my friend – I knew her as “Holly”. When I heard about it on the news I felt devastated. I hadn’t seen her for years but apparently she was still working. When I knew her she worked in the massage parlour but on the news it said she was a street girl who was addicted to heroin.
Now I’m in my early 30’s and have made a “decent” career for myself. I’m also doing a degree at university. When I look back I realise I was groomed for prostitution. My father sexually, physically and emotionally abused me. This abuse provided the perfect conditions for me to become a prostitute. Because of what he did I had a miserable childhood. I was never happy. I did not know what trust, respect or intimacy was. I was socialised into being sexual – in my body language, use of language and behaviour – but I didn’t realise until I stopped working. So Ive had to relearn how to portray myself in order to function appropriately in mainstream society.
I felt like dying all my life – until I got out of sex work, then I really started to live” Kelly
(compiled from a zine on prostitution, a collective work created by myself, two friends and the women interviewed)