Harrow’s “Pretty Women”

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For the next four weeks, every Sunday night, Dispenser will take you to a tour inside the inner world of sex workers in suburbia-ville. No judgments, just real people trying to make a living. And their fascinating stories of unrequited love, secret passions and peculiar personalities.

Part 1/ In North West London there’s a place where call girls love their boyfriends and clients don’t just pay for sex, but a shoulder to cry on.

Katja cautiously opens the door and looks around to check if I’m alone. Then, with a quick wave of her hand, she whispers, “come in”.

It’s eleven o’clock at night and she has just finished her shift. She has cream on her face and she’s scrubbing her hands. Then she points at the couch where her boyfriend is watching TV. “Can we make it quick? We wanted to watch a movie”. Hanging from the eggshell walls, two portraits: a picture of Jesus “because he protects us all” and a poster of Al Pacino in Scarface.Phone_box_prostitute_calling_cards_1

In the quiet, suburban area of Harrow Katja is employed in “the world’s oldest profession”: prostitution. “I’m more of a psychologist than a prostitute to be honest” she makes clear from the very beginning. “Most of my clients come here to talk about their wives and children and why they’re unhappy. Some of them are so old the ‘thing’ doesn’t get up anymore,” she laughs, “They just need attention from a younger girl, that’s all”.

Five days a week, eight hours a day. “I try to finish early because my boyfriend and I like to watch TV and do things together.” Katja says with a thick Eastern European accent.

The couple both came to London from Romania three years ago full of expectations. He’s a quiet and pragmatic construction worker. She was working in a beauty salon but “the pay was awful and it soon went out of business”.

Katja’s professional experience is varied: as well as a beautician, she’s been a barista, and a waitress working in a fast-food chain. She was never satisfied. “I couldn’t find the time to stay with my boyfriend and we couldn’t make a living. So we talked and we discussed and I decided to do it.” Men’s eyes always fell on her curves, she says. She’s in her mid-twenties, attractive and talkative. “I have some friends from my small town who are here and do the same. It’s not that much of a big deal: after a while you have your own clients, you know what they want, you give it to them, they pay good money and everybody’s happy isn’t it sweetheart?” Katja says to her boyfriend while he’s staring at the TV set. His eyes semi closed, he doesn’t respond to her questions.

How much does she make? She lights up a cigarette, “It’s a hundred per hour which is good, it allows us to pay the rent, the bills and to go back to Romania every once in a while. I don’t advertise on Internet anymore because I don’t need to: people who are interested they know me already.”

Her family thinks she still works at the beauty salon “but they don’t ask that much and I’m glad, I don’t want to explain a lot to my mother”. If the week is good Katja makes £1500 and sends something home to her parents and grandparents “because you gotta be good to your family”.

How does her boyfriend cope with the fact that Katja is having sex with strangers? “We cry every now and then but with time he understood that we do this for our future. I always do protected sex, it’s a rule, and if a client wants to have sex he has to be clean. Most of the time, though, my clients don’t even need to have sex, they just want some attention and someone that listens to them.” She puts the cigarette out and that is the signal that my time is up. Tonight they’re going to watch one of the many Fast and Furious movies. “You heard Paul Walker died? That’s a shame.” She sighs while escorting me to the entrance. “Please be quiet when you go down the stairs, the neighbors complained already.” Then she disappears in the dark, behind the door.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

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