Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

At 17, I became a sex worker. Here's why I decided to leave the trade

There are lots of reasons someone might get into the sex trade, but sometimes, it's hard to get out. A young woman shares her story.

Rosie tells her own story about how she got in and out of the sex industry

Rosie, 20, is lifting the veil on the sex trade by telling her story. (David Howells)

Rosie, 20, entered the sex trade at 17 as a means to survive. 

Rosie recently spoke to CBC as part of a project called Wounded and Lucky

At her request, CBC is not using her last name. 

Here's her story. 

I'm a part of the Blue Door program at Thrive [in St. John's], which helps people exit the sex trade. They brought this project to my attention. I figured it was a good opportunity to get some things out. They thought it would be a great fit for me.

I haven't always been this open about my past. It's only been a little over a year that I've spoken about it publicly. Something traumatic happened and I just said, enough is enough. I decided to start speaking out. 

When I first started selling sex, I was living in Corner Brook and going to school — my first year of college. One night I went to a party and started doing drugs. These girls asked if I wanted to make some quick cash. I'd never seen them before. So I agreed to it and went in the room, but I didn't have any idea what they were talking about.

Then this guy came in. He said he was paying for my service, so I had to just get on with it. It was a shock at first that sex work existed even at college parties, but then I started seeing it more and more. It wasn't a surprise anymore.

'It was for survival'

I continued doing it after that. It was for survival; I had very low income, I was struggling. My mental health wasn't the greatest. I was just trying to keep going. 

I tried to keep it a secret, but it ends up getting out there. People talk. It's part of my life, it's difficult to hide from the world. 

It makes my brain go blank.

I didn't feel great about myself while I did this. Once I started doing it more and more, people started finding out. I kept doing it because I thought it was the only option, it was all I deserved. 

People were afraid to talk to me. Or they'd call me all kinds of names, like "walking STI" or a slut, things like that. At the time I was doing sex work every day. Most of the time it'd be in their cars — unless I had an apartment, and then they'd come to my place. 

Rosie wanted to leave the sex trade, but wasn't sure how to do it safely. (David Howells)

I had no idea that sex work was even a thing when I started. Knowing what I know now, I can tell by the way people are acting that they're involved in the industry. I recognize the signs, like distancing themselves from their families, or dropping out of their regular social scene.

Blocking everything out

My past wasn't the greatest, growing up. Everything I was doing felt normal — except there was money being exchanged. There were moments I made $700 in less than two hours. So I felt there wasn't a point going back to part-time jobs. I had three of them in the past, but because of my mental health, I got fired from all of them.

It was also a way for me to numb the emotional pain and block everything out. It's a distraction. It makes my brain go blank, so I don't have to think about my past. It's like I'm not even there — like I'm out of my body.

I didn't really want to be a part of the sex trade anymore, but I had to earn money so I didn't lose my apartment or the things I needed to survive. Blue Door helped me.

Over the past year I've really tried to step away from the trade. It makes me feel better about myself. I just see other options now, instead of having to do sex work just so I could have cash every day. I have a supportive family now, and Blue Door advocated on my behalf to get my rent paid this month because I can't afford it. I feel like I don't have to go out and sleep with people for money. 

There's still a lot of stigma. People think we choose to be in the sex trade. That's not always the case. Some people are groomed growing up, and when they engage in this kind of stuff it feels like the next logical step. Some people want to exit but they're not allowed because they have pimps. I've learned that it helps when I talk about it and the experiences I've had. 

Workers with the Blue Door program thought Rosie might be a good fit for a photography project between Thrive, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and CBC. (David Howells)

The day I was photographed for the project, we were asked to write a message to the general public on a paper card. It took me a good half hour to think about what I was going to write. After I got it written I felt like, I'm finally being heard. Having my portrait taken was a once in a lifetime experience, but I was nervous. I kept telling myself it was for the best. 

If anyone was going to get in to the sex trade or exit, I recommend doing it safely. Do it on your terms. If you're getting out, make sure you have a plan in place, because it can be dangerous. 

I'm personally doing it cold turkey. I stopped responding to people texting me about outdated ads, and I'm making sure to surround myself with trusted supports when I feel the industry calling to me. If I'm in a bad mental state I try to take some time to think about it before acting.

I want people to know that I never give up, no matter how hard it gets.

As told to Malone Mullin. This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

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