The Age (Australia) 3 Oct 2011
RITA could never explain the large gap on her resume when she applied for jobs. She’d say she was a stay-at-home mother. But she’d really spent her adult life working as a prostitute to support three children. ”You can’t really tell them what you were doing,” she said. ”Otherwise, if you do, you’re going to be judged.” As her children became teenagers, Rita worried they might discover her secret, perhaps see her working the streets of St Kilda.
So, at the start of the year, Rita signed up to Australia’s first exit program for sex workers, run by the St Kilda-based support service RhED and funded by Consumer Affairs Victoria. Like the other 24 women and one man who have joined the ”Pathways to Exit” program so far, Rita was given a case worker to help her negotiate the many steps she needed to take between the oldest profession and a new life. Her case worker took her to the dentist, the optometrist and the gym. She saw a psychologist for depression, she consulted a financial counsellor. Now she’s with an employment agency that knows her past, and next month she starts studying to become a beautician. ”I needed a career I can go for that I’ll be able to do the rest of my life and that’s what I come up with,” Rita said in an interview at the St Kilda drop-in centre. ”I’ve got a partner and we’ve both sort of had a bit of a hard time. We just want to settle right down and fit into society and both have careers and super and buy a house.”
The exit program was established after more than half of the sex workers polled by RhED said they wanted help to leave the industry. Half of the first intake has come from the streets, the rest from brothels. Results from the first year are promising, according to an interim report, although it makes clear that leaving the industry is a long, slow process.