London Community News
By Paul Everest/For London Community News
When she gets into the car, she asks him to either show her his genitals or to grab her breasts. If he obliges, she knows he’s not a police officer and she’ll go with him to his home, a hotel or back to her apartment.
This is one of the ways Wildfire, a 48-year-old sex worker living in London who asked not to have her real name used out of concern for her safety, protects herself when meeting a client.
Specializing in domination, role-playing, private dancing and what she refers to as “regular calls” for sex, Wildfire said she will rarely resort to working the streets to make money and instead prefers to use classified advertisements in newspapers to promote her services.
Should someone approach her on the street who she recognizes, however, or if her gut tells her the client is trustworthy, she will, from time to time, take on street-level sex work.
“Out on the street, you get paid less, it’s more dangerous. I’ve done both,” she said. “If I’m walking home and somebody drives by that I know from before and stops, I will hop in their car and go to my place or go to their place. But I will not pull over on the side of the road and take care of them.”
Sitting on a picnic table outside her small apartment in the city’s east end and holding an unlit cigarette while she talks, Wildfire shares a story of how, when she was 13, one of her five older brothers introduced her to marijuana.
At the time, she said, she was emotionally vulnerable as her father was dying from cancer.
Despite a strict Catholic upbringing in Cape Breton, N.S., and Kitchener where she wasn’t allowed to wear blue jeans and often stayed after school to help her teachers, it wasn’t long before one of her brother’s friends invited her to a party and introduced her to harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin and MDA.
“Once I did that, I was working the streets,” Wildfire said, adding she turned to sex work in order to find cash for her addiction.
From there, she spent several years living with bikers and truckers in the U.S., experiencing frequent physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
While still in her late teens, she returned to Canada and began exotic dancing in Stratford, Windsor and Chatham, all the while still hanging around with men from motorcycle clubs who made her continue prostituting herself out.
For years she was raped, traded between pimps, forced to carry out sexual acts she was not comfortable with and was repeatedly threatened with death if she did not comply with the bikers’ wishes.
With the help of another dancer who gave her a key to a locked back door at one of the clubs she was working at, Wildfire eventually escaped this world and even landed a job as a collection agent in Kitchener at the age of 23, although she continued to work in the sex trade on the side.
An attempted rape, injuries from a car crash and problems with her family ultimately landed Wildfire back in the world of full-time sex work and the lines, bruises and scars on her body are testaments to the harsh lifestyle she endured.
In 1995, the man she was engaged to and wildly in love with died from a diabetic coma and she said soon after, her family completely disowned her, leaving her in a world of loneliness.
“I literally have lived and existed for the last 12 years, and I’m not looking for a pity trip here, without any love. My family has disowned me, I have no one to talk to. If it wasn’t for My Sisters’ Place, I’d probably be dead right now,” she said. “Do you know how hard that is to try and exist in a world that is this cold without anybody to give a rat’s ass if you’re alive or not?
“It hurts like hell.”
Yet despite the abuse inflicted on her over the years by clients, herself and the bikers who “managed” her when she was younger, it’s difficult not to see Wildfire as a bubbly, fun-loving women just looking to get by and enjoy life.
“In spite of what I do, I’m still the girl next door. I just got a different way of making money than most people.”
She shares her apartment, which is bursting with clothes — one of the passions of Wildfire’s life — with five cats.
A typical day for her is spent watching television, playing with the cats and doing activities at My Sisters’ Place, a local support service for women.
And after spending more than two-thirds of her life taking drugs, Wildfire said she is working to stay clean so she can begin pursuing new goals.
She is currently receiving methadone treatments and wants to go back to school for fashion design.
She also wants to write poetry and talk to young people about what she has gone through in her life in the hope she might dissuade them from following the same path.
Knowing she can only work in the sex trade for a few more years anyway due to her age, Wildfire said she ultimately wants to get out of the industry.
“I’m sick of it, to tell you the truth,” she said. “There was a time when I tried to give it up and I found, boom, I was back doing it. It wasn’t because I needed the money, it was the thrill. It’s not the thrill of having sex, it’s the danger thing.”
For the moment, however, she is not financially stable enough to leave sex work behind.
When times were good, Wildfire said, she could charge anywhere from $100 to $300 an hour depending on the type of service a client desired.
“When I did have my ad in full time, I used to do very well. I used to make on average $800 a day.”
Business has been slow for her lately, however, and Wildfire has had difficulty scraping together enough money to place her advertisement in newspapers.
Still, she’s optimistic that the end of her sex work career is in sight and is even hopeful that she will again find someone who she could have a trusting, healthy and intimate relationship with.
Although she said she numbs her emotions when she’s with a client, if she were to meet the right person, she’s confident she could turn those feelings back on.
“It’s just trying to find someone that’s open-minded enough to be able to accept me for me.”
Treena Orchard, an assistant professor at Western University’s School of Health Studies, is researching the sex trade in London, an industry she said has never really been properly documented.
(For more on Orchard’s research, look for the second part of this series on sex work in next week’s issue of London Community News)
Part of her research included 33 interviews with 23 different women working in various types of sex work in the city with the aim of uncovering the nature of London’s sex trade, the experiences of the woman and what types of sex work are most prominent here.
“Because the majority of the sex work research being done in Canada is based in large cities. And this is not Toronto and in order to develop policies and programs that will really work and reflect the women’s realities here in London, we need to have the evidence to document,” Orchard said. “If we need changes to be made, we have to have evidence that demonstrates why and how those changes are needed.”
Many of the stories the women told during the interviews are similar to Wildfire’s experiences and Orchard said she found heartbreaking similarities between tales from London sex workers and those of workers in other cities such as Vancouver or Winnipeg.
“And that speaks to how widespread violence and a complete disregard for human value is, and the fact that that’s so common in all of these women’s lives, whether it is Vancouver or London or Winnipeg, that is really, deeply saddening.”
But there is a legion of organizations and individuals in London working to help and support women in the sex trade and, like Orchard’s own goals for her research, these advocates and supporters want to fight the stigmatization of these women and share one important message with the community.
“That these women are women,” Orchard said. “Being a sex worker is being a person.”
To be continued ...