The College Tribune recently sat down with a UCD student who spends her evenings working as a part-time ‘sex worker’. The student, who wishes to be called ‘Jenny’, patient spends her day going to college in UCD and her evenings working as a ‘sex worker’ to pay for both her college fees and her day-to-day living expenses. “I go to college during the day and in the evenings I work.”
‘Jenny’ has been working as a ‘sex worker’ for the past year and a half, having started working in Germany through an agency. She told us that the original reason she began working in this industry was out of a desire to “try it out”.
Despite not wanting to continue working as a ‘sex worker’ once back in Ireland, Jenny decided to get back into the industry due to mounting living costs and college expenses. “Initially it wasn’t really planned but it ended up happening because it’s just so expensive.”
Although many escorts work through an agency Jenny decided to work independently and uses the website ‘Escort Ireland’ to advertise herself and to attract what she calls “punters”. “I work as an independent escort here and I use Escort Ireland. Here I put up an advertisement. They have forums where you can talk to your clients and build a relationship up in that way.”
Through this website women, including Jenny, are able to display photographs of themselves along with the preferred criteria the “punters” must meet; this can include various elements such as age. Through their own profile the women also make clear the sex acts which they will and will not perform through a list of “favourites”. The women are vetted by the website to make sure the photographs they are using are correct. Although the wide belief of escorts are women in their early 20’s, Jenny describes many of the women on Escort Ireland as in their 30’s or 40’s and some women in their 60’s still working.
Through this website “punters” are also able to write reviews of their experiences with the women, this can include whether or not the photo used into the profile was accurate or not. The profile also lets prospective clients know what type of “experience” the women offers, as Jenny states she “specialises in the girlfriend experience” which is often requested. Jenny explains the “girlfriend experience” or “girl next door experience” as her clients “just want me to be really sweet to them and someone they feel like they can cuddle with and stuff.”
The variety of men who contact Jenny through the website is varied. Married men, students and sometimes older men who are just looking for someone to talk to or companionship are amongst her clients.”I’ve had clients who are over 80 but they just want me to talk to them.” This age range is controlled by the women through their profile as many do not allow men over or under a certain age to contact them. Jenny explains that a lot of women won’t take men aged under 25. “They can feel like they’re taking the piss. You get a good feel for recognising voices, if they’re serious or not.”
Although many would take a different opinion, Jenny views what she does as not prostitution but as a type of work, as, she states, many escorts who work independently view it as a type of business. “Especially if you work as an independent you see it as a business. So you sell certain aspects of yourself.”
When meeting her clients Jenny uses a location such as a hotel or a rented apartment, “the way it works in Ireland is that you have ‘incall’, you work from an apartment or a hotel.” She talks us through the system in place with many escorts when meeting with clients: with this location set you would advertise for a number of days and work from this location. Locations would never be fully disclosed at the beginning of making an appointment, firstly a general area in Dublin is given and when the clients get to a specific landmark near the location, “when they’re nearby you give them the rest of the information of where you are.”
Some women chose to work and meet clients in their own homes. This is something Jenny chooses not to do and due to safety reasons Jenny works out of a rented apartment that she has access to.
Although the women’s real identities are not disclosed Jenny reveals that there is a forum through which the women speak to one another, often to help with apartments, as apartments can also be shared by a number of women working in the industry. It is also a way in which the women attempt to keep themselves safe.
Jenny also discloses the other ways in which the women attempt to keep themselves safe from “dangerous men”. A website has been set up called “Ugly Mugs” which compiles reports that sex workers have put together of dangerous clients. The clients are given a number by which the women can refer to and once typed into the system brings up any reports on the client, if a client has no reports it is usually assumed that he is “safe”. Jenny states that collecting this information is common practice for sex workers worldwide, “In every country in the world, sex workers collect this information. You can get in as a sex worker and check it out.” Although workers must be careful to keep this information private to keep themselves safe. “If too much of that information got out, dangerous clients might change their behaviour”.
