prostitution

A night with Nikki…

Smart, funny and exceptionally witty, Nikki looks much younger than her 35 years. She dreamt of being a singer and enjoys writing poetry. Born in Brazil, she settled in Manchester as a young girl when her parents came in search of the promised ‘better life’ they had heard so much about.

She is also an escort and spends her evenings having sex with men for cash.

nikki

 

 

Far from the preconceived ‘victim’ or ‘down on her luck’ addict that springs to mind, Nikki is the epitome of class and sophistication. Long, lustrous hair swept back off her face and smooth, clear skin, she has a figure that makes women envious while bringing grown men to their knees. It’s hard to ignore the lustful glances she’s attracting as we chat over a glass of wine in a busy Manchester bar.

With so much in the news recently about the rise of girls forced into prostitution, Nikki is eager to lift the lid on the other side of this often-misunderstood profession – where, for some, selling sex is a choice and not a necessity.

“I sell sex because the money is good, the hours are flexible and to be honest, I’m really good at it. I made the choice to become an escort and I’ve never really looked back, finally I can support myself and have a pretty decent standard of living at the same time.”

Married for a number of years, Nikki says she was ‘happy with her lot’ and looking forward to possibly having children one day, until her husband had an affair, eventually leaving her for a much younger woman he had allegedly met at work.

“It knocked my confidence hard when he left because I never saw it coming. He just went to work one day and never came home.”

“I was enrolled on a book keeping course at college and wanted to become an accountant but, after he left, I just couldn’t find work and things began to fall apart. That’s when I made the decision to do what I know best. Sex was never an issue when I was married, in fact the thought of being paid for my time felt rather empowering.”

Nikki says it was incredibly easy to get into escorting, after finding an advert in the local paper; she called an agency, spoke to the madam and was invited to the ‘office’ for an interview the same day. images-4

“I was really nervous and didn’t have a clue what to wear so I went for what was, in my opinion, sexy and appropriate – an incredibly short skirt and staggeringly high heels. Arriving by taxi at the discreet address on a leafy lane in Cheshire, I quickly realised that I had got it very wrong and Pretty Woman was not actually a fair representation of my new chosen career.”

The office turned out to be a smart apartment in Hale, one of many in a private, residential block. Here Nikki met *Sue, the lady in charge and was told the ‘rates and rules’.

“Don’t dress like a hooker, don’t do anything unprotected, do not try and undercut the other girls and never give out your personal phone number.”

Nikki certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical image you would imagine for a ‘hooker’- dressed in a blouse, fitted jeans and designer jacket she would look more at home in a boardroom than on any street corner. As she says herself,

“Most of the time you would never know I was an escort. Remember I am a normal woman too. I sit next to you on the bus, I work out next to you at the gym and I pay for my milk next to you in the supermarket.”

This raises the issue of what other people think of her career; Nikki admits that she can’t always be honest with those around her.

“I only have a handful of friends that know what I really do, my family and everyone else believes that I am a very successful accountant, they probably wouldn’t believe it anyway.”

“It can get awkward, one time my friend brought her books round to me in floods of tears, asking me to help her make sense of it all. I spent a whole morning ringing accountants, eventually paying £200 to one willing to do the work quickly so I could say I had done it for her.”

Asked if there are any plus points of her job, Nikki’s eyes sparkle as she describes a world far different from any most women could imagine.

“The gifts are brilliant, I have regular clients who spoil me all the time, I’ve had perfume, clothes, jewelry and even a couple of exotic holidays over the years.”

nikki-2“Most men I meet are like puppies, eager to please and looking for some attention – it’s easy to make them feel special and in return they treat me well. One of my favourite clients was an infamous gangster. He is in jail now and the media have portrayed him as this tough thug. This is not the man I knew. He booked me loads of times and was very charming, if a little flashy. One evening he called the agency, booked me for the whole night and we arrived at his farm house in the countryside by private helicopter to enjoy partying into the early hours.”

When I ask about the sex aspect of the deal Nikki shrugs it off as a very small, occasionally enjoyable part of her unusual job.

“Sometimes the man is unattractive or not really my type but I just block it out, concentrate on my shopping list instead. Smelly ones are dealt with by offering to shower with them and to be honest, most of the guys are alright really.”

“It turns me on to know that this man is paying me for my time, for my body – I have a high sex drive so it suits me just fine. Besides, what woman could honestly say that she wouldn’t like to be wined and dined then showered with gifts? I know a few married women who have sex with their husband whenever they want a new dress, carpet or whatever. The only difference with me is that I’m honest from the offset, they get exactly what they pay for and there is no hidden, ulterior motive.”

