Vice Squad
Monday, March 10, 2008
Obligatory Prostitution Post

Well, prostitution was headline news today -- so there's no need to comment upon that (lest Vice Squad posts be viewed as pertinent). But to not stray too far afield, perhaps it is time to talk about prostitution in Britain. After all, it has been a few weeks since Vice Squad reported on a book by a British prostitute -- once more into the breach.

This time the book in question is Confessions of a Working Girl, by “Miss S”. Again, we have to take it on faith that the author really had the experiences that she describes – but that faith is easy to muster for this book (at least for me). The author was starting at university and looking to make some money, so she took a job at a massage parlour – actually a brothel – near where she lived. (These events took place about ten years ago, though that is not mentioned in the book; rather, we learn the timing from Miss S’s comments on her webpage.) The book is more or less her diary of approximately eleven months’ employment in the brothel. You know how Bridget Jones records her weight and her alcohol and cigarette consumption in her diary entries? Miss S tells you how many clients she services, and how much money she makes. There are 723 clients in toto, and she earns about 20 pounds each; she figures that it amounts to about twice what she made in an earlier “normal job.”

Belle de Jour was an upmarket call girl, and Miss S worked in a rather well-managed (no drugs allowed, for instance) brothel – neither of these writers dealt with the perils of streetwalking. Their memoirs, therefore, cannot present a full overview of Britain's commercial sex sector, of course -- but both authors are revealing about their slice of the industry. Miss S has a tendency to tell only half of a story, but nevertheless, the details that come out about how the brothel operates are pretty interesting. Clients, for instance, can exit through a back door, to lessen the chance that someone they know will see them leaving a massage parlour. The working girls don’t wear perfume, because that might be noticed by wives later; if they feel the need for scent, they use men’s deodorant instead. Miss S also is possessed (at least authorially) with an amazingly even temperament. Bad things do occur in the brothel -- a police raid, undertaken not for running an illegal brothel but on suspicion of drugs; some Russian brothel employees being taken away when they are uncovered as illegal immigrants; a client of another employee who refuses to take a 'no' to his request for sex without a condom – but these revelations all are described in a sort of all-in-a-day’s-work manner. The difficulty in maintaining a regular life outside of the brothel comes through, however. Miss S's biggest problem had nothing to do with the brothel – she and her flatmates were stalked by a drug dealer and his crew.

Miss S cannot match the stylish prose of Belle de Jour, nor does she try. But she comes across as less self-absorbed than the delightful Belle, and as honest. I think that I prefer her sort of blue-collar book to Belle's more artsy memoir -- though this reaction might reflect the fact that Belle's book lacked novelty, only because so much of it was taken from Belle's (quite novel, and award-winning) blog.

Miss S's brothel work ends with her heading to London to become a stripper, or to specialise in more high-end sex work. (Like Belle, Miss S engaged in legal sex work in Britain – it is the brothel managers who are breaking British law.) The back cover of the book contains a somewhat veiled photo of the author, dressed for work, apparently; the accompanying description indicates that Miss S. did indeed move on to an escort agency, eventually becoming a “fully independent” sex worker. We can expect to learn more in a forthcoming sequel -- which I intend to read, despite being in no hurry to get to Belle's second book.

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