Living on a £1,000 overdraft, Sarah is struggling to finish her business studies degree, so three nights a week she becomes "Mandy", a female escort. Here she reveals all…
"Contrary to what most people imagine, female escorts aren’t all girls who have a drug habit to feed or three young kids in care," the pretty 20-year-old student explains. "They are perfectly ‘normal’ people too."
"Escorting was just something I fell into," she says.
"I saw an advert in the local newspaper, knew my bank balance was looking seriously unhealthy and – thinking about the student fees hanging over my head – decided to give them a call."
Selling sex is a quick and easy way to make cash. In London alone, some 80,000 men are thought to regularly pay for sex.
"I’d rather get paid £50 per hour for doing something that is not difficult rather than work 30 hours a week in a bar for £4 an hour," Sarah says.
"A lot of my friends are unhappy with their jobs but I am happy with mine. If I work three hours a week for a year I’ll earn nearly £8,000 and have more time to study. What’s wrong with that?" she asks.
"I must admit my first night was terrifying. I could hardly stand up I was shaking so much. You wait for your jobs in the ‘girls’ lounge’, which is a pokey room with just a couple of sofas, a television and five overflowing ashtrays.
"There are no windows. The only light comes from a dim lamp in the corner of the room. The smell is a mixture of stale smoke and perfume. It’s not the best place to prepare yourself for the unknown, but it’s better than being the street," she reasons.
Indeed, studies show women who work on the street are 10 times more likely to face violence than those who work for escort agencies.
"The agency promised I would only be sent out to a regular client who they knew well," she continues, "which put my mind at rest a little. It seemed like I was waiting for an eternity before my name was finally called though.
"I had to ring the client personally to give him a brief description of myself. After I anxiously dialled the number, a man answered in a soft Irish accent.
"’Hi, my name’s Mandy,’ I said. ‘I understand you are looking for some company this evening. Would you like me to describe myself?’
"Yes," he replied.
"’Well, I’m 5’5 with long brown hair, blue eyes, slim with an attractive face and I’m a 32C.
"’Would you be interested in seeing me this evening?’ I asked.
"Yes," he said, and we finalised the arrangements.
"I must have said all that without taking a breath as my heart was racing when I put the phone down," Sarah explains.
"Next thing I knew the driver had arrived to pick me up. The journey lasted about 40 minutes. I had no idea where I was.
"When I arrived, the client offered me a drink which I accepted. He was an older man and must have been at least in his mid-50s. He was very chatty and tried his best to make me feel comfortable.
"We talked about all sorts of things from his family to my studies. He seemed to take a real interest. We chatted for the whole of the first hour and he asked if I could stay a bit longer. I phoned the agency to check and they said it was fine.
"We chatted some more. I was still nervous but felt a little more relaxed than when I had first arrived. Then – about 20 minutes before the second hour was up – he asked me for a massage. I knew I couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer.
"We went into his bedroom and I just switched off. I honestly don’t remember much. We had sex, it didn’t last long. In all I spent three hours with him, earning myself £150 plus a £50 tip.
"I came away thinking: ‘That wasn’t too bad… I could do this’. Of course, the money was the thing that made me continue. Two hundred pounds for just three hours work definitely isn’t bad work for a student!"
Some of Sarah’s clients are more interested in her company than her body and she often finds herself just sitting and talking without having to perform sex.
"You meet all types of men from the young and shy to older, more experienced and richer clients," she says.
"One of my regulars is a man in his late 30s. He is unmarried and doesn’t have children. I always spend about three hours with him and for the whole time we just sit and watch Star Trek.
"He gets dressed up in the costumes and I just sit and watch the programmes with him. At first, I thought it was all very bizarre but the more time I spent with him the more I realised that he’s lonely, maybe a little odd, but just desperately needing female company."
The worst types of clients, Sarah says, are the drunk, abusive ones.
"They can become a bit too enthusiastic sometimes. But half of them just end up passing out after about 15 minutes!" she says.
"The girls I work with are all very similar to me. There are a few that have got into hard drugs but the rest just really need money. We have a good laugh swapping stories and advice and feel relaxed as none of us are judging each other."
The demands on each girl and what they must do to continue being ‘looked after’ by their agencies differ from place to place. No agencies are allowed to openly offer any customers sex on a commercial basis.
Escort agencies can even get a licence if they state they are not offering sexual services. Not every escort agency offers sex but, after investigation, it appears the majority of them use at least some women who do.
"The agency doesn’t expect much from the girls," Sarah says. "There are a few rules as there are with any job but most of them are for our own safety. You have to work at least two nights a week, and one of those nights has to be either a Friday or Saturday evening.
"You must always get the money up-front before anything happens and you must gain regular clients or risk being thrown out. You must always also have your "kit" with you whenever you go out on a job," Sarah explains.
"It consists of condoms, lubricant, massage oil, a mobile phone, a pair of stockings and a card with your name and availability on it.
"The agency also encourages you to ‘invest’ in kinky underwear, bondage equipment and sex toys. It’s up to you, it’s not a must. But they say you’re more likely to get work if you’re open to ideas."
Safety, Sarah says, is paramount both personally and within the agency’s own code of practice.
"Everything I do is very safe," she explains. "Clients are checked out and we call the agency when we arrive and when we leave so they know we are alright.
"I have a driver who takes me to each job and waits outside for me to finish, so if there is any real trouble they’re never far away to come in and get you, which is always reassuring.
"Once I’m there, I don’t do anything without a condom except say ‘Hello’. Of course, no woman wants to have sex with a man she doesn’t know but the condom is always there between him and me, and I just switch off and think about what I’m going to be doing afterwards.
"The condom could be attached to a chest of drawers for all the difference it makes to me most of the time!
To the man, it’s like a blind date with the sexual uncertainty removed, Sarah says.
"If a man spends an evening in a nightclub chatting up a girl, he doesn’t know whether he’s going to get what he wants. But this way he knows sex is guaranteed and if he’s married, he can eliminate a certain amount of risk."
Looking to the future, Sarah’s intentions are to complete her studies and gain employment in the business world. Going back is always an option if things don’t work out because she has never experienced anything to make her think twice about working in the sex industry.
"I have never had a really bad experience. I’m sure if I had, I wouldn’t still be working as an escort. Of course, I hear some of the bad experiences the girls have been through," she says. "But until something bad actually happens to me, I won’t stop doing it."
The worst thing about ‘doing jobs’ is the smell afterwards, Sarah says.
"I can always smell the men on me but that’s nothing a long, hot shower can’t get rid of.
"None of my friends or family know what I really do. They think I work nights at a call centre. I don’t flash my money around, it all goes on student fees and rent and the rest I put in a savings account so no-one asks questions."
Sarah admits she would be ashamed if anyone found out.
"There is always a risk that one day I will turn up at a job and be faced with someone I know," she says.
"I have never actually been taken out to dinner with a client in public. It has always been home visits. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it would be nice to be treated to a good meal!"
Sarah’s outlook is realistic as opposed to self-serving.
"I am not a victim, but I am not planning on making a career out of it either," she says, staring out the window.
"If I don’t get funding for my MA, I’ll keep it up and after that, if my wages aren’t good, I’ll think about doing it again."