“It’s not the way I envisioned my life. It wasn’t the future I was dreaming about. I didn’t expect that at 31 years old I’d be a dirt poor single mother of two. And I never in a million years imagined that I would have to resort to working as an escort to keep my children fed.”
Veronica breaks all the stereotypes that are most commonly associated with sex workers. She came from a middle class background, married a professional man and settled into a lovely home to begin a new family. Veronica was on course for a comfortable upper middle class existence but life had laid out a very different path for her.
“When I started dating my ex-husband he did show signs of a bad temper. I guess at the time I rationalized that he was having temper tantrums and we would laugh about it afterwards. But as the years went by and life brought new stresses his temper got nastier, more cruel and violent.”
Finding the courage to make a better life for herself and her children, Veronica walked out of the marriage. With her chin up she bravely stepped forward to meet an uncertain future. Surely it would be a future better than the long-suffering torment of her abusive past. Veronica began to rebuild her life.
“When I was young I chose marriage and raising a family over education. Starting life as a single mother I knew that I was going to have to go back to school to ensure that my children had a good future and that they would have the comfort that every child should have- like eating. I was doing everything right. I was doing everything the critics of sex workers suggest that women in the trade aren’t doing. I was going back to school, I was accepting contracts to supplement my income and I was an excellent mother. That’s what a wanted to be when I grew up- a mother. Not an escort.”
It was in Veronica’s last home stretch of obtaining her degree when the ground beneath her feet dropped away. “I was stunned. I had kept my head above water for three years and all of a sudden I was drowning. I hit a ton of unexpected expenses, the contract work ran out and my OSAP days were over. The only work I could find was minimum wage and after I paid the babysitter that left me with about four dollars of take-home, not including deductions. My family was tired of bailing me out financially and it was pretty much up to me to figure out how to survive with my children.”
Veronica turned to Ontario Works for assistance but at the time the $725 per month she was receiving in child support made her over qualified for OW. Today a single mother with two children who is not working and is receiving $725 per month in child support is eligible to receive an additional $247 in assistance from OW. That totals $973 per month to cover shelter and basic needs for a single parent and two children. This amount challenges the ability to put food on the table, pay for transportation, cover unforeseen medical expenses and God forbid that you even consider enrolling your child into an extracurricular activity or treat them to a matinee on the weekend. Birthdays- forget those.
A single mother with two children who is not generating an income into the home can receive an annual total of $11, 676 from OW. This amount breaks down into monthly allotments to accommodate for $634 in shelter costs and $347 in basic necessities per month. Breaking that down just a bit further means that each person in a three family home (one adult, two children) and after the cost of rent, is individually entitled to $115 per month to apply towards groceries, transportation, unforeseen medical expenses, bills and personal needs to name a few.
To put today’s local economic challenges into further perspective, a single mother working full-time at minimum wage ($10.25 per hour, no benefits) earns about $1800 dollars per month. Knowing that minimum wage jobs are often shift work and do not provide childcare supplements, for a woman with two children having to pay up to $900 in childcare per month (a gross underestimate of what childcare providers earn per hour) this leaves mom with just 50% of her earnings before deductions. After deductions factor in the additional expense of transportation and mom is now earning less than the person she is paying to watch her children.
Poverty is often defined by low-income cut off measures. According to the most recent Statistics Canada findings, in Sault Ste. Marie low-income cut offs in lone-parent homes have been established at $27, 243 after tax per year. Half of family homes where mom is the sole provider are only slightly above the low-income cut off and after taxes earnings are at or below $28, 585 per year.
Ignorant comments from local residents about local street sex workers has Veronica fed up. “They say things like ‘oh I know a lot of women who are toughing it out and getting by’. It’s just so ridiculous. I could have easily been any one of those women they thought was toughing it out. I just had the luxury of doing my work behind closed doors. I led a double life. Back then (2008) the sex trade wasn’t on the streets. Everybody was happy pretending it didn’t exist.”
Veronica puts her chin in her hand and in the dimness of the gray afternoon her home is quiet but for the rain hitting the roof. She sits silently for a moment. “And I guess I could have been any one of the women on the street today. I just got lucky that I had different options available to me in the business. I’m lucky that I was able to find employment with an escort agency. Even then, it still wasn’t always safe though.”
She takes another moment. She picks up a white napkin covered with orange jack-o-lanterns and black spiders from the kitchen table to dab the wet corners of her eyes. “There were just a few times when I was assaulted while working. It surprises the ‘critics’ but it’s true that every sex worker has their own boundaries. Ripping off condoms, choking, sodomy and hitting were a few of mine.”
She excuses herself and she returns with her poise intact. “I did what I had to at the time. And my heart breaks for these women forced onto the streets. I don’t care why they’re there. I didn’t have an addiction when I started the business but I’ll tell you something. It sure is a lot easier to get the job done when you can go into it feeling a bit numb. It’s a lot easier to detach when you have a little bit of help. But I guess to be completely honest sometimes I looked forward to my visits with the regulars- work was my only social outlet. And to be a bit more honest, and I’ll only go so far with this one, a lot of this community would be pretty shocked to find out who some of the local regulars are.”
“I guess my point is that it’s (sex trade work) always going to be around and there are always going to be women who turn to it as a last resort and for some women as a welcome option.”
Veronica puts her chin in her hand again and stares across the yard wet and covered in orange and pink maple leafs. Coming out of her repose she shares one final thought. “Most women don’t enter the sex trade because it’s a choice. They go to it because it’s there and society has nothing left to offer them. If there was some service or something that could have helped me I would have accepted it. Instead I bludgeoned my personal values into a messy pulp so that I could squash them to fit into the only option box I had- prostitution.”
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The Sex Trade: A Personal Perspective
Steffanie Petroni-Date for local2 sault ste. marie
October 9th, 2012 at 9:57pm