A mother who became a sex worker at the age of just ten has told of her battle to rebuild her life after around two decades on the streets of Leeds.
Louise – not her real name – has bravely spoken about her experience in prostitution in the city and has urged others who find themselves in a similar position to seek help.
The 33-year-old, who lives in east Leeds, has volunteered for charity Basis as a peer mentor for other sex workers.
She said: “I’d say to other girls ‘You are not alone. “Just go out there and get help.
“As time goes on it gets easier. Now I’m so much better and even if I’m sitting in my flat with nothing, I just think I’m lucky that I’m still here.”
Born in Hyde Park, Louise was sexually abused from the age of four or five by a man with whom her alcoholic mother formed a relationship after breaking up with Louise’s father, himself a violent man.
Taken into care, she says she had already tried drugs by the time she was ten. As she approached her eleventh birthday she was well on the way to developing a dependency and it was at this time that she was introduced to sex work.
“It was a month before I turned 11 and this girl I knew said to me ‘I know where we can get some easy money’,” she said.
“She took me down to Spencer Place in Chapeltown. A lot of men liked the fact that I was young – they knew, because I looked my age. To me, because of the abuse I’d been through, it was just normal.
“I was young and at the time all that money coming in was just amazing.”
The more drugs she was able to buy, the more addicted she became. Attempts to put her in foster care consistently failed.
Ironically, a blossoming relationship with a drug dealer meant she was temporarily able to leave sex work behind as her lifestyle was funded from the profits he made.
She gave birth to his daughter at the age of 17 but, unsurprisingly in the circumstances, was unable to keep her.
After her boyfriend was arrested, she was forced back onto the streets and, like many in her position, her life became a cycle of sex work, drug taking, crime and imprisonment.
In one particularly chilling episode she was abducted by a man who locked her in his cellar in Leeds and raped her repeatedly over the course of three weeks.
“I told police, but they just said I had put myself in danger,” she said.
Then, during her last spell in prison, for robbery, she resolved to change her life.
She weaned herself off drugs, got a flat and managed to secure herself a paid job, although she was forced to give that up when her employers discovered she had failed to disclose her previous convictions.
Nevertheless, with assistance from Basis, which supports sex workers, she is now looking forward with optimism. She has reconciled with her mother, who she sees every day, and hopes her own experience will act as a lesson for others.
She added: “Life is brilliant despite my little problems. I’ve been clean for more than two years and I’ll never look down that road again.”
Basis has supported women in the sex industry in Leeds for the past 25 years, providing free and confidential advice and information on a range of issues.
The charity also helps women who want to report crimes to police and assists them through the court process.
It is that assistance which has led to some notable convictions in Leeds this year.
Chief executive Gemma Schire said: “Under our New Futures program, for women who are sex working or have sex worked in the past that are seeking to make positive changes to their lives, we provide one to one intensive support – offering both practical and emotional support to the women to achieve their goals, such as reducing substance abuse, accessing education or training, accessing stable housing or reducing or exiting sex work.”