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“My former life as a prostitute: One client put so much cocaine up my vagina I OD’d”
Polly Trope* spent 11 months working as a prostitute, detouring into selling sex shortly after quitting her PhD at an Ivy League university in the US.
“I had really bad mental health issues and although I wanted to finish my degree I knew I couldn’t,” she reveals. “So I decided to return to London, where I’d studied for my undergraduate degree. I reckoned it would be easier to find somewhere to stay and get a job there than it was in America.” But when she arrived in London, Polly didn’t immediately get round to looking for work. “I drank a lot and took drugs and used up all my savings,” she says. “One night I was thrown out of my lodgings because I hadn’t paid my rent. So I just went into Soho, where I bumped into one of my dealers.”
This chance meeting turned out to be life-changing. “He asked if I wanted to buy any drugs,” says Polly. “I said no, telling him that it was partly drugs that had got me into my current situation.” He said: “I can help you make some money. Let’s go round the clubs and offer a deal: you give them a blowjob and I sell them some coke.” The pair tried this – with limited success. Then, while Polly’s dealer was off chatting to someone else, she was approached by another man. “I have another idea,” he mused. “My friend has this great place…” Later that night, Polly found herself inside her first brothel.
“I didn’t even really care by then,” Polly sighs. “I saw one client that night and got £200. Fortunately he was super-easy; he just wanted to look at me and touch me a little bit. He was really friendly and seemed a bit embarrassed about being there.” Polly was less afraid of the client, indeed, than she was of the brothel-owner and the man who’d brought her to the brothel. “I didn’t really know where I was or if I could trust anyone not to turn violent.” Still, with nowhere else to go, she stayed at the brothel. At first she wasn’t chosen by many clients, as she still hadn’t bought herself an “outfit” of sexy lingerie and heels like the other women.
I ask her what repeatedly taking part in this kind of “line-up” feels like. It’s not such an issue to be rejected based on your outfit, but when you look the part and still get passed over… “It’s a bit cruel but you get used to it,” Polly responds matter-of-factly. “Sometimes you’re tired and you’ve already earned enough that night. In any case, it’s quite clear that different men have different preferences, so someone will always pick you. Case in point – there was one place I worked and all the girls were very generically attractive, very classic, but then this big girl showed up in fetish gear and she was more popular than any of the others.”
What kind of men came to visit Polly? “Most of my clients were between 25 and 55,” she answers. “The vast majority were married, English middle-aged men who worked in well-paid jobs.” Indeed, many of Polly’s clients were not simply affluent, but very rich, and cocaine was popular among them.
“Usually it meant they’d stay for hours and spend a lot of money without being particularly demanding sexually,” Polly recalls. “But there was always the possibility they’d turn aggressive.” Polly rates one particular encounter with a coke-fiend client as the most frightening episode in her career as a working girl. “There was one guy who’d take 15 grams of cocaine in the course of several hours. One day he asked if I wanted some so I took a couple of lines… then he was putting his hands in my vagina and they were covered in it, so I was taking in more in via that route and I overdosed. Suddenly my heart was hammering and I was sweating profusely. I tried to leave but he locked the door. When the brothel madam knocked to tell us our hour was up he just opened the door and paid for another hour. It was horrible.” Out-calls were another source of discomfort for Polly. “I went to hotels and I’d have no idea what I’d find behind the door. I was always really scared there was going to be this big party of guys and I’d get gang-banged.”
Surely STDs were also a problem? “I used condoms but they still break,” Polly shrugs. “I ended up catching chlamydia. Statistically if you have that much sex then that kind of thing is bound to happen. Thanks to the wonderful ‘frequent flyer’ sexual health services provided specifically for sex workers in many of London’s sexual health clinics, I no longer have it.”
Polly found that sleeping with men for money drastically affected her attitude towards relationships. “I had just turned 24 and I didn’t have much sexual experience when I started. There were a lot of things I knew existed but hadn’t done! The fact that a lot of my clients were married or in relationships made me realise sex is a lot more important than I thought it was within relationships. If there’s no sex in a relationship then often a man will go out and find it anyway.”
Eventually the job began to really take its toll on her. “In the beginning I didn’t have an issue with the social status of my job but later on it became a problem for me,” she admits. “I could see that a lot of my colleagues who’d been in the job longer than I had were evidently very embarrassed, ashamed and self-loathing.”
Polly also found that, as time went on, she often spent more than she intended just to try and make herself feel better following a shift. “Lots of mornings I would feel horrible after doing the work,” she sighs. “So I treated myself to a nice meal or some presents, using the money up as soon as I’d earned it. The rest of the money I put into the bank to clear my overdraft.” She admits to having felt nervous carrying such large sums of money around, aware that “prostitutes leaving brothels are very popular targets for muggings”.
Polly eventually reduced her hours down from seven days a week to just one before getting a job in a call centre and moving into shared accommodation. “When I stopped it was an impulse decision,” she recalls. “There wasn’t really a Plan B lined up. I was just ‘done’ with sex work.”
Today, Polly is finally finishing her PhD and working for a friend’s travel company. She hasn’t escorted for four years, and has written a book about her experiences – Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway. “The book isn’t just about my sex work,” she explains. “It looks at my mental health issues, my anorexia and my drug addiction in depth too. My friends just kept saying ‘You’ve been in a mental hospital, used heroin, worked as an escort… I really think you should do a book about your life!’ So I did.”