My other life as a prostitute
After Toni Cole was made redundant from her job as a teacher of young offenders she began work as an escort. "The bailiffs were knocking at the door and I felt I didn't have a choice.
"We'd been used to having good wages, but then my husband was injured in a motorcycle accident and I lost my job. The benefits didn't pay the mortgage and we saw our house disappearing before our eyes. We knew we needed to do something quickly."
Toni spotted a job advert for an escort agency in a local newspaper and rang to find out more. "I joked to my husband that if I didn't get this job, it really would be over. I had an interview in a lay-by, where they made sure I knew what the job entailed, what I was prepared to do and what hours I could work."
That night, Toni started work and made pound;300 with three clients. The escort agency would ring her, give her a client's details and she would visit them at their home.
"I wouldn't say it was an easy job," she says. "It took an awful lot of adjustment. Little girls don't say, 'I want to be a prostitute when I grow up'. Personally I didn't enjoy being a sex worker. I did it because I needed money quickly."
Toni, now 50, started work in the sex industry in 1991 after 18 years in teaching. She is not the only teacher to turn to it as a means of making extra cash.
This month, Tim Blake-Bowell, 46, a PE teacher, was suspended from his job at King Ethelbert School near Margate pending an investigation into allegations he was involved in people trafficking and controlling prostitutes. He was arrested but released on bail without charge.
In 2000, there was a tabloid furore after Claire Norman, a geography teacher from Nottingham, found herself splashed all over The Sun when the paper discovered she was earning pound;2,000 a week as a prostitute to pay off her training debts. Nottingham Council banned her from working in the area. Claire told The Sun: "I hated it, but needed money."
The Home Office estimates that about 80,000 people work in prostitution in the United Kingdom.
Sarah Walker, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, knows several teachers who have worked as escorts. "They do it because their wages are low or because there's a family emergency. Some will do it only twice a year when there's a big bill coming up."
She says the expense of training or taking a degree to further their career also prompts women to seek work in the sex industry. "Our primary concern is safety. We advise them to let someone know where they're going, check out clients and use a driver if possible."
For her part, Toni continued working as a prostitute while she took an MA in education at a south coast university to further her teaching career. She visited clients weeknights from 7pm to 1am, giving herself Wednesdays off to complete coursework and Sundays to spend with her two children.
She even wrote her dissertation on the rehabilitation of prostitutes, for which she got a first. "I think that raised eyebrows among the professors. Some of them probably guessed what I did for a living, but they did not say anything."
Toni made enough money to cover the bills and spoil her children occasionally. "They wanted for nothing," she says.
Toni finally left the sex trade when she was raped by a client. She tried to press charges but was rebuffed by the police. "They said as I was a prostitute they would not take on the case because nobody would believe me. The situation would have been completely different if I had come to them as a teacher."
Instead, she launched the first successful private prosecution for rape in England and Wales. This involved another escort who had been raped by the same man. He was jailed for 11 years. But, the case was a mixed blessing. The publicity surrounding it described her in sufficient detail to identify her to local people and she found it difficult to get back into teaching.
"I wanted to work with vulnerable clients and to specialise in gifted children," she says (her daughter was recognised as gifted at a young age and could read by the age of two).
But her attempts to get back into mainstream work failed. A job at a women's refuge was terminated after the court case hit the newspapers again. "A colleague asked if the woman was me. I said 'yes'. I was told my services were no longer required."
Then she got a job as head of education at a prison. "But before my start date they found out - I don't know how - and said that due to unforeseen circumstances my post was being taken away. They made it clear it was to do with my past."
Toni believes the stigma surrounding sex work stops many women from getting a career. Although prostitution is not illegal in England and Wales, associated activities such as kerb crawling and soliciting are - and there are proposals to outlaw paying for sex in brothels and massage parlours in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill due to go before Parliament.
The English Collective of Prostitutes believes another clause in the new Bill will further punish prostitutes by introducing compulsory rehabilitation that can result in 72 hours in prison if they don't attend - although a spokeswoman for the Home Office emphasises that this applies only to street-based prostitution and is intended to support sex workers.
Toni says: "With school employers it's the moralistic view. They don't want that type of person teaching their children. But I find it difficult because many teachers have gone from school to college to university and back to school, and haven't really seen life. They have to teach subjects to vulnerable children that they haven't got a clue about."
She compares the life of a teacher to that of an escort. "Working in the industry was like teaching in that when you're standing in front of a class you become a different person. I was intelligent enough to have what I call 'the switch'. When I went to work I was a different person. It's the same if you're a teacher."
As a prostitute she often took on the role of a teacher, too. "You sometimes got virgins coming to you who didn't want their first night with their wives to be a bad experience, so they went to someone who had knowledge about the sexual act and how to make it pleasurable."
She says her experiences led her to believe the sex education pupils receive in schools is inadequate. "I'd had to deliver it in the past and all I was allowed to talk about were venereal diseases and contraception. There's loads more they should know, about technique, feelings and the vulnerability of women and girls."
As well as working as a prostitute, Toni later ran an escort agency, taking bookings, vetting girls and clients and making sure they went out with a trained driver. Again, it was a move driven by financial necessity. The girls, she says, gave her voluntary contributions that covered the bills and basics. Her husband also worked as a driver for them.
"He was supportive, although, like a lot of men, he had issues over the fact he wasn't providing for the family."
Toni is now on incapacity benefit because she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome triggered by the rape, which makes her nervous working around men. She has also been ostracised by her family and friends after the court case came to light and they discovered what she did for a living.
Toni does not have glowing memories of her time as a prostitute, but sees it as something she had to do to make ends meet during a difficult time. Her biggest bugbear is the criminalisation of the profession.
"If you criminalise it, women like myself have less chance of returning to a mainstream job. And they have lots of skills. People have a narrow view of prostitution, that it's all short skirts, low tops and drugs, but that's only a small number of people."
Some names have been changed.
THE NAKED TRUTH
- There are an estimated 80,000 prostitutes working in the UK, according to the Home Office.
- The proportion of men who have paid for heterosexual sex increased from 5.6 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2000, according to research published in the British Medical Journal in 2005.
- 6 per cent of students say they have friends who sell sex to fund their degrees, according to a 2006 study by Kingston University.