The Guardian: I ran a brothel in a country village
It’s not unusual to bump into customers in Sainsbury’s’
Claire Finch The Guardian
Most people would think where I live is the last place you’d expect to find a brothel or massage parlour: a pretty bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac of a sleepy Bedfordshire village. But I’ve run one from my home for the last 12 years, offering massage and sexual services.
I’ve always been a very open person and I don’t like keeping secrets. When I moved in 10 years ago, I invited people in the village for a barbecue. The farmer gave me a lamb to roast and I told everyone that I worked from home with a group of six older women selling sex, and that they may see two or three men coming to visit each day. Nobody seemed to mind. In fact, my older neighbours were delighted – they said that most of the younger people in the street went out to work and it would be nice to have someone around during the day.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a prostitute, more of a courtesan. I married young, at 17, and trained as a masseuse and aromatherapist. Fifteen years later, I got divorced and needed to earn money to pay the mortgage. I went for an interview as a masseuse and was asked to provide topless massages with hand relief, known as happy endings. I didn’t particularly want to do it, but I needed the money, and I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since.
Right from the start, I felt accepted here. I guess it would have been a different story if I’d been whipping customers naked in the back garden, but I’ve always been very discreet. The only thing the neighbours are likely to see are a few cows or sheep wandering in from the farmer’s field that backs on to my garden. My 85-year-old next-door neighbour jokes with me all the time. When my driveway was being repaved, she let customers park on hers, saying, “Send them to me and I’ll give them a rub down.”
I treat my neighbours with respect, and they treat me the same way. I’ve never had a customer from the village, but quite a few come from surrounding areas. It’s not unusual to bump into them in Sainsbury’s and if I see them first, I try to whisk my trolley into another aisle to save them any embarrassment. We’re always hearing about the tawdry side ofprostitution, but rarely the more mundane aspects. Most of the time, I’m thinking, “Right, I’ve seen a few clients, now I can go and pay the gas bill.”
People have a lot of misconceptions about brothels. I screen people over the phone and it’s appointment only. There are no drugs, under-age girls or trafficked women here. We have all sorts of customers: businessmen, a priest, police, people with disabilities and a lot of older men, especially widowers. Sex is only a small part of the service. Often they’re lonely and want a bit of company, so we sit down and have a nice cup of tea.
One widower tells me about his wife’s death every time he visits; it’s a bit like being a carer with a twist. The customers treat me like part of their family; they bring photos of their dogs, their grandchildren and their hanging baskets for me to look at. They trust me, and that’s a very important part of my work.
They’ve also been so supportive over the years. My life was turned upside down two years ago when the police raided my bungalow and charged me with brothel-keeping. The case came to court in April and I was absolutely terrified. Legally, one woman can sell sex, but not two or more working together. It’s crazy that you could have a row of 20 houses with one woman in each selling sex, but if you have two in one house, you’re breaking the law. I told the truth at court – technically, it could be thought I had broken the law, but the jury used their common sense and cleared me of brothel-keeping. I was elated. Now I’m campaigning with the English Collective of Prostitutes to get the law changed so that a small group of women can work together for safety reasons.
I’ve had an amazing response since I won the case. So many of my neighbours have been in touch to say how pleased they are for me. An 83-year-old called to say he was sorry he didn’t live closer. One of the most important things this work has taught me is not to make snap judgments about people. You can never tell what anyone is really like from what they do, and I think the people who live around me know that too.
As told to Diane Taylor