‘Katie’ sent us this account of her path into prostitution through our Share Your Story page, which provides a space for women to tell their stories in their own words.
At 14, I was nearly always in a state of weariness. I’d had enough of hating myself, trying to psych myself up with positive mantras only to look in the mirror and wish there was a way I could peel my face off and grow a different one. Being informed I was ugly had become a daily thing at that point.
I decided I needed to change my image and had my hair cut short. I was never very good at managing my long hair so how hard could short hair be. The hairdresser must have thought it was a bit too short because she made it clear to me that I’d need a face full of make up to make my new look work. That wasn’t part of the plan.
After that it wasn’t just ugly the other kids would call me, lesbian became an additional insult. I really hated that one because I knew it was true. The short hair had to go so I grew it back again and, in the meantime, I decided to live off apples wherever possible. When I had to eat at home, it was porridge made with water or the smallest baked potato I could find, with nothing on.
I was very proud of my new regime and I lost weight quickly. It even stopped my periods so I knew I was doing it properly. After a few months though I couldn’t handle it and swapped the apple diet for binge eating. I’d read in a magazine about a girl who abused laxatives and I thought great I can do that. I’d tried sticking my fingers down my throat after meals but turns out I wasn’t very good at that. Laxatives however, that was a different story. I was an excellent laxative taker. I could take a whole packet in one night.
Laxatives worked for me because the effects usually happened in the middle of the night when my Mum and Dad were asleep. One night though, my Dad got up for the toilet and I had to briefly tear myself away from the bathroom so he could use it. I was in agony at this point. My stomach felt like it was being twisted into a knot. I couldn’t go back to bed because I needed the toilet again and the bathroom was downstairs. After using the toilet for the second time, I found my dad waiting for me sat at the kitchen table. I told him what I’d done and that I’d got the idea from a magazine which made him even angrier. I’d like to say I never did it again after that but I’d reach for them again for a while after that.
By the time I was 16, I really loathed my body. It was also about this time that I started to tell a few friends about me being the dreaded L word. I had lots of trouble spitting that out. I became more and more introverted and was lonelier than I’d ever been.
I thought university would be the fresh start I needed but I didn’t end up going until I was 20 because I thought working first would give me the money for it. So for two years I temped. I was in the real world. And that was just as awful as the world of education. In my mind I was a sophisticated adult surrounded by other sophisticated adults. In reality, I was a teenager surrounded by men who constantly talked about sex and spit roasts. I met a man who I decided to disclose my sexuality to. He was 25 and I thought he knew about the world. I ended up declaring to him that I was bisexual after all and we ended up having sex. I’d like to say we dated but there was definitely none of that going on.
I was a virgin and he decided that the best place to take me was his friends grotty flat complete with bare mattress on the floor for our pleasure. It hurt and he expected me to say phrases that he had heard in porn. I’d never watched porn and felt a bit silly saying anything at all. He decided it would be a good idea to give me a copy of The Story of O to watch. I took it home and watched it in bedroom. I was disgusted, horrified and fascinated all at the same time. The next time I saw him I made it clear that I couldn’t understand why he’d given it me. Did he want to do that to me? That’s not normal surely?
My relationship with him did not last long but it had opened my eyes. I decided to carry on down the dating men route. This time it was a stranger who I think I met through some phone dating thing (tinder wasn’t a thing then). This guy picked me up in car, gave me as many shots as I could drink and then drove me to his house. I could barely stand by the time I got there. We got into bed and after a while he freaked out. Apparently, I was bleeding and it was disgusting him. He was shouting that I should have told him I couldn’t handle my drink. I was 18 and didn’t really have much experience with alcohol.
This dating men thing was not going very well. There were more men that came and went but similar things happened. At 19 I discovered that massage parlours existed. Men would pay to have sex with young women. I decided this would be the test. If men would be willing to actually pay me for sex, then I must attractive right? Men wouldn’t pay to sleep with ugly women surely? An ad in the paper was looking for girls, so I rang and got myself an interview.