“I see men from all walks of life, most are married and all have their own reasons for coming to me. If I had a pound for every time I heard that classic ‘my wife doesn’t understand me’ I could retire. It makes me laugh, and a little sad really. I can’t help wonder if it was my husband saying those same pathetic, empty words to another woman all those years ago, it seems that there are far more misunderstood guys out there than happily married ones.”

The cynicism lies heavy in the air and the conversation takes a darker turn as I ask about the other side of the coin, the bad punters, as she refers to them. Looking down towards her hands it feels like Nikki is almost reliving the experience as her voice drops and the light seems to all but disappear from her eyes.

She doesn’t know much about him at all; he didn’t make much conversation. One thing Nikki does know for sure is that she was totally unprepared for what happened that night.

“He lived in a posh apartment in Chester, there was a doorman and I gave him my real name by mistake when I arrived. He was one of my first clients and I wasn’t used to using my fake name yet.”

“The instructions from the agency had made it clear that the door would be unlocked and I was to let myself in, naively I never really thought anything of it. When I arrived there was music playing really loud, the bass thumped through my body as I walked in and closed the door behind me.”

“The bedroom was in front of me and, as I walked in, I could see an envelope next to the bed with my ‘name’ on it.  A small, thin Chinese man appeared behind me wearing a bathrobe. He spoke impeccable English as he told me to turn off the already dimmed lights.”Pillow Light Room Bedroom Night Lamp Sleep

She pauses, seemingly playing the scene over again…

“It all went wrong from there really. He was really rough, pulling my hair, grabbing me and almost folding me in half, with my legs in the air. It hurt my hips so bad I had to stop myself wincing with pain. Then he wanted to change positions but I just couldn’t do it, I was in agony and feeling really scared by then. I told him I had to stop and he went ballistic, it was like he wanted to hurt me deliberately.”

I ask her why she didn’t just leave.

“I don’t know, I didn’t know what to do” she shrugs.

Leaving as soon as she could, Nikki broke down sobbing in the lift and called the agency to say she never wanted to see him again.

Since then he has been blacklisted from other agencies too, turns out she wasn’t the first woman he had done this to.

So, is this Nikki’s dream job?

“No, but I can think of worse ones” she says. “The men I see are generally good guys, it’s only now and then you get a bad one and you just have to deal with it. What other job could pay me so well for so little – I say who, I say when and I say how much, that makes me in control, doesn’t it?”

As Nikki finishes her drink and turns to leave I can’t help wonder if it really is her or actually the next punter who is in control after all.

sexy girl image

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Charity offers lifeline for working girls in Manchester

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Manchester is a great place to live, shop and study with a cosmopolitan social scene and plenty of opportunities to be found. Born and raised in this bustling city I am proud of my Mancunian heritage however there is another, darker side of Manchester that often goes unseen and unreported.

Prostitution continues to be a problem in Manchester, but whilst there is a demand there will always be business, as I discovered when I spoke to both a sex worker and a staff member from MASH earlier this week.

Manchester Action on Street Health, known as MASH was established in 1991 to provide a confidential and specialised service to street and sauna based female sex workers and female drug users in the Greater Manchester area. The service has moved with the times and now also offers the same service to escorts too, as well as producing literature in other languages as there has recently been a notable rise in Eastern European sex workers in Manchester.

Mash building

‘MASH works with female sex workers to promote sexual health, well being and personal safety whilst offering choice, support and empowerment to promote individual positive life changes.’

Initially MASH was a van based project, offering street outreach in key areas of manchester twice a week. Services include distribution of free condoms, sexual health advice, referrals into drug/care planning, a needle exchange and a “dodgy punter reporting service” as well as distributing personal attack alarms and safety advice.

Whilst the van still operates, and is invaluable to the girls that use it, MASH now also has a designated building on Fairfield Street in Manchester, situated on the outskirts of the red light district.

Female sex workers, or working girls can access drop in sessions which are held between 12.30 and 3.30 Monday to Friday and 8.00 until 11.00 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. Women can drop in, have a drink and something to eat, use the computers and have a chat. Free condoms and a needle exchange are available. Caseworkers and volunteers  provide advice and support and link women into other services. A range of services and activities are available during the drop in. Workers from other agencies link in to the drop in, including specialist midwifery, GP registration, and a Police Clinic.

There is also a Criminal Justice Worker on hand to support women who are involved with Criminal Justice, whether as perpetrator or victim.They assist with writing reports, liaising with police, probation and the courts, as well as providing much needed emotional support.

Helen, the Criminal Justice Worker also provides a weekly clinic for women in Styal Prison, where she helps women in putting together a resettlement plan and offers ongoing, consistent support through their sentence and when they leave prison.

