Getting paid for it: A single mom explains how a lack of support can push women into the decision to rent out their bodies

Getting paid for it: A single mom explains how a lack of support can push women into the decision to rent out their bodies

Jean Hillabold

“Executive Escorts Wanted.” The ad in the classified section of the Regina Leader-Post was vague and euphemistic. The word “executive” didn’t fool me into believing that sex work was glamorous, or that it would lead to a high-status career–on the contrary. I dialed the number and asked for the man who had placed the ad because I needed money.

Like most women who enter the sex biz at some point in their lives, I had not planned a career as a Scarlet Woman. In my twenties, I had assumed that an ability to type, file and serve the public could always get me an office job if nothing better was available. As a bride, I had assumed that if all else failed and my marriage ended, the legal system would force my husband to help provide for any children we might have, if not for me. As a graduate student, I had assumed that I could complete a thesis in a year or two, and then re-enter the job market with a Master’s degree.

When I turned 30 in 1981, I was facing the collapse of everything I had counted on. Advances in office technology had dried up the jobs that had supported me through my first college degree, and I didn’t understand computers. As a divorced mother, I was told that I was entitled to child support, which my ex-husband refused to pay. His claim that he could not afford it seemed to satisfy the legal system. As a graduate student, I learned that I had few rights, if any. As my advisor continued to put off reading my latest chapter, I was repeatedly warned that I could be dropped from the program for failure to complete my thesis within the time allowed.

I “came out” as a lesbian and met a woman in the gay bar. While I was pressuring her to find a job and control her drinking, she rebelled by stealing the contents of my bank account. My only option was to apply for welfare, but I was told that I was not eligible as long as I still had the savings that I had locked into a Guaranteed Investment Certificate. I was terrified of being left without a cent.

Success at anything seemed beyond my reach. What more did I have to lose?

I responded to the escort ad. The pimp who asked me to meet him for an interview had a colourful history: he had sold dope of various kinds, including heroin (on which he was hooked), repossessed furniture and played pool for big prize money. He was running an escort agency as an economic sideline, and he seemed to be looking for women who understood what they were getting into. The euphemisms used in the newspaper and on the phone with strangers were largely intended to protect him and his “girls” from arrest. Sex was part of the interview, which did not surprise me. Like other employers, my new pimp explained the basic rules: safety on the job (the regular use of condoms plus medical checkups), honesty, reliability, appropriate dress (tight skirts, not ragged jeans). We had a deal.

In some ways, going to work at my pimp’s house at noon and leaving at five o’clock with cash in hand was different from anything else I had ever done. In other ways, this job was remarkably similar to jobs in which I had been expected to please male clients and supervisors who patted and patronized me because I was a “girl.” Working as an escort also resembled going out with men who expected sex on the first date–except that, in this case, they paid in cash. In advance.

I was nervous every time I went alone to a hotel or a private home to meet a new john. I knew from experience that any woman can be perceived as “asking for” male violence. Luckily, I never experienced violence while doing sex work.

However, johns or even pimps were never the men I feared most. My fear of “the system” (government, police, the courts, even academia and the mental-health system) at this time is the hardest thing to explain to those who have not been in my shoes. All I can say to those who believe that all the major institutions of our society exist to serve the needs of the ordinary citizen (regardless of gender, race and class) is: it ain’t necessarily so.

I knew that an undercover cop could legally arrest me (after enjoying the service he had paid for) for the “crime” of supporting myself and my child. I also knew that my ex-husband (who had confined me to our home for days at a time) was not considered “violent” by his friends, and that if he found out about my current job, he could probably win custody of our daughter. I knew that I would have little credibility with anyone outside the sex biz if I were abused in any way on the job.

My pimp, a man of few words who seemed to move in slow motion, turned out to be very reliable in his way. At the end of a working day he would come home, where I was usually alone in his house. (Most of his stable worked the night shift.) He would offer me a drink, and he seemed impressed that I never helped myself in his absence. He would ask about my day, and I would tell him how many “calls” I had had. Then he would ask for an agency fee for each call, or (more often) he would invite me into his bedroom to collect his “fee” in trade. I knew that my feminist friends would probably consider this a worst-case example of sexual exploitation, but it enabled me to keep every penny I earned. Since part of my job was to answer the phone, my pimp told me that he liked having me there in the daytime, and wanted to make sure I made enough money… and with a day job I could work on my thesis between calls and my daughter could attend childcare.

