SEX AND DRUGS

Craigslist confessional: “During my sophomore year of college, my life changed. I became an escort.”

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Erika, early 20s

I look like a normal girl. I have a normal face, and normal eyes. I speak like a normal person. During my freshman year of college, my life changed. I became an escort, and everything stopped being normal.

I felt really alone in college and I started reaching out to people, mostly people on online dating sites and meet up groups. That’s where I met someone who got me hooked on cocaine, and eventually introduced me to Mandy. Mandy was a prostitute.

She was tall and pretty with really intense green eyes. She had her clothes tailor-made and she was hypersexual. I was drawn to her voice and to the fact that no matter where she was, she never seemed alone. She was always surrounded by people who hung on her every word.

She glamorized her life. When she first took me to her apartment, she had a pile of money on her bed. I was snorting cocaine every day at this point — probably about $100 worth a day, which really isn’t that much — and I occasionally took molly and ketamine. Of course, I was also on painkillers and drinking pretty heavily. I used my student loans to buy the drugs, and I was totally broke. So when I saw all that money…let’s just say I’d kind of already made up my mind.

I wasn’t really Mandy’s victim. She just took advantage of what was in front of her. She helped me set up my ads on Backpage and Eros. I charged between $100 and $400, depending on what they wanted. On the weekends, I made up to $2000. When I first started out, I forgot to ask for the money up front once and the guy left without paying me. From then on, once the clients came into the apartment, I’d take the money first and take it away to a different room.

Then, I did whatever they paid for.

At first, I got to keep everything I made. I used all of it for drugs; at my very worst, I was using about $200 worth of cocaine a day, but I was on a lot of other things, too. I started selling sex to pay for the drugs, but now I was on the drugs to keep selling sex — to live through the day and do what I had to do. I always wondered when that switch happened.

About a month or two into us working together, Mandy started coming up with reasons why she needed help with money. First, she needed to see the dentist. Then, she needed a fix for the car. I always helped her; I was naively happy to do it. But eventually, the reasons stopped coming — she just started demanding money. I gave her about half of what I made, sometimes more, sometimes everything. She became, essentially, my pimp.

Over time, I started getting regulars who wanted to see me once or twice a week. If I count my regulars once, I slept with anywhere from 300 to 500 different men in a two year period. I spent whole weekends with people, and got paid lump sums to be totally at their disposal. I made thousands of dollars. I have none of it.

Some clients were just lonely. Some guys are into different things that they can’t tell their wives and girlfriends about: one wanted me to blow up a bunch of balloons and sit on them. I met another guy in his home and we had sex surrounded by photos of his wife and kids. I refused to do it on the bed. Another guy was into choking—he almost killed me.

While all of this was happening, I was still in school. My grades obviously started suffering. I didn’t go to class, but I’d show up to take the exams. Eventually, I dropped out. My parents were pretty clueless about everything. I think they sensed that something was wrong with me, but they never really asked, you know? And how do you tell your dad about something like this? I just couldn’t do it.

Weirdly, what kept me going was my relationship with Mandy. She had me thinking that we shared something, that we were in on this together. She was telling me that we’re not like other people—“we can’t relate to normal people,” she said. “We’ve got to stick together, you and I.”

It was comforting to have her, even if I knew that she was using me. I remember she pulled a gun on me once during a fight and hit me on the head with it. I was bleeding and she refused to let me clean it. She had this strange detached look to her that night. But even when it got awful, I was constantly trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad. Whenever someone tried to approach me or help me, I’d always dismiss it: “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Eventually, we got caught in a sting. One of the cops locked me in my room and raped me while all of his buddies were just outside the door. Then, he let me go.

As awful as it was, I saw this as my second chance. I told my parents about what had been happening. They came and helped me get clean. I was allowed back to school. My mom and dad come and visit me all the time now. I think they’re scared that something will happen again. But I don’t think so. This all feels like a strange fluke. I don’t know how I got there, and how I got so deep. I guess I’m just happy it’s over.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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