This system has been put in place for sex workers to search reports on the men they may be talking to or have agreed to meet with. The website has been in place for five years and Jenny states “runs on no money”. The women can make reports and check them through both Escort Ireland and other groups such as a sex worker outreach group. This would be the main tool that Irish sex workers would use to protect themselves.
Men are put onto this site for a number of reasons, one of which is “time wasting”, this is men making appointments and not turning up, something which Jenny describes Irish men to be “notorious for.” Another behaviour which would lead to men being put on the site would be them doing something dangerous. Jenny claims many of these incidents go unreported to the Police as the women feel that they “won’t be taken seriously” which she attributes to the certain laws and attitudes towards sex workers.
During the interview Jenny also spoke of the darker side of prostitution claiming that due to the fear of trafficking and women being forced into the industry many men will only want to meet with Irish girls. “Romanian girls now have to advertise as Spanish because they are afraid of losing business.”
According to Jenny, this leads many men to predominately contact Irish girls through the website as they believe they can be assured Irish girls are on the website and working in the industry by their own accord. “A lot of my clients say they prefer seeing Irish girls because they are so afraid of the anti trafficking thing.”
Jenny believes she will have to consider working as a ‘sex worker’ for the long term if she continues to live in Dublin and no other options become available.
Jenny describes her current situation as “hard” as she looks at schemes such as ‘Job Bridge’ as an alternative if she wanted to get a job. Currently the hours Jenny works suits her daily lifestyle. Describing a week in which she is working, Jenny would go to college during the day and then going to a rented apartment in the evening and meet clients, she even states she often studies in-between clients. Mostly taking 4-5 men in one night for an approximate time of half an hour each, with half an hour in-between each client and no client after 10pm.
Jenny also refers to other sites used by women throughout our interview, such as ‘Seeking Arrangement’ which has high numbers of students on the site. “From what I gathered most students use ‘SeekingArrangment.com’.” This allows women to advertise themselves without having to pay for the advertising and pre-costs. “I helped a friend, she’s a student … and it was easy for her, she just put up the ad and got a few responses.”
The summer is a more profitable time for Jenny as she devotes more time to working as an escort, often going to the smaller towns around Ireland. Jenny deems these smaller towns to be “better” then Dublin due to lack of competition and nicer calibre. During this time Jenny could see up to 10-11 men during one day.
Jenny does not believe that her work is as fascinating as some might seem, comparing it to about exciting as working in Debenhams, this is due to the constant shuffling of men and need for discretion at all times. She even goes as far as describing her work as “boring”.
So far in her work as a sex worker Jenny believes she has been lucky as her friends support and understands the industry she is in, which she states some women do not have and are left feeling isolated and alone. “I’m incredibly lucky; most people would get a lot of problems, people looking down on you … It’s hard because it’s to do with stigma not the job itself, it’s not about the work it’s about the stigma.”
Jenny also refers to the logistical elements behind working in the sex industry as she claims “people don’t take it seriously” bringing up the example of a 5 year gap on a C.V. and what women are meant to tell employers they were doing for that 5 year gap. She also claims that many women will not leave the industry, as many have suggested they do, as they have no employment to enter into and will not take Jobseekers Allowance following earning such high amounts of money. “Are you going to go on the dole again after earning this much money?” she asks.
Jenny believes that if the government made changes such as more money for single parents or free third level education women would be more inclined to leave the sex industry in favour of other work.
Jenny also does not let her work affect her own personal life, having had boyfriends in the past who have known the full extent of her work and currently seeing someone. She also tells of women who work in the industry but also have partners at home. Claiming that her work in the sex industry is just work and the relationships between clients and personal partners are completely different. Speaking about a current relationship Jenny describes it as “different”, “What I do with him is so different then to what I do with them. What I have with him is really really different.”
Although many women have partners outside of their work, these partners who “live off the avails” could be considered a ‘pimp’ under current law; this can also include escorts children. Also escorts working together from an apartment can be convicted of running a brothel. These are current laws which Jenny is against and wants to see changed.
Lauren Tracey discusses the various laws regarding prostitution and escorts in Features.
Interview by Rachel Carey and Lauren Tracey.