Naive 19-year-old me turned up in smart trousers and a blazer like I was interviewing for an admin role. It worked though. It got me the job. Or it might have been my age that swung it.
I was new to this world so I was honest and told them my real name and age. Right well you’re actually 18 here the interviewer said. I’ll put you out as 18 and size 8. I protested at this and told her I was a size 10 not 8. I was worried that these men might be disappointed when they turned up and saw a 10. I soon realised that would never happen.
The massage parlour had two bedrooms so that two women could be working at the same time. The men would arrive and be sent into a room, then we would go in separately to say Hi. Then the receptionist would go in and ask the man which woman he wanted to see that day.
It happened very quickly on my first day. I had been chosen, like the weird little aliens in toy story. No rhyme or reason, just sent into a bedroom to have sex with a strange fat old man.
The man in question was Asian and didn’t speak much English which made the whole thing even more awkward. I got on the bed in my frilly pink lingerie and waited for him to get on with it. He opened my legs but for some reason he was having trouble doing the deed. Luckily, because it was my first time, there was another girl in the room watching from the foot of the bed in case I needed any help. He looked over at her and shrugged as if to say this one’s no good.
She quickly took over and got underneath him. She got the job done quick and he was gone. I was in shock. I apologised to her and offered to give her the money that the man had given me. She refused and said ‘That was worth it for you’. To this day I still feel guilty that I didn’t insist she take that money.
After that I started to get the hang of it. I was very popular, mainly because I was the youngest woman there and word got round that there was an 18-year-old there. I felt like some glamorous celebrity. Walking around in my underwear and heels with men actually paying me for my body.
I didn’t want to see the men though, I just wanted the payment part and the being chosen part. The receptionist commented one day that I always sighed when the doorbell rang. Most girls want as many as possible she said.
An older man came in one day, he was probably in his sixties and didn’t say much. He got on the bed and told me to get on top. I wasn’t the best at that as I preferred taking a passive role. Being on top was too much work and I’d have to act a lot more. I did it though but as I did, he grabbed me and aggressively moved my body. I didn’t ask him to stop because I thought if I keep quiet it will be over soon. Eventually it did stop and he let me go. There was no condom. What had happened to the condom? I started crying. I didn’t want this man’s semen inside me. I felt sick. He left and I was panicking. The other girls came in the room and I had to tell them what had happened. They sat me down and proceeded to pry open my vagina to get the missing condom out. I was terrified. What if I had a disease now?
The girls advised me to get in the bath that they’d run for me so I did. I just sat there dazed until they said that I couldn’t just sit there and that I needed to wash myself. I followed their orders and realised that I’d now have to have to get myself checked. The man later phoned up to apologise and he asked to speak to me. I declined.
I didn’t last long at that place but by the time I eventually got to Uni, I realised that I wasn’t very good with money. I had a boyfriend at this point but I thought, a few shifts won’t hurt. I started working in a parlour in [English town]. This wasn’t like the previous one. This one had mirrors everywhere and porn being played on screens in the bedrooms. That first shift, a group of men came in (I think they were on a stag night). They came in as a group and looked me up and down. This felt different. Scary. They left and said that they had to go and get cash out. I was praying they wouldn’t come back and thankfully they didn’t.
For the next ten years I was in and out of prostitution and it took various forms. I knew I could do it. I remember being asked by one of the brothel owners, why would you be good in this job and I said because I can do it. That’s it. There was nothing else to it. I could separate my body from my mind. I was acting. And I was a bloody good actress too. I saw men in hotels and in my own home. I told myself I was my own boss. No one else could get this money and choose their own hours. It was my body, I could do with it as I chose.
My longest job was working for a woman in a little house. She had two bedrooms and she ran it. She’d been in the business herself so knew what it was all about. I stayed in this job because I could work two days a week and earn decent money. I also thought I had friends there. They got me. No one else would ever understand and I could never talk to anyone else about this strange job.
