Stealing Innocence

My two lives: A former sex worker on living a double existence

In a story that includes trauma and drug addiction, a former sex worker in St. John's talk candidly about the toll of an industry in the shadows.

St. John's woman warns about drug addiction, potentially violent clients

(Art: Beth Oberholtzer, Oberholtzer Design)

by Jodie Walsh*

Editor's note: Jodie Walsh is a pseudonym of a woman who has left the sex trade in St. John's. CBC has agreed to use the pseudonym in order to protect her identity.

This is a condensed version of an interview with Ramona Dearing. It's part of Stealing Innocence, a CBC Newfoundland and Labrador series exploring issues that include child abuse and sexual exploitation.  

What kind of sex work were you doing?

I started off in the field just doing "rub-and-tug" massage studios. It started with one where there are absolutely no extras, no penetration or anything like that. It was just massage, like a full body massage. A hand job at the end, right, with a "happy ending," they call it. So then I left there and went to a different studio where we just rented a room and you kind of owned your own room. You paid for your room for the hour or half hour or whatever and then whatever you did in that room was up to your own discretion. Then I moved from there after a few months and went out on my own.

What led to you working in the industry?

I didn't have any money. I was just coming off [i.e., kicking] crystal meth. I wasn't ready to start work. I was like, what am I gonna do? I needed money fast [because of a pressing family issue]. And I needed to be able to work on my own terms. Needless to say my mind wasn't in the right place. I'd only been six weeks clean of meth and I was still having night terrors, still slept a lot.  

The woman we're calling Jodie Walsh says she had stopped using crystal meth before she entered the sex trade but later wound up addicted to crack. (Hamilton Police )

You really want to talk about the struggle of keeping two identities. How is it that you had two identities?

Nobody knew in my family that I was doing it and I also had a boyfriend at the time. He didn't know. So Kim was my identity for the sex trade, and she had her own clothing, she had her own Facebook, she had her own Snapchat. She was on Tinder, she was on Plenty of Fish. She had her own story. She was naturally tanned, where I go to a tanning bed. You know what I mean? She had her own backstory, and it was pretty much what I would have never done really. Or what I was afraid to try, she had already done, in my mind. It came to the point where she was real.

So did your two selves feel the same way about the work you were doing?

Totally different. Kim was okay with it. She wanted to try new things, she was always up for a challenge. She walked into her room and she owned that session. Jodie was put on the back burner because she was saying, "Don't do this, you have a boyfriend. Don't do this, how will your family be proud of you?"

It's a lot of compartmentalizing which I've done since I was about 10. You get really good at it.

Like, totally different people. It's a lot of compartmentalizing which I've done since I was about 10. You get really good at it. That's where the drugs come in, because it started to get difficult. At first I had not had any sexual intercourse with anyone. That didn't start until later. At first I had enough going that I had my bills paid for. I didn't need anything, you know. I live a pretty humble life. I'm not a flashy person.

I want to go back to something you said, that as a child you started compartmentalizing. Are you comfortable talking about why?

Yeah, I am. I was molested as a child from the ages of eight until I was a teenager. Being dealt that hand when you're so young, I grew up in my teens very promiscuous. I had dissociated all of my childhood. I didn't know that I was molested until as a child until I was in my early 20s. So that's when I got diagnosed with bipolar—manic depressive.

(Art: Beth Oberholtzer, Oberholtzer Design)

I also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And yeah, I think compartmentalizing comes along with that. You put on that face that everyone sees and, you know, fake it till you make it.

'How do you live 2 lives like this?'

You want to talk about these two different personalities that you were juggling at the same time, and the connection to drugs. How did the drugs figure in?

I slipped into a depression. I was going really good—it wasn't until several months later [after starting in the sex trade] that the drugs came in. 'Cause the first few months I worked at one of the [rub-and-tug] studios, and the girls there didn't do hard drugs.

My boyfriend and I were out and I got noticed as Kim. Normally I didn't look like her when I went out but this once I looked like Kim because my boyfriend was being sweet and wanted to take me for a date. So I got dressed up and did my hair and makeup and stuff. Kim was there. When I looked in the mirror, not only did I see Kim, I felt like Kim. It was a very foreign feeling, the first time Kim had ever stepped into my own personal space. And yeah, I got recognized. One of my johns actually came up to me and said, "Hello, Kim." It was kind of downhill from there. I told my boyfriend I had no idea what the guy was talking about.

I wasn't happy with myself, with what I was doing to my relationship with my boyfriend. The question finally came up — how do you live two lives like this?

[At this time] I had started into the next studio. I remember going to work one morning and one of the girls there said, "Hey, have a line." This was 10 o'clock in the morning. "You want one?" I was, like, "I don't do drugs." She goes like,"Yeah but you're going through a lot and you need money today. Like don't you have rent due? You want to stop crying and go make some money?" Because at that point I was so depressed I didn't want to. So I had a line, and all of a sudden I started to feel okay. I jumped up and got in the shower. Within a week, I was cooking that line. And I was using crack because the lines weren't doing it. You would go into a massage [sniffs loudly] and that's all you'd hear. [Sniff, sniff, sniff.]

I'm thinking they're going, "What is this chick doing, you know, it's 10 o'clock in the morning why is she high, why's she snorting like that," right? So I started cooking it.

