“[…] It was very dangerous. The nightlife is not for everyone and from working in that environment, you understand that the world has many sick and violent people. The money was fast and great but I hated every moment of it.
“Sleeping with someone you are not attracted to or your spirit just does not align with was a haunting experience…”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday persons in Trinidad and Tobago in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we talk to Louise, a former sex worker who was once part of the infamous ‘Murray Street’ group:
What can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in a small village in St Vincent in the year 1953, March 30. I am the eldest sibling of five children, and I am a mother of five children. My eldest is 50 years and youngest 30. I was a sex-worker and call girl for over 10 years in Trinidad.
What was your childhood like?
Hard, extremely hard. As the eldest sibling, my mother forced me to drop out of school at 13, so I can find work and take care of the household. I loved school as a child! I was so angry when I was forced to leave school, I was such an intelligent child.
I did not get to attend secondary school; I did not get a fair chance to be fully educated, and up to this day it still affects me.
What made you migrate to Trinidad?
I came to Trinidad for a better life. My mother forced me out of her house at the age of 15 years, so I had to fend for myself. At 18, I already had two children: a boy and a girl. My first-born son was conceived through rape, and my second was conceived through an abusive relationship.
Back in the 60s, we did not know about abortion clinics. We lived in the countryside and when you lived in the countryside of St Vincent, you did not know nothing besides planting in the garden [and] cooking… You know, housemaid duties.
Many of my friends from the village told me about their experience visiting Trinidad. They worked on the port in St Vincent, so they will often be back and forth delivering and picking up goods from Trinidad. One day I visited my friend on the port. I packed a duffle bag with all my clothing, I got on the boat and that is how I made it to Trinidad.
At first, I was two-minded to stay. I went back to St Vincent about three weeks after and my mother told me I did not belong here, I should go back from wherever I came from. She even put my children against me. I really thought about it; but after so much pressure, I came back to Trinidad.
How long have you been living in Trinidad?
Over thirty years, I have two children that are Trinidadian citizens. One is 30 years of age, and the other is 40 years.
How did you venture into the sex-work industry?
When I migrated to Trinidad, I remembered seeing ladies in their nice nurse uniforms going to work, I remembered telling myself: ‘Yes Lou, I could see myself being a nurse!’
I did not have much education and I was not qualified enough to work in the health sector, so I got into care-giving for the elderly for a few years until I could make enough money to pay for private classes and build myself up. Back then, the government did not offer free reading and writing classes, so you had to pay for everything.
Paying rent, utilities, buying groceries and sending money to support my mother and children back home in St Vincent; there was always a setback to pay for private classes. It was hard. I did not have any friends or family to help me.
I eventually met a nice Trinidadian man and soon I got pregnant with my daughter. The relationship did not last, and later in my pregnancy, I discovered he was married. I was a single parent once again, this time in another country. I lost my job at that time due to complications with the pregnancy and I did not have any benefits because I was not a citizen.
The bills were piling up and I had to support a new baby and two kids and my mother who was taking care of them. I had to find a quick solution.
I moved in with an ex co-worker because I could not afford to continue paying rent. She was such a lifesaver. After moving in, I remembered for a couple nights I saw her sister dressing up and leaving [the house at] late hours of the night in what we called back then ‘skettel’ clothing.
I did not want to ask my ex co-worker about her sister’s whereabouts because they’ll say I am intruding in their business, but one particular night—I will never forget, she was dressed in a red, revealing outfit—I finally get the courage to asked her where she goes in these outfits. And she looked at me and said ‘Murray Street’!
So, how did you become involved?
A couple weeks after my baby was born, my ex co-worker and her sister and I were talking and she was telling us how much money she makes. I made a joke and said that I wanted to start because I needed some money to buy milk, pampers and clothing for my baby, and she just gave me the encouragement to do it.
One night I asked someone to watch my daughter and I went with her just to see the operations. There were so many women, all different kinds—and men as well, dressed in female clothing and heels on the streets bravely. Some would hide when strange cars passed but the others did not care at all.
I sat in the park opposite the street and I just watched. Her sister introduced me to some street workers. They were very friendly and shared some tricks to make money and to keep myself safe.
Did you immediately start after being introduced to this lifestyle?