The story of my life in the “oldest profession” has several endings. My job with my first escort agency ended peacefully when my pimp told all his “girls” that he had sold his business – which essentially consisted of us – to a woman he knew who never contacted us. We assumed that she had her own stable, or preferred to find one herself Years later, I heard that he had died of a heroin overdose. Wherever he is now, I wish him well. He might have been the only man I’ve ever known who never lied to me.

One of my sister-escorts found ajob with another agency and introduced me to the owner, a man from Newfoundland with two complete sets of identification. This time I worked nights. I didn’t realize that the police were watching the agency for several reasons: my pimp and his American wife, who worked along with the rest of us, were raising a toddler in the same house from which they ran their business, one of the other “girls” was wanted for armed robbery in another province, another was underage, and the owner of another agency was complaining that my pimp owed him money.

Now that I had more contact with other call girls, I learned more about the business I was in. All of us were single mothers. Several of us had grown up in middle-class families. Several of my co-workers seemed to be high on something most of the time. Most of them claimed to have strict limits on what they would do with a john, but no one excluded oral sex because it was in great demand.

As far as I could see, there was no big cultural gap between call girls and street workers. One of my “sisters” claimed to have worked the street for seven years before “taking a break” by joining an agency. She said that street work was more dangerous but also more fun in some ways, since hopping in and out of cars was fast and easy.

Despite the widespread belief of my older johns that all prostitutes were lesbians and vice versa, I found little overlap of those two communities. Most of my co-workers seemed so homophobic that I was relieved to find one who was also attracted to women, and I had a brief affair with her. Later on, I realized how little we had in common, but at the time, it was comforting to have a sexual relationship outside of “work” with someone who would not reject me because of what I did for a living.

My job ended dramatically on April Fool’s Day, 1984. While a lonely, divorced john kept me out all night, the police arrived at my pimp’s house to round up everyone there. The next day, my girlfriend told me the news but assured me that we were small fish to the cops, who were more interested in shutting down our agency than in throwing us all in jail.

For better or worse, I owned the car that our pimp had been using for agency business, and I was told to go to the police station to claim it. I was questioned about the agency and was told that I would not be charged if I cooperated. My pimp was charged with several offenses, but he left town with his wife and child before he was due to appear in court.

For several weeks, I survived without the fast cash that could be gained from sex work. Then I was phoned by one of my regulars, a married john with grown children who were older than I was. He had asked one of my “sisters” for my home phone number, and she had given it to him. I told him that I was no longer in the business, and told him not to call me again.

The man called me from time to time, and I repeated the same message. Then he called when I needed money and I agreed to see him one last time. After that, my only john phoned me approximately every two weeks and eventually I took the risk of letting him visit me at home. The money I earned from him helped me over lean periods as I lurched from one temporary job to another.

In 1989, my thesis was accepted, I passed my oral exam (no pun intended), and graduated with a Master’s degree. I refused to see my john any more, but after a five-year relationship (so to speak), he did not take my “no” seriously. With help from a new girlfriend who was on good terms with the police, I was able to stop the man from stalking me. He was warned that he could be charged under a new anti-stalking law. My career in the sex biz was finally over.

Eventually, I was offered a higher and more secure income in academia than I ever made as a call girl. Even if I could go back to my old life at my present age, I would not be tempted. Living in relative safety and comfort just feels too good to give up. Does this mean that I am a reformed prostitute who has climbed back onto the straight and narrow path? You be the judge.


When I was young we used to go and stay with a new mother to help her out for awhile, which often displaced the new dad to the barn as houses were much smaller then. On one such occasion after I had been there awhile – perhaps a bit too long – my friend was feeling stronger so decided to get some air and collect the eggs She returned quite shaken up to report that, “He downed me in the chicken coop!” Things weren’t always very romantic.

Rosilda, 97

She Said…

When I was six years old. I was sent to the convent for my education. At night the nuns would tuck us into bed with our arms on top of the covers so we wouldn’t be tempted to commit the sin of “touching ourselves.” To this day I still can’t break the habit (pun intended) of sleeping with the covers under my arms much to the vexation of my partner who prefers that the covers not be pinned down!

Dianne, 48

Jean Hillabold was briefly married in the 1970s and has one child. She has lived with her partner (also a single mother) since 1989 and has taught English at the University of Regina since 1991.

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