Counselling, art therapy and drama are just a few of the activities on offer at the centre, all of which have had far reaching affects when coupled with the warm, friendly and accepting welcome found at MASH.

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I met with Cate Allison, chief executive of MASH  earlier this week and was struck by her calm, compassionate manner. She said it was often the girls’ own choice to work the streets, also that, “It is very difficult when they have alcohol, drug and domestic violence problems. Our aim here at MASH is to empower the women to make their own choices in their lives. By offering support for their other problems will hopefully enable them to make the right choice.”

MASH has undoubtedly helped many women that may otherwise have slipped through the net, here are some facts and figures from 2011 to 2012 that speak for themselves….

  • Last Year MASH worked with 502 women and 274 Individual women accessed activities at the MASH Centre.
  • 210 women were supported to healthier lifestyles through the MASH Centre.
  • The MASH Clinic: 120 street workers and 60 indoor workers accessed the clinic at the MASH Centre.
  • Our caseworkers provided intensive support to 90 women.
  • 25 women were supported when they were in Styal prison.
  • 23 women accessed complementary therapies
  • 28 women accessed counselling
  • 27 women attended self-esteem workshops
  • 7 undertook self-defence training
  • 7 did First Aid Training
  • 32 accessed Occupational Therapy, including gym and swimming sessions and cooking and budgeting support.
  • 85 women have had full sexual health screening
  • 111 women have been tested for Hepatitis B
  • 304 women have been tested for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea
  • 63 individual women regularly use our needle exchange
  • 185 women have received support with drug issues
  • 12 of the women we supported chose to exit sex work

As I left the MASH centre after meeting with Cate, I saw a lone working girl on the corner, hoping for business from the passing lunchtime traffic..( it was around 11.30am ).

girl and car

On approaching the lady it became apparent that she was in her late 50s, maybe early 60s, she looked tired and had her shoulders hunched against the wind.

Bundled up in a winter coat with a short skirt and heels, she was shivering and was so quietly spoken it was difficult to hear her as she spoke to me about her experience of working the streets of Manchester.

*Stacey explained she had worked the streets for as long as she could remember, starting to fund her own and her boyfriends heroin addiction. The boyfriend was long gone, but she said the addiction had stayed and forced her out to earn money the only way she knew how.

I asked if she had accessed MASH and she had, saying it was a lifeline and that she often popped in for a hot drink and a listening ear.

Stacey recalled two separate incidents where she was attacked and robbed but still had to go back out and carry on, despite being really scared, and she said she regularly looks at the ugly mug list, as well as speaking to the other girls to share information on dodgy punters.

Seeing Stacey glancing towards passing cars, and sensing her patience drifting, I thanked her for her time and made my way back to my car to head home with a head full of thoughts.

girl2 n car

I decided to write this piece after reading the news on the recent attacks on sex workers in Manchester, and the work of those that were supporting these women through such a difficult time. A man has since been charged five counts of rape, attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and other sexual assaults and is due to appear in court at the end of the month. This is obviously good news and hopefully, with time and support, the victims will make a full recovery.

I have discovered that MASH is an amazing service that is an absolute lifeline for some of the most vulnerable women in our society. Non judgemental and welcoming, a big part in the success MASH has achieved in this sensitive area is down to the dedication and skills of the many staff and volunteers that work together so well.

Gaining the trust of the working girls has taken time and commitment, this trust is a major factor in the success of the ugly mug scheme, where information on dodgy punters is shared between the women so that a database can be built and offenders more easily recognised and, in some cases apprehended.

The girls working on the streets of Manchester are often given bad press or deemed a problem for society. They are stigmatised and judged by many around them that feel they are in the position to do so. To those people I would like to say this…

Undoubtedly there are a few women that have made a conscious decision to become a prostitute but these are far out numbered by the rest…..Women that have ended up there through abuse, violence and addiction. Some because they have no other options left and others because it is all they know.

Whatever the story or situation these women are exactly that, Women.

They are mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, possibly even grandmothers. They do not need people passing judgement or making assumptions, they need understanding and support.They have the same rights as every other woman in our society and it will be a glorious day when all working girls feel able to speak out about their experiences and needs whilst getting support needed, without feeling the sharp edge of societies stigma.

We are fortunate to have such a great service in Manchester, many areas have similar projects but MASH is certainly one to be noted, as many of the women would agree.

* False name to protect identity.

Here are some useful links for issues related to this article…

LIfeline for help and advice on drug use and misuse

Drugscope for all related issues

UK network of sex work projects

MASH name

Photos used with kind permission from MASH…:)

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