Why do people become sex workers?

Following is an interview with April, a Durham sex worker. This is her story.
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When I was growing up Mom nodded off all the time [on opiate pills] and in the morning I’d find her lying on the floor or wherever she’d passed out high the night before… My father was drunk all the time, my mother high on pills, so my brother and I raised ourselves. I learned to cook for myself when I was three and got myself up to get ready for school at age five. [My brother and I] were abused mentally a lot, and my Dad abused us physically too. We terrorized the neighborhood. We played with knives and ripped the shingles off houses.

I had my first baby at fifteen. I’d had such a shitty life growing up that I swore I wanted my kids to be better off then me. I stayed in school and worked. I was smart and wanted to make something of myself. But when my son, Jamie, was two and a half he was diagnosed with autism. I was so upset, angry at God. I dropped out of school. I was about nineteen then and I had my own cleaning business with seven women working for me. A co-worker introduced me to dope. When I shot up for the first time I thought ‘Shit, I’ve been looking for this my whole life.’ My mother and grandmother were addicted to opiates. I was born addicted.

When I did heroin I stopped crying all the time about my son’s autism and I didn’t feel stressed when I was high, so I did it more and more often. Then things started to get bad. I got two DWIs in the next five years and went to prison for 18 months. When they put me in jail I was dope sick for three weeks and couldn’t even walk. I felt like I was going to die. I was throwing up and shitting all over myself in my cell.

Under North Carolina law if you are locked up for more than a year they take away your kids. They took Jamie away. My second son, Gabriel, was born when I was in prison. I was handcuffed and shackled all through the birth. I only saw my baby for 15 minutes before they took him away.

When I got out of prison I was clean and had saved up some money to start my life over and try to get my kids back. When I found out I couldn’t get my sons back I went crazy and started using heroin again.

A few months [after I got out of jail] I went to the doctor for a physical and they told me I was seven months pregnant! I was scared because I’d been using the whole time and hadn’t known I was pregnant. I went to a prenatal clinic to talk to the doctor about it and he said basically, that if I tried to get off heroin the baby would die from withdrawal. I signed up for a methadone clinic to try to get off heroin without hurting the baby.

When Alexandra was born I only had her for three days before she was taken away too. Since the state had already taken the first two kids, they automatically took the third also. Since then I’ve been blitzed all the time over the pain of losing my children. I needed to take stronger doses of heroin just to not be dope sick. Also the father of my last two kids, the love of my life, got deported. So in just a few short years I lost everything: my children, my lover, my business and wound up living back with my mother who abused me as a kid and is still addicted to pills.

I was at a hotel with a friend when he told me about backpage. He said ‘you want to make some real money?’ That’s how I started sex work at twenty-five. I’ve been a sex worker for four years now and an addict for ten. My addiction is so bad I sell my body to pay for it. I never thought I would end up like this.

I wanna get clean. My Dad is clean seven years now. I’m gonna try to live with him and start my life over. Mostly I wanna find my kids. I hope they have a good life now.

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Sex Worker Resources

For more info on sex worker safety go to:
http://www.nchrc.org/harm-reduction/sex-work/

Robert Childs, MPH