Not immediately. But when I started, it was only for a short period to secure some fast money to take care of my newborn and send items to my family in St Vincent. I was able to make a good amount of money to put myself back on my feet. I made enough money to pay for an apartment and stand on my own feet again.
I eventually got through with a cleaning job at a popular guesthouse, and I decided to let go of the street life. That did not last long after the boss man tried to sexually assault me. I would see him doing it to the other female workers, and they allowed him to because they wanted to stay employed. This man was disgusting; sometimes he would spit on the ground and call someone to clean it.
I could no longer tolerate that, I left after he forcefully tried to have sex with me.
Can you tell us about your experience as a sex-worker on Murray Street?
(Long pause) It was very dangerous. The nightlife is not for everyone and from working in that environment, you understand that the world has many sick and violent people. The money was fast and great but I hated every moment of it.
Sleeping with someone you are not attracted to or your spirit just does not align with was a haunting experience. God knows each time I did it, I thought about my children each step of the way. It was nothing but sacrifice to make ends meet.
You meet all types of people, and you never know what you are getting yourself into when you jump into a vehicle with a stranger. It was just scary but I kept a brave heart and mind.
How did you keep yourself safe?
I would walk with a dagger on me at all times. If any of us were entering a vehicle, we would take notes of the car number in case something happened. We had a special motel we would take clients and I would only use protection I brought. You could not trust those men; they would bring their own protection and poke holes [in it] to put you at risk. I learned that on the streets.
Were you afraid of contracting a sexually transmitted disease?
Yes, of course. I used to do my routine checkups at the clinic regularly, and I never ever had sex without condoms. Ever! I was always in control and made sure I allowed myself to see what was happening. I did not take drugs when offered, neither did I allow myself to drink or take drinks from anyone.
Do you know anyone with HIV/AIDS on Murray Street?
Yes, that is why I was careful. There were street workers who knew they were infected and continued to work as normal—not a care in the world.
What were your worst experiences as a sex-worker?
I had a few bad experiences. I was robbed at gunpoint, twice. Strangers in vehicles would pass while we were out on the streets and they would pelt us with rotten eggs.
One night I was at home, I was down and out and I needed necessities for my children. I had a bad feeling about going. I did not follow my mind, and when I got on Murray Street, a bus with police surrounded the area and picked up every person standing on the corner.
They carried us to the Woodbrook Police Station and I was locked in a cell with about seven other women for hours. They told us we were staying in there until the next Monday. I kept thinking about my children and my citizenship problem. I thought about deportation, who would take care of my babies? I was really scared.
I remembered sitting on the ground in the cell and talking to God, praying for a miracle. A few hours later I was released; that was the work of God!
Were there any good experiences?
I made many friends working on the streets. I met some really nice and polite men, a few big local celebrities that became friends. I also met many foreigners from different countries. Foreigners were often kind and just wanted to pay for companionship instead of sex.
Were your children aware of what you did?
Yes, I made sure they knew. I never wanted to hide from my children because of the fact that if something happened to me out there, they would not have been as traumatised; and I wanted them to know so they would not follow my footsteps.
I wanted the best for them; I wanted my children to make better choices than I did. I talked to them every day. I am an open and frank person; I wanted them to understand my decisions and that mommy was doing it to ensure they had everything they wanted and deserved.
When did you retire from sex-work?
Probably around the year 2006-2007. That was shortly after my last daughter was out of secondary school, and they were able to take care of themselves.
Would you say your choices affected your children?
I would say no because I was very open with my children. My first Trini-born daughter is married with children. The second one is working and traveling to different countries. My children back in St Vincent are married as well with children.
What is life like now?
Well, it is very quiet. Sometimes boring, but I rather it this way. All my children are big now and on their own, I talk to them every day. I do not see them every day, but I am fine with that. I like my peace. (Giggles).
If you can change anything from your past, what would it be?
That I kept on a path of bettering myself first. I fell in love quickly and made decisions that kept me back in life. I do not regret my children but I did cut myself short in life. I did not get to further my education and to this day it is still very embarrassing.
It is a constant struggle to not be able to read my bible when I want to and now I feel like it is too late. All my life has been dedicated to taking care of my family first; by the time it was time to take care of myself, there was too many complications. My work is done, and I was able to take care of my family. I am still proud of myself no matter what.
What would be your advice to young women?
