In the shadow of Cardiff’s infamous Magic Roundabout on Tyndall Street, under the cover of darkness, a night’s work begins. The reality of working on the Welsh capital’s streets is a harsh one. Women share tales of harrowing abuse.
The stories include sex workers being thrown into the River Taff or hurled out of cars by punters who refuse to pay. There are descriptions of gang rapes by groups of men hiding out of sight.
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“I know of a girl who got into a car and got smashed in the face with a brick.” We will call her Lucy but that’s not her real name. She doesn’t want to tell us what it is let alone allow it to appear in print.
“There’s a woman who got into the front of a van and was gang raped by the men in the back.
“People have ended up in the river – it’s hard out there. There are some really nasty pieces of work, the fact that we are in the service means we are treated even lower.”
This part of the Welsh capital is Lucy’s patch.
“There were times I was raped out there – but in Cardiff you do not report that as who is going to believe you. I have had to fight for my life out there – I had to fight and kick a guy in the ribs as he tried to jaw me and knock me out, as he was stronger than me.
“I’ve had a guy pin me down as he wanted oral, I said no. We walked into a house and I didn’t know there was a few in there.”
She added: “It’s not a lifestyle I would recommend – I have ended up in a f***** up situation, where perverts sexually assault you while you are sleeping. But it’s not all doom and gloom – some of those blokes are genuinely unhappy and are paying for company.
“You can make a lot of money as they can be flowing through on a business trip.”
Her life spiralled into the world of sex work when she was just 17 after she dropped out of school.
Her four-year-old brother died of leukaemia when she was just eight and her parents had mental health problems. She would be left with the neighbours, or her nan and ended up in and out of care.
“I was brought up anti-drug and religiously,” she said. “I dropped out of school and found myself in the wrong crowd – I was brought up badly.
“I found out a couple of years ago that my leg was snapped when I was a baby but I was not removed from the home. I ended up in care and I was in a hostel at 17, there was a lot of blokes in there preying on the girls coming in.
“They told me to smoke and I thought it was cannabis resin, it would be poured on the foil and went hard – it was heroin. I was told to pay for it.”
She added: “I was taken to Tyndall Street in Cardiff and was introduced to a working girl. I was 17 and petrified – I was s******* myself.
“I was being coerced to make money, I was quite naive and they have seen me coming. They were making the most of the money, as they were in the hostel too.
“Being younger you get more money – if they are going to spend money, they are going to put it on someone who is younger. I am gay and there is nothing worse than sleeping with a man.
“Blokes were not for me; I was finicky with protection. I would go extra high and go unconscious in the car.”
She said girls would operate in groups of three and four along Tyndall Street but some worked individually, while ones or twos would work in Ocean Way. The woman, now 40, revealed she would charge £20 for oral sex, £30 for sex with a condom and she had also charged £30 for a hand job.
She told how over three nights she had earned £1,500 by working in tandem with another girl. The money would cover the cost of her drug habit, which ranged from £50 a day to £1,000 in 24 hours.
But some women in Cardiff were prepared to accept as little as a fiver, which hit others in the trade. Their punters varied from being aged in their 20s to 60s and men who were so “frickin old” they “couldn’t get it up.”
She said: “The charge would depend on the car, the guy, the wallet – you have to pay extra to see my boobs. Men in Mercedes, Porsche and Ferraris and that type of car get worried about pulling up.
“You get ones who want you to crawl around and call you mama. They tend to be high up and professional people.
“The more high-powered job they have the more they want to be submissive. You see s***loads of married men; they pick up the milk and bread and that would be on the back of the car – that was the blag, they are going to get it.
“That happens lots, there’s lots of men in relationships. They are taken and do not want to lean in too close to get lipstick or perfume on them – they want to get their rocks off.
“They say they have problems – some do not speak about their lives – they give me the money and want whatever they want. We see solicitors and people who are supposed to be upstanding but I would draw the line with a policeman.
