Ending the criminalisation of soliciting for sex in England and Wales could lead to one of the most tectonic switchings in how prostitution is seen in society since it was first attained 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 sexuality employees to be decriminalised in what would be radical changes to the laws on prostitution.
This will most likely be welcome news to London’s calculated 32,000 sex employees who, charities say, are less safe as a result of the criminalisation of their trade.
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 wedding 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 guessed 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.
The graduate says she advertised online and would visit men in hotels or their houses.
“I wasn’t the traditional type of bodyguard you would insure. I was genuinely thin with cropped hair, totally flat-chested and quite boyish but I was offering a BDSM service.”
A regaining alcoholic, Jenny says she used narcotics 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 enclosure and he attempted to lash me through it. I swore at him, hollering. I never saw him again, although he wanted to see me. It was a turning point.
“The job had completely broken me.”
She says the idea she was in control had “gone completely” and at that stage, she detested herself.
Like women on the street, she says she was going to a client and then on to her merchant – but rather than a 10 rock of fissure she was buying 300 worth of velocity 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 home – along with her three children, her cats and all of her possessions.
After attempting to kill herself, employing medications and turning to drinking again, Jenny satisfied 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.
Sex employees in the Lambeth area
Increase in the number of women known to Spires from 2011 to 2015
284% Increase in the average number of new girls insured each month between 2011 and 2015
1154 Total number of women Spires induced contact with in 2015
Media captionClare says she started selling sex after developing an addiction to drugs and alcohol Image caption Image caption Image caption Image caption Image caption Image caption