Prostitutes trapped in a cycle of selling sex to survive

Image caption Film makers Tracy Harris and Chris Rushton interviewed prostitutes working in both massage parlours and on the street

Some people might find it hard to understand why women turn to prostitution, but a new BBC documentary made during six months explores the stories of the single mothers, teenagers and addicts who have become sex workers in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport to make ends meet.

Here are a few of their stories.


Around 70% of prostitutes are single mothers, and Suzanna works in a massage parlour to support her family and pay the bills.

"Being on benefits is not enough these days. You have got to buy all these things for your children's uniforms, there's this and there's that. It just goes through one hand and out the other.

"You go and look for a job, you just don't get anywhere, especially if you haven't got no qualifications. I just want to put money back and save for my children.

"When I have a punter, as soon as I bring them upstairs I'm polite, take them to the room, takes the money.

"I says feel free to have a shower if you want, or if not I will be back now in about five, and that's it, and you do what you have got to do.

"When I'm doing it I just think of my kids. Money, put back, that's it. Bills, job done."


While some students get a job in a supermarket or shop to help make ends meet, for Clare the awards were not instant enough. She tried working in a massage parlour and has been a sex worker ever since.

"I did do a little stint in Burger King, which lasted all of about six weeks and I learnt I could earn more in a night than I could in months in Burger King.

"The first customer I did I just learnt from very early on that you just have to blank everything out. That's the only way that you can do this job is just the minute you've done it is just forget it, forget what they look like, just forget what you have done.

"If you're not able to do that I don't think you can do this job.

"Is it a trap? It depends how strong you are and willing to get out of it, I suppose."


A mother-of-four, Emily once had a happy home and family life but, aged 28, a series of traumatic events led to a breakdown, and she was introduced to drugs. Her children were taken away from her and she turned to prostitution to pay the bills. She has been a prostitute working on the streets for the past 15 years.

"I don't want to work on the street. I don't want to have to work on the street. I want to walk away from it all.

"I'm out until about 3am. You have got to have determination. I'm not just interested in going out there and getting, some nights you're just stood out there for hours on end with nothing, and it breaks your heart.

"Most of the punters are married, and I think they come to me because it's not a relationship, it's an understanding. There's no ties, there's no love, there's no commitment.

"I've had a home and four children, and I've lost that and I've only worked from losing that. It was 1998. Everything happened that year, you name it, it happened. My dad died, my friends died, I lost my children, my husband walked out on me, I lost my home.

"I miss my dad, I really do. I was coming down to tell him I was getting married, and the next thing I knew my mum is knocking on the door telling me he had died. It broke my heart it really did. I cried non-stop for days. That's how I got into the heroin, cos I couldn't stop crying and someone said 'here have a couple of lines of this'. And I had a couple of lines to stop me from crying and fell asleep, and the next thing I knew I was hooked on it. I wish I'd never have touched it. I really do.

"I have been depressed now for a long long time, well over 20 years, and it's just getting worse and worse.

"I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and I find it very difficult to speak to people especially in authority."


Sex workers

Brothel worker Sorina earns enough money in Wales to support her entire family in Romania, but sex work is taking its toll. She left her only child behind to be looked after by his grandmother. After every client she calls home to hear her mother's voice.

"Here in this job you must be a very cold woman, without thinking, without heart, without nothing.

"I send all of my money to Romania for my mother. Because it is very difficult country Romania, because if you don't have money you don't make school, you don't have nothing in there.

"If I didn't make money here they would be on the street because in Romania if you have your own house and after three months don't pay electric or water bills then they take your house and they put you on the street.

"I support my mother, my son and my smaller sister so she can have a good job better than me.

"I was working for three months in a mega-brothel in Germany, I was feeling like dirty. To many women it feels like prison. I don't know how to explain it. It is just like open the door, close the door, open the door, close the door. And there you are not free."

  • Documentary Selling Sex To Survive is on BBC One Wales on March 10 at 10.40pm. All names have been changed.

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