Stay in school, and obey your parents. Parents should also talk to their children because I wish mine did. I probably would have been better off.
I know curiosity and boys can stray the mind but boys would be around forever. Your education is far more important than anything else.
We need a legal and regulated sex industry, this will serve to protect the public better than an underground and criminalized industry. Make pimping illegal but allow the women and men to sell their services as long as they get tested regularly and are cleared by medical experts, offer support through social workers etc. And make them pay taxes, this huge industry is tax-less precisely because it is criminalized, this must change.
It is disgusting and criminal that persons who know they have Sti’s continue to offer their sexual services, if done right a legal industry would serve to weed out such persons. The clients should be tested too. This work will never be without stigma, but somebody has to do it, and a legal industry would have the ability to represent it’s interests in the halls of government properly.
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I was doing some work with the community close to Murray street one night. While I was taking biodata a whole car load arrived. The driver male and possible pimp and 3 women. I gave them time to settle in, stated my purpose of taking info and distributing safer sex materials. I started interviewing another and I kid you not said “Mummy what is your date of birth again?” I froze. But I had to recover quickly so I would not be seen as judging or anything else. I don’t even remember if she was 18. It is 1 of those moments that made me think about choices. It blew mind then as it does typing it
Yesterday someone joked to me the situation is so iffy with work she might go Murray Street; I asked, what about Murray Street? It’s not that I didn’t know about the street, after I got lambasted for not knowing what it was, it came as clear and as bright as day.
Trust me, more women consider the option than we care to think or know. When I hear that ‚quality women‘ can be rented to give your man his perfect BDay present, it’s all over T&T in different forms and A Corey is right, even higher than your bank teller actually.
Pays the bills and the way some of our men act and even say they have so much fish in the sea …. yeah. No judgement here. Wishing her all the best.
Something was obviously missing before Louise was 13 years old. Children should begin reading much earlier if the schooling is adequate.
Jo Ann she said her mother took her out of school. That was the situation in poor communities in the smaller islands; it was never an unusual situation, they are small farming communities and they do this when they need help on the farm, if an extra hand dies or can’t work and they can’t meet their quota.
This was a really moving story.
I wonder if the ‘nice Trinidadian man’ actually lived with her for a time or spent his days with her?
Jo Ann that’s an interesting question. When I attended UWI Mona one of the professors (a British man) with whom a had a very good relationship actually met a woman with whom he shared a similar relationship initially. After seeing her the first time he then began to see her because he simply liked her company. I Remember him saying once that he saw a “lot more that that lifestyle” in her. He married her a year later and she accompanied him back to Europe where she attended art school and is today an artist. I say this only to indicate that sometimes dire circumstances present few options to an individual but once the opportunity arises the beauty and power of the human spirit to do more, to endure and to flourish comes out. I hope that this lady gets such an opportunity.
I can understand where you are coming from but I would hope, at her age, and after what she has endured, she has given up the idea of men as her saviours.
Jo Ann I’m not speaking of a man saving her or anyone but I’m thinking about what possible opportunities are there for anyone male or female to flourish and meet their potential late in life. Men similarly go through similar issues whether through incarceration or drugs etc
Brian Harry I agree. I hope Louise has a comfortable life now. We didn’t hear much about that in the article. I hope she takes up the opportunity offered to learn to read. It agree that a lot of men don’t have the security they need in later life either and that is sad too.
Jo Ann it appears he may not have lived with her, he never told her he was married.
They are very helpful to each other. Most of the older ones have been educated on HIV and other STIs and would use protection most of the time. Of course, depending on their situation being offered more money for sex without protection has its allure. And as the risk goes up, so does the price. They are now being trained to share the HIV and STI info to their peers, since it makes for better strategic alignment. We welcome their involvement in the fight against HIV!
Between this lovely, but sobering article and the (partly) fiction piece by Anna Levi (Anna, yuh see why I was always telling yuh to write more about this? People need to see *this* side of their country), we get an indictment against an economic system that pushes out whole swathes of people after parasitically taking from them and/or their community or country (St Vincent had a precarious economy since before the time of Elma Francois). I know about some of what was outlined here as my work used to take me to a lot of the depressed communities where some of the lower-level sex workers are bred (yes, there are high-end ones who may be the bank teller you interface with in Republic or RBC, trust me)
I look forward to seeing more like this and let the uncomfortable truths come to light. It’s the only way we can bring about real change in this society of denial and deflection.
