Local sex escorts
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Like most of the girls in the Southampton lap-dancing club, 32-year-old Elizabeth began selling sex as a student. She has worked as an independent escort and companion for four years and charges from ?600 for a few hours of her time up to many thousands for weeks and even months of companionship. Nice work if you can get it, but she has crawled her way up the sex industry food chain, from a brothel to a strip club, then a massage parlour and escort and internet agencies before striking out on her own. “My high rate cuts out the lower market I used to get,” she says.
According to Samantha, there’s now a growing number of women who hold down professional jobs and go on the game at the weekend. These women are not on the breadline, nor are they feeding a drug habit. No – their behaviour is a tragic indictment of obsessive consumerism. Whither a woman’s sanctity when there’s a new pair of Manolos and a trip to Chiva-Som in the offing?
But, as Belle makes clear at the end of her description of the prostitution career ladder: “If someone steals your passport and forces you to have sex with strangers, call it what it is. rape and slavery. Don’t call it prostitution.”
Helen Atkins works for the Poppy Project, which provides accommodation and support to women who have been trafficked into prostitution, and is one of the critics of Secret Diary of a Call Girl. “Multimedia representations like this portray prostitution as a fun, easy way to make lots of money. There are few column inches or screen time given to the reality of prostitution.”
I would argue the opposite. Secret Diary is the only media representation which seeks to present prostitution in terms that are not sordid, impoverished and miserable. What about Band of Gold and Sex Traffic? Newspapers run stories about the horrors of trafficking and the terrible Ipswich murders of 2006, not 10-point plans on how to be a successful escort.
But The Poppy Project works at the very sharp end of prostitution, with trafficked women. It has received more than 1,000 referrals from the police since 2000 and supports Jacqui Smith’s proposals, only wishing the Government had gone further and aimed for complete criminalisation of the sale of sex under any circumstances. They do not see it as a solution to trafficking, or imagine it will stop men from buying sex with trafficked women, or the trafficking of women itself. Atkins’s interpretation of “trafficked” is wider than most of us might understand the term. Under the United Nations’ global definition of trafficking, she explains, the three key elements are movement, coercion and exploitation, pointing to US research which finds that 90 per cent of pimp-controlled prostitution equates to trafficking. Coercion and exploitation are evident in the relationships of many prostitutes with their partners, pimps and brothel-keepers, even if they have not been brought into the UK illegally.
Moreover, insists Atkins, grassroots organisations such as The Poppy Project do not exist to safeguard the Belles de Jour of this world. “There’s often a conflict of interest. The legislation could benefit one group and not another. I think it’s imperative we place the rights of people who are exploited over the rights of those who are empowered.” The “empowered” women are those solicitors who escort at weekends; the exploited are the 95 per cent of street prostitutes who use heroin or crack cocaine.
The explosion of commodified sex in Britain is a smokescreen for the horrific circumstances facing many women working in the industry. “We mistake our ability to talk about how to get a blow job as liberation,” says Roddick, “but we can’t be sexually liberated as a society when the biggest area of growth within sex is trafficked women.”
That sex has evolved into an acceptable dinner-party conversation subject has increased demand for it in all its forms, including prostitution. Without retreating into the puritanical laws that govern American public attitudes to sex, there are two ways forward for prostitution. Either we accept it and try to build health and safety procedures into the trade, or reject it as an abuse of women and make those seeking to pay for sexual services culpable for their behaviour.
The campaign set up in Ipswich after the murders of five prostitutes in 2006 was called Somebody’s Daughter, a clever emotional brake which forces many men interested in buying sex to remember that the woman means as much to her father as their own daughters do to them. However, that woman might also have children of her own to feed and clothe.
The evidence from areas where prostitution is legal is not promising. Victoria was the first Australian state to legalise it, in 1984, but its 400 legal brothels stand side by side with many more illegal ones. Anywhere that establishes itself as a “safe zone” for prostitution draws pimps. Yet tolerance zones in cities including Aberdeen and Edinburgh were hugely popular with prostitutes. They became technically illegal in Scotland and similar plans in England have fallen by the wayside, largely due to local opposition.
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