I learnt a lot from working there. I learnt that there are certain kinds of men who buy sex. Old men, young men, rich men, poor men, fat men, thin men, white men, black men, brown men, smart men, not so smart men, married men, single men, divorced men, men who like to wear dresses, men whose wives have just given birth, attractive men, religious men, right wing men, left wing men and well any other kind of men you can think of.
We laughed, we laughed a lot working there. The situations were frankly bonkers and I realised that there is nothing that cannot be turned into a fetish. One day a man came in clutching a bunch of bananas and three blocks of Cheddar cheese. I was not alarmed. I had been pre warned about this man as he was well known in this world. Today was my turn with him and I felt sick. The bananas as it turned out were just a gift to us girls. A fruity treat for us. The cheese however was for masturbating him with. I got one block in one hand and one block in the other and well that was that. He left and we threw the bananas straight in the bin, along with the cheese.
Although there were laughs at the madness of it all, deep inside I felt I was being eaten up by it. Consumed by these men who wanted to pay me as little as possible for as much as they could get away with doing to me. I started off with boundaries, I won’t do this and I won’t do that. Those boundaries can all be broken and frequently are.
I had a regular come in one day. He was OK but to be blunt, his penis was too big to cope with. I grumbled about having to see him when I heard he’d phoned up to book. I complained that he always lasts for ages. The owner casually informed me that he probably gives himself a hand before visiting us to get the most out of his appointment. I went in the room with him and made small talk as always. After a while of him penetrating me, it was starting to hurt so I suggested we stop and do something different. He refused and said he was nearly finished. He didn’t finish, he just kept on and I asked him to stop again and again. I was crying and trying to push him off but he was on a mission that I was not a part of. I looked for something to bang the floor with to get the attention of the owner but I couldn’t see anything.
Eventually he got what he came for. I was still crying. He apologised and left. I stayed in the bedroom as I couldn’t face going down to say goodbye to him at the door like we were supposed to do. The owner saw my face when I eventually came down and she asked me what happened. I told her and she said I should have banged on the floor or shouted. Her friend who also happened to work as a receptionist there phoned her up for a catch up on the day. I heard her tell that he didn’t rape me. He didn’t hurt me. She had barred him from ever coming back though. But he didn’t hurt me.
He was not the only one that “didn’t hurt me”. The man that liked to wear dresses and stockings, tried to force me to accept his penis in my anus and told me my clitoris looked like a penis. He didn’t hurt me.
The man who sweated over me as he continually tried to choke me. He didn’t hurt me.
The man who made me write whore on my face in lipstick and thrashed me with a cane. He didn’t hurt me.
This man, that man, man after man after man. They didn’t hurt me. That’s the party line.
Sex work is work, isn’t it? It’s all about choice.
My life as a prostitute started out because I felt ugly on the outside and I was chasing beauty. Chasing affirmation. I am a lesbian. I’m not even attracted to men but you don’t have to be to sell a service. You don’t have to be to use sex as self-harm.
For a long time I thought it was good for my self-esteem. They would often tell me how beautiful I was and they would frequently choose me over other women so they had to be telling the truth, didn’t they?
The truth is they chose me because I was compliant, could have my boundaries pushed time and time again.
These men did not even view me as human let alone a beautiful woman. One of the worst things you can do in the sex industry is read your own reviews. That’s when you find out what they really think of you. How less than human you are.
I tried to be beautiful but the sex industry forced me to see all the ugly. And the ugly got inside me too. One day I just left, packed up all my heels and underwear that I kept at that little house and vowed never to go back. Something had clicked. Why was I doing this? Who for? What for?
It wasn’t for me. It did nothing for me. It’s not meant to. I had been running from myself for so long but I was finally getting it. This was harming me. This was not a solution to anything. I needed to take control. Take my body back. Take my life back.
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 anonymously, please see our Share Your Story page.