Jessica says she was turned away from support services when she was a sex worker – now she campaigns to help others.
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Jessica Hyer Griffin, 25, was forced into sex work as a student. Here, she explains why the profession shouldn’t be hushed up, and why those who work in it should get more support.
Sex work shouldn’t be taboo. You shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or be alone.
It’s a profession because there is demand for it. I have come across many people who look down on sex workers, but rarely does anyone look down on the clients who pay for sex.
We – Support For Student Sex Workers – support all sex workers, from those who are empowered by their job to those who are stuck and urgently need our support.
We would never make judgements or insist that anyone should change their lifestyle, nor do we make assumptions that every sex worker hates their job. That’s how it should be.
More students are turning to sex work during COVID-19 pandemic
Many students have had jobs or hours cut and are others are getting less support from their parents due to the worsening economy
The most important thing to us is that sex workers have somewhere to go, free of judgement, so they don’t have to be alone.
When I was a sex worker, I was alone.
I can only speak from one person’s experiences as a high-end full sex worker – my experience does not define us as a community – but I know that it can get lonely if you don’t have the right support.
When I came to The University of Manchester in 2014, I wasn’t in contact with my family. I left home at 16 and had been estranged from my mother since then.
One of the reasons our relationship was strained was because of the extreme poverty we lived in. She raised me by herself on the 12th most impoverished estate in England and we struggled more than what we, as a society, should tolerate.
University can be a very oppressive place for those in poverty.
I was under extreme financial pressure throughout the entirety of my degree. Personal circumstances left me in debt, which was spiralling out of control.
I was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder in my first year and struggling. I began going on sugar daddy dates for money. I felt empowered and in control of the situation. I had a choice.
When I was raped in 2015, I had my choice taken away.
I developed agoraphobia and PTSD, which went undiagnosed until 2019. This means I struggled alone with my illnesses for four years before they were recognised. I was forced to take an interruption from my studies.
On interruption, you cannot claim benefits and you do not get a student loan.
I was sent to a short-stay centre in recovery from my rape in 2017. When I returned I couldn’t pay my rent.
Someone I loved, and owed money to, then became the person who took my choice away.
They forced me into sex work.
This was just the start of my time as a full-service sex worker. I had no other income and no option but to keep going.
I tried to get help from several mental health institutions. One of the most prominent sexual assault units in Manchester discharged me from their service because I was a sex worker.
I told the therapist I was about to go home and sleep with someone for money and that I didn’t want to do it. I said I was in financial ruin and couldn’t escape. She discharged me as a result.
Everything came to blows in 2018.
There was no one to act as my guarantor. In Manchester, as a student, you need a guarantor in order to get a place to rent anywhere.
I explained to the estate agent that I had no family and wasn’t going to survive without a house. They told me if I didn’t have a guarantor they couldn’t help.
A friend signed on as my guarantor, but they wouldn’t accept him because he wasn’t a parental figure.
After everything I had been through, I made the decision that I wouldn’t live on the streets.
I penned my suicide letter and phoned the estate agent one last time before I was due to end my life.
I explained the situation and was still told “no”. For around half an hour, I sat trying to make sense of what was about to happen.
I don’t know what made them change their mind, but they rang back and said they would let my friend be my guarantor. That is the only reason I am here today.
I am so thankful to be here because now I have turned an ugly experience into something I see as beautiful for the sex work community.
After I graduated, I was able to go on Universal Credit and PIP, which meant I could stop sex work, I met my fiance and my mother came back into my life and supported me tremendously.
I was also given a therapist that understood me and taught me that I shouldn’t be ashamed.
I am now a mental health support worker, working towards a PhD in Applied Theatre but the only reason I am where I am now is because support systems came into my life that helped me recover.
The week before I founded my organisation, my therapist told me: “You would never look at another person who had been through what you have been through and tell them to be ashamed. If people try and shame you over this, they aren’t people you want to know.”
Since then, there hasn’t been a day where I have not felt proud to be part of the sex work community.
There is no shame in making a living from a profession that is made profitable because of the desires of others.
Sex work can be isolating but it can also be empowering and no-one ever has the right to tell you what to do with your body.
- The charity Support For Student Sex Workers offers support to sex workers of any kind in online, face-to-face and phone sessions, as well as career and academic advice and wellbeing helpAnyone experiencing difficulties can contact Samaritans UK on 116 123, or by emailing email@example.com