Prostitution in Sheffield

I watched a bit of TV before I went to bed last night, Britain’s Streets of Vice, presented by the pious Sally Magnusson. Only the BBC would have a joyous Songs of Praise presenter front a program about something deemed so unholy.

Like the program before it, Skint, it provides BBC viewers like myself with an almost smug insight into the lives of the dispossessed, the unwanted, the ignored.

The familiar Police talk about “These people” and the side effects of their trade on the all important “Community”, but not the dangers faced by the young girls involved. Rather, the effect it has on the families of the punters when they knock on the front door. Their priorities lie firmly with the law, the taxpayer, and constructs of a ‘decent’ society like the family, and men.

The somehow familiar story of 21 year old Maxine is tragic. A childhood of abuse that led to prostitution at the age of 16, she had two children removed to which she is allowed to write two letters a year. Maxine is young, shy and little more than a child, whilst at the same time a kind, funny and thoughtful adult trapped in a desperate world of abuse and lost souls.

Facts and figures about drug use flash up on to lonely shots of her in unimaginably dark and dangerous places. Sheffield, a million miles away from the ridiculous Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. I contemplate over and over the kind of society that we live in, one that could see Maxine earning a merge living by submitting to dirty old men on a piece of wet carpet in derelict flats. That’s somebody’s daughter, sister, mum. I think about how Maxine’s life will pan out when the cameras leave and return to Barnstable for next weeks Songs of Praise.

It is a truly terrifying and saddening thought.

I think about Maxine’s place in Blair’s grotesquely conservative Britain, his infatuation with the middle classes, and about how the basic life privileges now considered a birthright are denied to her because of circumstance and class.

I think about tabloid exploitation of sex and it’s counterproductive scapegoating of the disaffected, Daily Mail and Guardian readers wondering out loud why she didn’t work harder at school.

But most importantly I think about how Maxine has got nobody to look after her, and how we managed to let a human being end up in that utterly diabolical situation in the first place.

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