A former sex worker shared this photo of crack cocaine with CBC. She took it while she was still working in the industry. At the time, she was hooked on the drug. She's drug-free now. (Submitted)

It went downhill really, really fast, really fast. I could make $900 to $1,500 a day. Some days I was going home with $400 for a couple of bills, and the rest I had smoked in crack.

It was a struggle. I lost my boyfriend. Jodie and Kim kind of like intertwine at that point. Once crack got involved, there was no keeping it separate. I'm not schizophrenic, you know. I'm not split-personality disorder: Kim is me.

I would get clients at work, and I would find myself saying things that didn't pertain to Kim. Like, they would ask me about my past or something and I'd be like, "I used to go to the local pond here." And they were like, "Aren't you from [another town]?" So it started to get very grey because your mind is not sharp when you were using that type of drug.

All I could think about was my next fix. It got to the point where I could get high without going on a call, but I couldn't go on a call without getting high.  

How did you get out?

I was still seeing a few of my johns at that time and there was one that I kept turning down because I didn't want any new ones. At that point I was trying to get out of it. This guy that I kept turning down, he showed up where I lived. Luckily my child wasn't home. The guy forced his way in and he raped me. That was the last time I snorted anything. That was the last time I did any crack. I got clean that night right quick. This was the first and only bad experience I had with any johns. Everyone that I had ever seen was very nice, treated me like a princess. I was their world. But that night scared the shit out of me. It scared me straight, so I woke up.

I've got slices on my wrist one from just after the rape happened. It was very devastating to me. To get out of the drugs, I had to make a decision to get out of call work, the industry. Because I couldn't do one without the other.

I had to leave my apartment, I couldn't stay there any more. My landlord was harassing me for sexual favours. His wife had no idea about it. So I had to leave there, besides the fact I couldn't stand to be in my bedroom anymore because of the rape.

A former sex worker in St. John's alleges a client raped her. She says she was traumatized afterward, and cut her arm as a cry for help. This is her photo. (Submitted)

We moved in with family and I said, "Don't let me out. I'm not going on calls, I can't. If anyone calls, just turn off my phone. I can't talk to anyone." And I stayed there. I never went to the police because police and the industry don't have very good rapport. I didn't feel like putting a microscope on my life at that point.

[After the rape] it got to the point where I couldn't get out of bed, I was so deeply depressed. I was jonesing, I wanted a hit so bad. I would dream of getting high and then going on calls. I went into the hospital. I saw the poster on the wall for the Blue Door program [run by the St. John's organization, Thrive, to help people who want to get out of the sex trade]. And I went, "Are you shitting me?"

The Blue Door program gave me a reason to get out of bed. They got me counselling with an actual licenced counsellor. I've been on the wait list now for over eight months for the START clinic at St. Clare's Hospital [which is designed to provide fast access to people needing urgent mental health care]. It's ridiculous. I've been to the Waterford [Hospital, which treats people with mental illness]. The Waterford let me go because they didn't think it was an emergency. You know I have pictures, I sliced my wrist. I'd call that an emergency.  It was more of a cry for help, I guess, but it was still an emergency.

A square from a quilt that decorates a wall at Thrive in St. John's. This square represents the Blue Door program, which helps people who want to get out of the sex trade. (CBC )

The Blue Door program, they were just so genuinely caring. I broke down and cried. They were the first people I told that I was raped. That was six weeks after it happened. I felt safe there. I felt that these women weren't judging me. They just gave me a reason to get up every day. If you don't have a reason to get out of bed, your mind plays awful tricks on you.

There's life after it [the sex trade]. It's so rough [including financially]. My child hasn't had any money for school lunches in the last couple of days. I've had to pack lunches. Thanks to the Blue Door program—they give me snacks and stuff for my child's lunch.

Why is it so important for you to tell your story and to have a voice?

It's funny because I keep hearing about people getting into the industry because they're forced in there or because they have no other way to make money. Some people really were tricked into to the industry. But that's not the only people that are in there. I started out in the industry knowing what I was getting into. I went there going, "I can do this."

Sex doesn't mean love to me. I don't love myself, and I haven't for a long time.

I just want to let people know that it'll end. They're not all good people out there. You're not going to have all good stories. People think that the girls are in the sex industry just because somebody is making them do it, they're forced and they have a pimp or whatever. It's not always like that. I chose to go in there.

Given your childhood sexual trauma, would you say that you were sexually exploited as a child?

I just see it as sexual abuse. I don't see it as exploitation because it wasn't like I was being passed out to men to have sex with.

I can tell you it played a big role [in working in the sex trade as a adult]. Sex doesn't mean love to me. I don't love myself, and I haven't for a long time. Sex can't mean love if you don't love yourself. In the industry, I just got further and further away from that.

The reason I think I want to get my story out there is because somebody out there is going to be like, "I'm stuck. I need money. How about I do this?"

It's not going to be what you think it is. The sex industry is the oldest profession in the the world, but it takes a toll on you. I used to tell people that I am worth more than what I'm giving it up to you for. So I think that's why I want it out. I want someone to read it and go, "Yeah maybe that's not such a good idea."

*Jodie Walsh is a pseudonym. She is no longer involved in the sex industry.

(Art: Beth Oberholtzer, Oberholtzer Design)