Sex workers signing up in droves over cost of living crisis

Melbourne hairdresser Crystal* is one of a growing number of women using sex work to supplement their income as a result of the rising cost of living.

Inflation, interest rates, rent hikes, petrol prices and groceries – there’s not a single corner of the market where Aussies aren’t forking out significantly more money than they were even two years ago.

While former RBA Governor Philip Lowe’s now infamous advice to simply “find more hours of work” in response to 12 consecutive rate rises was met with ridicule when he suggested it in June, it’s exactly how many Australians have been forced to combat soaring living costs.

For a portion of society, those extra hours are spent performing sex work.

“With my hairdressing work I only have limited hours available, so working as an escort on the side, where it’s all organised for me and I just show up a few nights a week, and a few hours over the weekend, is great,” says Crystal.

“I aim to work enough hours as a casual to earn $2000 a week,” she adds, “which pays for my house, car and all my expenses, allowing me to save the wage from my day job.”

And while Crystal is happy for now with the $2000 in additional income she pulls in per week, she says there’s plenty of opportunity to make more, even in a tough financial climate.

“Some of the girls there are earning $5000 per week,” she says.

The path from hairdresser to escort came by way of OnlyFans, when like many women who found themselves out of work during the pandemic, Crystal turned to the popular adult content platform to supplement her income.

“I’d been a glamour model doing some pics on the side for some cheeky men’s interest magazines,” she tells, adding that when Covid shut down her industry for several long months over Melbourne’s harsh lockdowns, the site was a godsend in terms of keeping her financially afloat.

“It started off fairly tame but quickly became much more explicit,” explains Crystal, “I built a very substantial fan base which sustained me over Covid and set me up with a regular income. I became really comfortable in front of the camera – and enhanced my breasts to an E cup to help my popularity.”

Through her OnlyFans content, Crystal says she connected with several subscribers keen to meet privately, as well as a few couples.

“I was really selective about [in person meetups]” she explains, “but I enjoyed it.”

With Covid and lockdowns in the rear-view, Crystal began working again as a hairdresser, but found with the rising cost of living she needed to find a new way to supplement her income.

A businessman who goes only by ‘Lou’, who alongside controversial former AFL star Warwick Capper co-owns Westminster Secrets, the Oakleigh, Vic brothel where Crystal works, says the cost of living crisis has seen women sign up in record numbers to the agency.

“There have definitely been more girls joining our team as the cost of living escalates,” he says, adding “we also find our team commit to more hours and become ‘regulars’ on the roster.”

The flip side of this, however, is a client base also impacted by the cost-of-living crisis.

“​​Westminster Secrets has had a significant growth from what it was before we bought it,” he says, “however, interest rate rises have significantly taken their toll across the sector. People do not have the same disposable income as they used to have.”

For Crystal, not only does her sex work supplement the gap in her income created by the rising cost of things like rent and groceries, it has elevated her to a different tax bracket all together.

“I get to drive a really cool car, and rent a really nice pad,” she says, “things I would never be able to do on my hairdresser’s salary.”

One aspect of the work Crystal has found the most enjoyable is the other women she works alongside.

“I love all the girls I get to work with, and because I get to choose who I work with and what I do, I’ve found I actually really like the attention and the physical aspect of the job,” she says.

“I actually get presents and lots of compliments,” she continues, “so I feel pretty spoiled by my regulars. I get to wear some hot outfits, designer labels and amazing shoes you’d never wear out.”

Like any job, sex work has its downsides, says Crystal.

“When I’m feeling tired or people sh*t me and I want to be alone, but I know I need the money and I’ve committed to shifts – I really have to dig deep to get me there,” she admits.

“I have to lie a lot about what I’m doing and why I’m so busy, which is why us girls all kind of stick together – cause you can feel like you have a ‘secret’ life.”

Bek Day is a freelance writer.

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