Harriet’s story

This is another #MeToo personal story that arrived through our Share your story page. We felt it demanded its own post. Be warned: it is powerful, upsetting, important.

Please keep the stories coming. They are moving and courageous. They will help people understand that prostitution, along with the entire sex trade, is harmful; first and foremost to those caught up in it, but ultimately to every single one of us.


I was working as a supply teacher. The work and pay were good. But its freelance nature meant I didn’t get any sick pay and there was no job security. This wasn’t something I worried about though, being a healthy 26-year-old with plenty of teaching work coming my way.

However, I suddenly became homeless due to an attempted rape in my own home by a man I was sharing the house with (I’d answered a house share ad and didn’t know my housemates well). The serious sexual assault left me homeless. (I reported it and was told by police not to go back home – not that I wanted to!) It took the council weeks to find me safe temporary accommodation. I used all of my savings to keep a roof over my head in various youth hostels, desperate to avoid street homelessness.

Finally, after eight weeks or so, I got accommodation in a women’s hostel. By this point I’d run out of money. So I was lucky to get shelter in time.

However… Universal Credit (UC) can only be applied for once you have an address. So after eight weeks of homelessness, I had to wait another six plus weeks for any payment to come through. When it finally did come through, I was subject to Shared Accommodations Rate due to my being under 35 years old. (In short – I was receiving £200-300 pounds a month in total. And my rent in the hostel was an extortionate £175 per week!)

By this point my mental health had deteriorated (I have a long history of mental ill health due to childhood trauma) so I was unable to work as I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and A & E after making multiple attempts on my life. I was suffering from PTSD as a result of the assault, which was also triggering PTSD symptoms relating to my childhood.

Anyway – I had next to no income thanks to Universal Credit’s arbitrary rules and system failures, and because I was too unwell to hold down any sort of job.

My rent arrears were mounting up. I made my case to the council that UC wasn’t giving me the right money, but the council told me that if I didn’t start giving some contribution towards the rent, I’d be evicted and be street homeless.

I sold everything I possessed which would make any money and after that I had no option but to sell sex in order to make some money to get some rent paid so I wouldn’t be kicked out of the women’s hostel.

I went on Craig’s List and responded to adverts for “adult fun with mutual reward”. I had a degree of safety measures. I would only agree to meet men who would send me the registration number of their car and a photo of their face and I told them that I’d be forwarding these to a trusted friend. (I never did. I just gathered that I’d more likely be able to survive an encounter with a man who was willing to share some personal information.) Many guys stopped contacting me when I asked for these details. The ones who did give me those details, I met with.

I remember the first man. He was in his 60s. Allegedly a business man in the City. We met for a drink beforehand where we discussed his likes. He told me he liked to spank. I told him I’d be up for that. He was offering me £200 for 90 mins and I was desperate, so I probably would have said I was up for most things. But I now know how naive I was.

I went to his house the next day at 10:30 am. I got drunk on half a litre of gin on the way over because I knew I’d have to be tanked up in order to cope with it.

When he said spanking, it turned out he meant beating. He used paddles, belts, shoes and batons to beat me. I was covered in bruises so much that I couldn’t sit down for days. He even drew blood. But I was scared at this point to tell him to stop. I was in his house. What was stopping him from killing me and dumping my body, or taking the money back? I thought I’d better just put up with it and make sure I got the money. The pain and humiliation was a price to pay to keep a roof over my head.

Another job I did was accompanying one man to sex clubs. (It was no entry to single men; they had to come with a woman ‘to share’.) So I’d be paid £50 to go to parties with him. Some of the parties were fine. He’d go off and have sex with other people and I’d just sit around. Other times, I was essentially passed around the men. Again, I didn’t say no because I wanted to please this guy because £50 a time a few times a week kept my rent paid. At one of these parties, a huge guy grabbed me and threw me down, pressing my face down and anally raped me. He then turned me back over and spat in my face over and over, saying how much of a good girl I was, and then slapping me in the face. I find it hard to write about that.

I only “worked” in the sex trade for 2 months. Universal Credit then got my payments sorted out… I was so insulted when they gave me a back-payment saying “we owe you this because we should have been paying you it all along”. I wanted to scream, “I know you did but instead of paying me on time and giving me the roof over my head so that I would be safe and be able to start to heal after a horrible assault, your mess ups and the council’s callousness mean that I was forced to endure assault after assault in exchange for the money I needed to have a safe place to sleep!” But I took the money quietly. I needed the money after all.

I’ll never forget the last sex work job I did. I’d found out my brother died a few days earlier (opiate abuse/overdose). I did a job so that I’d have enough money to get to his funeral in Scotland. That was the last job I did. It was the least harmful in physical terms as the clients were respectful that night, thankfully. But it felt like one of the worst – that I was doing this for my brother – and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much he’d hate to see me like this.

Anyway – this is rambled because I find it hard to write about. A lot of it is a blur as I detached a lot of the time in order to cope. But I wanted to write my experience. I certainly wasn’t a “happy hooker”. For me it was a choice between performing sexual acts/being used for money; or ending up on the streets where even worse was likely to happen to me.

I am in therapy now (mainly to address the childhood trauma). When I have talked about the so-called sex work to the therapist, I get a lot of “why didn’t you…?” (I get it about the assault too.) And I leave therapy feeling invalidated and, on bad days, like things were my fault.

Share your story

If you’ve been in the sex trade, or have been affected by it in other less direct ways, and would like to share your story, we’d love to hear from you.

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