Author Rachel Moran tells Arlene Harris how she managed to escape life on the streets
With her dark hair and striking blue yes, Rachel Moran cuts an elegant figure as she launches her debut book this month. And although the 37-year-old Dublin woman seems a bit young to have written a story about her life, hers is no ordinary tale.
Living on the streets from the age of 15, Rachel became addicted to cocaine and with no one to look out for her, turned to the oldest profession in the world in order to survive. For seven years, the teenager worked as a prostitute and lived a life of despair and desperation. Her lowest ebb came when, as a mother herself, she feared her child would be taken away from her.
But with extraordinary strength and determination, at the age of 22, she managed to pull herself out of the gutter, beat her drug addiction and go to college where she obtained a degree in journalism and totally turned her life around.
"Life was really tough when I was a child as my father was mentally unwell," recalls Rachel who is the second eldest of four. "We were very isolated from our peers and weren't allowed to mix with anyone so our only social interaction was at school and even then we were seen as being different from everyone else.
"We were very poor and I often went in without books or proper uniform – so we never really fitted in. Things were very difficult at home as well and came to a head when my father committed suicide in 1989.
"The fact that he killed himself was no surprise to me as it was typical of something that would happen in our house. But because of the difficulty at home, I couldn't bear living there any more so I asked to be taken into care.
"Living in a hostel catering for the children of dysfunctional families was really tough but I also loved it – and I loved some of the girls there. They were my new family and it was my home."
But despite having found solace of sorts, the young Rachel was desperately unhappy and soon began to rebel. Just after she turned 14, she was suspended and had her first taste of living on the streets.
"I was suspended from the hostel because I had been caught storing tablets," she admits. "I was sent into foster care. But then I got thrown out of the foster home because I was expelled from school and got caught shoplifting. The hostel refused to have me back, so I was placed in a state-funded bed and breakfast for four months."
Over the course of the next few years, Rachel spent time in various hostels and boarding houses and regularly slept on the streets. With no one to look out for her, she was spotted by a pimp while sleeping in a doorway. Realising her helpless state, he lured her into the sordid underworld where she spent the next seven years.
"Sleeping rough was the loneliest feeling in the world," she says. "Still to this day I walk by people's houses and see the lights of televisions flickering and remember what it felt like to be on the outside looking in.
"While I was homeless, I was approached by a young man who suggested that prostitution would be a good way for me to earn some money. At the time it was my only viable option – I had no other choice, no means of supporting myself and wasn't entitled to any benefits as I was so young.
"So I started working on Benburb Street where the pay was £10 for a hand-job, £15 for oral sex and £20 for full intercourse. Right from the very first job, it was extremely difficult on every level and I dealt with it the same way as every other woman in the business did – by getting out of my head.
'I started taking cocaine and was thoroughly addicted by my late teens. Over the course of the next few years, I worked in every area of commercial sexual exploitation; on-street prostitution, indoor prostitution, the low-end knocking shops, the middle-of-the-road massage parlours, the 'high end' escort agencies, stripping and photographic pornography."
Whether it was up a dark alley, or in the sheltered environs of the Leeson Street brothel that specialised in supplying young girls, Rachel always felt violated and frightened.
"Nothing I have seen anywhere, ever, suggests that the abusive nature of being used sexually for money changes with its surrounds," she says.
"Women in prostitution are in a constant atmosphere of danger. Anyone who doesn't recognise this is a fool – or a liar if they don't acknowledge it.
"I had no one looking out for me and the job I was doing made my skin crawl but I had no way out."
By the time Rachel was 22, she had a young son to look after and knew that if she didn't get off the streets and turn her life around he would be taken from her. So despite the odds stacked against her, she managed to come off the drugs, give up The Game and go to college where she obtained a degree in journalism.
"The lowest point of my life was when I thought I might lose my son," she admits. "He was about to start school and it was clear to me that if I didn't get him there on time every day, make his lunch and iron his uniforms, that he would be taken from me.
"So during the summer of 1998 I got out of prostitution and went cold turkey to get off the drugs.
"I am telling my story because I believe it's about time women started speaking out about the last taboo: commercial sexual violence."
'Paid For' by Rachel Moran is published by Gill and MacMillan and costs €16.99