New Internationalist

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Issue 292

Paula's story

Paula is 15 and lives in Middlesbrough in the north-east of England, an area with high unemployment. She is happy to tell her story on condition that her name is changed.

I haven't been to school for ages ­ about two years. I stopped when I was 13. Why? It did my head in. I guess I was always a bit rebellious. At first I kept quiet photo of Paula about not going to school but when my Mum found out she just said 'stay home so I know where you are'. The school used to chase me up and I'd go back in for an hour then bunk off again with my friends. They gave up in the end.

I left home. I live with a friend now. I got involved with prostitution about six months ago. I knew someone who was already doing it and making easy money. She was about 17. I asked if she was scared of going in cars on her own ­ 'how do you know the phoney ones, the ones that are going to batter you or rape you?' She said you know the dodgy ones, you just have a feeling ­ and most of the time she's right, you know. Mind you, one time I was raped and battered when a client went loopy.

Was it frightening the first time with a client? No, I was with a friend 'cause he wanted two girls. It were scary when I did eventually go on my own but it was all right ­ it wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be.

The first time I just did hand relief. Was I sexually experienced by then? I wasn't a slag, if that's what you mean. But I knew my way around. After about two months I decided I'd do the whole lot. Why? Money ­ you double your money. Now I do between five and nine tricks a day. We make them use condoms for everything now 'cause of AIDS ­ except for hand relief.

Yes of course I was terrified when I got attacked but you can't feed a drug habit with nothing. I started smoking gear [heroin] about a year ago, same time I started this ­ that's why I needed the money. All my friends were doing it and I was the only one that wasn't. Instead of changing my friends I joined in ­ daftest thing I ever did.

I want to get off this soon ­ I'm hoping to start detox next month. I'm looking to go back to college to learn all the things I should have done in school. I'm not doing this because I enjoy it.

Do my Mum and Dad know? No, they'd be shocked ­ I weren't brought up to do this. I hope I'll never have to tell them. In ten years' time I hope I'll be settled down with a family and be happy.

Why do so many kids do heroin? 'Cause there's nowt to do. Even if you did go to school and got qualifications there wouldn't be any jobs at the end of it. What would I say to Tony Blair [Britain's newly elected Labour Prime Minister]? Give us more to occupy us kids so we don't get so bored.

Paula was interviewed by Chris Brazier.

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