Irish women, from respectable backgrounds, are turning to prostitution to pay the bills during the recession. Those forced to sell their bodies for cash include former business people, stay-at-home moms, and recent college graduates.
Linda Latham, of the Women's Health Service, in Dublin, said, “No matter what side of the tracks they come from, I have never met a happy prostitute in my 12 years working in this business…In the '80s and '90s, we saw mainly heroin addicts but now across the board we are seeing educated women who are so strapped for cash they are resorting to it out of dire economic need.
"We see a lot of women with degrees and qualifications who just can't get work."
The Irish Independent spoke to a middle class, well educated, suburban woman who is now running a one-woman escort service from her home in Dun Laoghaire, south Dublin.
The woman, named Niamh for the purposes of the article, studied psychology in university, worked in marketing, and doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, however, she’s now running her own escort service. For $280 (€220) Niamh offers conversation, companionship and “personal services” to men at her home.
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She also said she’s happy to be taken out to dinner and she’ll do an overnight, if the price is right.
She can make $1,917 (€1,500) within a matter of hours each week.
Niamh said, “It's the only way of making ends meet at the moment…I won't say it's easy money, but it is fast money. For example, this afternoon, I was down with a dentist near Wicklow. He gave me €250 and he didn't even last five minutes.
"It's always very busy at this time of year, during and after Christmas. My phone is on call most of the time and there is a lot of work after midnight."
A former marketing professional, Niamh started working in the business as the Irish economy began to falter. She said that since then, colleagues in the sex industry have changed from Brazilian and Eastern Europeans to a completely different group.
"Five years ago, virtually everyone working in the business was foreign, but suddenly in the last year, there's been an influx of Irish women coming into it. I know at least 10 off the top of my head. There's definitely a demand for them among the clientele,” she explained.
Niamh’s clients are, for the most part, professional men who like her to take control. She told the Independent “I see all types of men all across the country. Lawyers, doctors, people you might see on television. One of my clients is on the Sunday Times Rich List but he will open the door to me on his knees in a pair of ladies' underwear. He tells me he is fully under my control."
Another is a garda I've seen a few times, a very kind man who likes to pretend he's a prison warden and I'm the female prisoner. I've been in some really hilarious situations."
Sadly, those who deal with those working in the sex industry who are also dealing with drug addiction, rape, violence and suicide don’t have has lighthearted an attitude.
They are usually trying to fund families. It's particularly noticeable at certain times of year when Communions are coming up or Christmas.
Latham said most women had mental health issues as a result of the lifestyle."I've seldom seen a woman who hasn't got mental health issues. Some will say 'oh it's fine, it's fine', but when they get out of it they tell you the actual horrors of the situation -- the rapes, the beatings, not being allowed to use condoms or attend clinics. Most women are afraid of their lives and want to get the hell out of it."
Dr Paul Ryan, sociology lecturer at NUI Maynooth and a member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) commented on how the type of women, and the personality of women in the sex industry has changed.
He said, “It's not always the case that women are forced into prostitution…Some make a choice to do it. It is something women enter and leave all the time depending on whether they have a First Communion coming up or another financial pressure.
"I did research which showed that some women prefer to do sex work than resort to shoplifting. It is actually a moral choice for them and there is a lot of decision-making based around it. That notion is often brushed under the carpet with the attitude that all prostitution is violent, all prostitutes need to be rescued. . . end of. That's far too simplistic."
Niamh believes that there is a new type of sex worker on the block; one that’s strong minded, opinionated, and a sole agent.
“I've never had any trouble. If you get a late-night call out to somewhere you don't know, you would be a little bit wary, but most of the guys are just ordinary men who are desperately lonely and want a bit of company. Some just want to give you a hug and a kiss and have a cup of tea. The only problem I've had is that sometimes they want to marry you.
"How do I deal with it all emotionally? I just switch off. No matter how ugly or fat or unattractive they might be, once you've done the first one or two, you break down that barrier and become immune to it.
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"But sometimes, like last night, I feel guilty. I went to see a guy I know quite well. He usually comes to me but this time he asked me to go to his house because his wife was away. He lives in a fabulous mansion on the east coast. They've been married for more than 20 years and have three children but the sex has gone down to about once a month and even then it isn't great.
"He wanted me to come dressed as a nurse, which I did, but when I went into the house and there were children's toys scattered around and photographs of the wife and kids on the wall, I felt terrible to be honest.
"I thought to myself 'what if it was me and my husband was paying to sleep with other women? How would I feel?' But at the end of the day, men have their needs and I am just providing them. It's all a big act, and each one is nothing more than a business transaction."
Recent figures reveal that every day at least 1,000 women are selling sex in Ireland.