A Corey Gilkes thanks! Yea there is ah race and class system and battle in these worlds…yes plenty Trini locals do their transactions and play it’s just something else… they ain’t get noticed cuz they are legal Trinis and they wok is a veil for d car and prettiness….Yuh know I live in d real world but I like the behind scenes eh!
I can’t help but wonder how many ‘Louise’ are out there. How many have had to endure this type of life in silence. How many have a horror story like this. How many more don’t have an ending as ‘happy’..
There was a whole story in here too. A whole novel with multiple parts. I am thinking about her mother who sent her out into the big world ill-equipped, but still took care of her grandkids. I am thinking about what people do in pursuit of happiness and a better life and how one choice sent Louise down a path and down another and another and another.
Still, while there is plenty to hear In this story, I didn’t hear any resentment.
It is good that she was able to live to tell her story. I get the feeling that many don’t.
Kirk she has made peace with her path. I actually liked that she told her children what she did to take care of them and the reasoning was so logical.
I found the piece to be honest and moving . Can’t help but wonder how different her story would have been has she been able to go to school. I liked that she even tried but alone and unsupported she made the choice that was available. Her sense of responsibility is strong and I like the honesty she shared with her kids. I wish her the best .
Lasana you are quickly establishing yourself and your platform as one of the leading journalist in the country, along with Judy Raymond and Asha Javeed. These pieces are excellent. I believe that good journalism has to examine and even shape the tapestry of a society – this contributing to nation building. Thanks for doing these stories. So much we take for granted about our society and our people. Some lives are wrought with hardship and may still provide a lot of inspiration.
Very moving story. It is easy to see how easily the life of a young woman without adequate love and support could take that path.
I wonder how things have changed in recent times?
It is also interesting that Louise still calls one of the fathers of her children a ‘nice Trinidadian man’ even after he lied to her, got her pregnant and left her alone before the child was even born. I hope this story makes at least one or two of today’s ‘nice Trinidadian men’ think about the consequences of the decisions that they make.
“Nice Trinidadian man”
I have learned is nothing other than a good looking well put together attractive specie.
No reference to behavior.
Maven Huggins Whatever Louise was thinking, she obviously trusted him enough to have, what she thought was, a relationship with him and unprotected sex.
To me, that’s trinidad
Plenty people,mostly women think they are married.
Lots of women have community d…
There are no more relationships, but situationships.
This Louise is neither unique, extreme, nor outside the norm of all strata.
Hell. Plenty women married to gay men of all rainbow stripes.
Further, a few years ago, US I gender dept did work, study on a new category: “single married women”
That is to tell you how prevalent certain behaviors in this Caribbean.
Jo Ann it have nice men who tell u sweet nothings and they are charming and sweet as ever….and likewise for women too! It goes both ways! In the sex working worlds, many things are expected to be blurry….trust isn’t as easy as “ I love u “
Maven Huggins Why would women get married to gay men? Is a single married woman the same as a de facto wife?
Jo Ann I know that some wives are simply not aware!
Linda Louison How can that be. Are we talking about bisexual men?
Jo Ann yes they would be and a small handful are not even bisexual
Linda Louison Probably escaping judgement and stigmatism. I have no problem with adults having consensual sex as long as no one is putting anyone at risk. Sex can be such an wonderful, enjoyable expression of love and trust between two people who respect each other. I couldn’t imagine having to perform sex acts on demand with strangers just to survive. It would be soul destroying.
Mel what got you?
Lasana couple hours before you posted this piece I had a conversation with a young man whose ‘baby mama’ – a very young girl, resorted to working for an ‘escort service’ which really meant she was a highly paid prostitute. I was trying to find out from him if he knew why she chose that route. The story was very lengthy and sad
Very moving piece…thank you for sharing….much love and power to Louise for sharing her story.
I thought it was very moving and honest. Thanks Louise and good job Gis’le Cumberbatch.
Lasana Liburd Thank you.
I’ve actually written a piece about brothel life in Trinidad….I’ve spent years in that world…..here we go X https://floridareview.cah.ucf.edu/article/rich-gold/
Thanks Anna. I will have a check.