Monday, 4 July 2016

What is it like selling sex in London?

              Jenny Medcalf
Former sex worker Jenny says she fights for women selling sex on the streets. "They are me, but they are still in it."

Ending the criminalisation of soliciting for sex in England and Wales could lead to one of the most tectonic shifts in how prostitution is seen in society since it was first made illegal nearly 200 years ago. But what is it like to sell your body for sex in London?

On Friday a cross-party group of senior MPs called for soliciting by sex workers to be decriminalised in what would be radical changes to the laws on prostitution.

This will most likely be welcome news to London's estimated 32,000 sex workers who, charities say, are less safe as a result of the criminalisation of their trade.

Rape and violence against sex workers UK

Jenny Medcalf says she started selling sex in 2004 when an ex-boyfriend suggested it.
At the time she was working as an actuary, struggling to keep up with the childcare costs for her three children and mortgage payments on her house in Surbiton.

The Durham University graduate says after a difficult marriage and a string of "not so great" boyfriends, she wound up with a different boyfriend who got her into BDSM - an abbreviation for bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism.

"I desperately needed the money, " says Jenny, 47. "I thought I was making a controlled decision to go into sex work to meet my financial needs and I could run it like a business."
Her ex initially organised the bookings and was present for her first punter, she says.

Soho sign at night
Sex tends to be sold in Soho and Paddington, both on the street and by appointment in brothels

The graduate says she advertised online and would visit men in hotels or their houses.

A recovering alcoholic, Jenny says she used drugs to disassociate herself from the emotional and physical toll the job took on her.

After five years working in the industry, there was one moment when she knew she wanted out.
"This guy had me in a cage and he was trying to whip me through it. I swore at him, shouting. I never saw him again, although he wanted to see me. It was a turning point.

"The job had completely broken me."

Spires
Staff at Spires often visit the women in prison, or hospital

Like women on the street, she says she was going to a client and then on to her dealer - but rather than a £10 rock of crack she was buying £300 worth of speed after a two-hour booking.

The situation became untenable when, unable to face opening her post, she slipped behind on mortgage payments and lost her house - along with her three children, her cats and all of her possessions.

After attempting to kill herself, using drugs and turning to drink again, Jenny met the man who went on to become her husband, whose patience she says helped to give her the strength to transform.

Underpass
Women working to sell sex on the street are in danger of being taken out of sight and attacked, Jenny says

Like women on the street, she says she was going to a client and then on to her dealer - but rather than a £10 rock of crack she was buying £300 worth of speed after a two-hour booking.

The situation became untenable when, unable to face opening her post, she slipped behind on mortgage payments and lost her house - along with her three children, her cats and all of her possessions.

After attempting to kill herself, using drugs and turning to drink again, Jenny met the man who went on to become her husband, whose patience she says helped to give her the strength to transform.

One morning during her recovery, she woke up and a "light bulb" went off in her head that she wanted to work with sex workers with addictions.

She started volunteering at the Spires charity in Tooting and is now one of the charity's most prominent workers. She goes out on to the street at night to find and help people - largely women - who are working as prostitutes.

On the street, these women get around £20 for full sex - but the price can also be as low as £5.


"I fight for the women," she says. "A number are the same age as me. They are me, but they are still in it.

"I respect them as women, I love them as women and I can see they can be so much more than they are at the moment," she says.

Of course, sex is still sold on the streets of the capital. However, the idea perpetuated by Julia Roberts' character in the 1990 blockbuster Pretty Women, of risqué dressing and glamour, is not generally reflected by so-called streetwalkers in London.

Women selling sex on the street are more likely to look like a friend, an aunt or a mother - they tend to be wrapped up warm, as standing on a street all night is cold - and wearing comfortable shoes, not the killer heels often seen in the media

Met commander Christine Jones
Met commander Christine Jones says she wants to stop exploitative individuals making money in the "most appalling ways"

They are not likely to be heavily made-up.

Met Police commander Christine Jones says she often finds women working within the sex trade are there as a result of coercion, a lack of choices, and vulnerability.

She says she tries to put the care of women at the "heart of everything", as it is the punters who create the demand and bring violence and anti-social behaviour to communities.

She says targeting people who exploit women and buy sex is "at the top" of the Met's agenda - rather than taking the women into custody. "I think that is a really important message to get across," she adds.

Although some, like Alice, are able to make prostitution work to their advantage, many struggle with the reality of making a living out of something so intimate.

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