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Sex for rent – the true price of poverty

We must work together to raise awareness and end sex for rent, says Elizabeth Taylor.

Aged 17, I left my family home; a rough council estate in the North. This was as a result of living in a small three- bed property with my mother and five siblings, causing significant issues. In the first instance, I stayed in a ‘bedsit’ above a chip shop; my wardrobe was the stock room and I had no tenancy agreement. Three months in and I was told I had a week to leave as it was in fact illegal. Fortunately (or so I thought), I saw an ad in the local newsagents advertising a room to let.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the add but it read something like ‘room to let in large house on the sea front. Only single females, under the age of 25 to contact landlord. Cheap rent’. In my mind, I had struck jackpot, this was exactly what I needed.

I met with the owner of the property who was a white male in his early 40s. He explained that he worked away all week and would only be home at the weekends. I had my own large bedroom with built in wardrobes. The house was beautiful, much nicer than anywhere I had ever lived or even visited for that matter. I felt proud to be able to call this house my new home.

Three weeks later, following a few inappropriate comments and the odd awkward touch on my lower back, I found myself waking up to my landlord sat on the end of my bed. After the initial shock, fear and panic subsided, I asked him what he wanted and why he was in my room. He replied with ‘well why do you think your rent is so cheap for a house like this’ and he then started to stroke the bottom of my leg.

It is hard to explain how I felt at that moment apart from scared. He made his sexual expectations very clear. The sad reality was that I wasn’t scared of what he might do to me, I was scared that if I didn’t do what he wanted, I would have nowhere to live.

People that know me describe me as strong and confident, sometimes outspoken individual. However, on this night, fear took over me and I became vulnerable and timid. I was, however, brave enough to ask the man to leave my room so that I could sleep on his requests. Fortunately, he did. The following day I spoke to my partner at the time who told me that this was awful and that I needed to try and find a new home. ‘Easy for him to say’ I thought.

The week passed, and I genuinely considered my landlord’s requests and somehow found the strength to face him and tell him that I didn’t want him coming in to my room again.

He kicked me out. I had three days to leave or he would change the locks.

Luckily for me, I had a partner and good friends that I could stay with following this ‘eviction’. However, I know that this is not the case for all young people. Some do not have the confidence or an alternative option available. Over my 11-year career of engaging with various vulnerable young people, I am all too familiar with this kind of predatory behaviour. Believe it or not, it’s sometimes encouraged amongst peers. It is often seen as a way of getting a nice home ‘for free’.

This horrific reality is unacceptable, and it needs to stop. It is absolutely essential that sectors work together to raise awareness and encourage people to speak up about this issue. Almost 12,000 people in Wales today are faced with landlords demanding sex to cover their rent. We all know too well that poverty is an issue; unfortunately, many are blissfully ignorant to the price people are truly paying when living in poverty.

Elizabeth Taylor is policy and engagement officer at TPAS Cymru

For more on the #EndSexForRent see our story about the launch of the campaign plus blogs by Julie Nicholas and Tamsin Stirling

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