“People like business types or they have Jesus Be With You and fish on the bonnet – there’s a lot of them, it really is true. The single ones are on the internet.”
She said the main aspect she enjoyed about her job was taking on the role of the dominatrix. Although, when she discovered one of her punters was intent on dominating her she admitted to fearing for her life.
“One guy lifted his boot and there were these gimp masks,” she said. “I thought I had s*** myself.
“I thought a serial killer had come to Cardiff; I was weirded out. I was not into all that and told him it was not for me; he was quite alright and happy to be dominated and I earned more money.
“I thought he was a serial killer and I didn’t expect that from a young lad.” She added: “I did enjoy being a dominatrix, I used to beat the s*** out of them and walked over them.
“Every job has its perks- they wanted me to beat the crap out of them and I was happy to oblige. There are some weird festishes out there.
“One guy wanted to stand stark b****** naked and pop balloons as he t***** himself off. There was another guy I was told lay naked under a table as this girl gave a s*** on its glass on top of him – I do not do that I draw the line.
“You get ones who are w****** and are driving – there are some right ones out there. Some would pay and watch me smoke crack, I have happily obliged as I was an addict.
“They buy the crack and hundreds of pounds are spent and they supply fags and drink. You can’t stamp out the need for the oldest tradition – in Cardiff’s Tyndall Street there will always be people flowing through and making money.”
On days she couldn’t earn enough by selling herself she would have little option but to beg on the streets instead. She said it was the last thing she would do now but at the time it was vital.
“Some days I would have £50 or £1,000 or drugs and I would get to the point of begging,” she said. “I couldn’t sit down and do it, I felt if I would go up and introduce myself to people it would be better for me.
“I would make £50 from walking up Chippy Lane – on a match night some people would have £50 drops. I would rather eat my own head on a spoon than ask people for change now.”
The knock-on effect of her drug taking has seen her suffer from the life-threatening condition sepsis along with abscesses. She still bears the scars from her addiction along her tattooed arms.
“When I was flat out on drugs I could go and work for the weekend in Swansea or somewhere in the valleys,” she said. “I could be going to my grave but in reality, I saw the dollar bill signs.
“Sometimes I would double up with another girl and make more money, I would make £500 on a good night so I would make a grand and a half for three nights.” Some girls have turned to parlour work to stay safe and the Ugly Mugs scheme is flagged up through Streetlife, a project run by Safer Wales in Cardiff, to warn sex workers about dangerous individuals.
She said those selling themselves for sex can range in age from teenagers to those who are close to claiming their pension. “I have known 16-year-olds to be out there – I know of workers to be in their 50s and 60s out there,” she said.
“They have a good clientele, there’s always going to be different fetishes with some young men into older women. I didn’t deal with pimps, I worked for myself. I left that hostel and continued working.
“It’s like you are on a conveyor belt, it’s difficult to get off.” The woman added: “I have battled with drugs for 23 years – I still have cannabis but I don’t have crack cocaine or heroin.
“I was injecting for five years – I had a habit. After 23 years full of Class A drug abuse I had a lot of demons.”
Her drug abuse led her to be convicted for robbery and GBH and she was thrown behind bars for a decade for three different offences after in one instance she beat and robbed a paedophile as she was high on drugs.
The change in her lifestyle has led her to change a habit of selling herself, which she was hooked on for 13 to 14 years. She said she had not only seen her life change but a shift in the way people sold themselves during the pandemic.
“Since Covid, it’s changed,” she said. “A lot more girls are doing it from their own homes now. The times are changing; the sex industry is more behind closed doors. I see in their faces they are working – it’s just the methods have changed.”
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She added: “The older I get I can’t be bothered.” The woman is one of the lucky ones and has turned her life around thanks to the support of Streetlife, which is there to protect adults from abuse and sexual exploitation.
Her focus is now on reaching out to others through music. “I finally have a future; I understand what it is like to exist. “I could go back and make money but I would rather struggle and budget. I am proud of who I am today – I have the right people around me.”