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The Palace Theatre was once a grand Victorian music hall. On one side of it are flats and the High Street Surgery, on the other a well-kept bridal shop. The women who work here walk up to the cars crawling along the pavement or line up in a little lane behind the empty pub nearby so the men can take their pick. Until recently, Leah was one of them. As she walked home alone across a bridge, a man attacked her.
Somehow she managed to escape, in part by drawing his attention to the other prostitutes working nearby.
They say this stuff can start on the street as early as four in the afternoon. Men looking for women, men for men, all ways, all different ways. They like two girls and one man, three men and two women. We go around the back of buildings, they take us to their houses. I always felt scared as they could murder you. Leah is striking-looking, made-up. She has immaculate dyed hair and Poundland nails. And she used it to her advantage. She has not worked as a prostitute for a few months but, when she did, she wore a short skirt and low-cut top which showed off her chest.
They just want to talk to you and get them cuppas. You have to do what you have got to do when you are skint and you have a habit. The other people getting their hands on that money are the pimps, who come to Swansea from cities across Britain - including Liverpool, London and Birmingham - according to Andrew Davies, chief executive of Unity Group Wales, the charity that runs the drop-in centre.
We try to discourage the police from targeting the sex workers, but target the pimps, [who] sometimes give the girls a small Morning Swansea hookup of chips and heroin to hand over the money. You can see the pimps when you spend time at the drop-in centre, where the women go for support.
You hear talk of the places that people - gay men, gay women, straight women - have been raped or attacked: in the marina, near the Kingsway, in blocks of flats all over Swansea. The women warn each other of the men to avoid: the one who left a woman black and blue last night and then robbed her, the one who strangled another. A scheme called Ugly Mugs allows the women to share information about a punter who might have attacked or raped them.
Unity shares that information, including a car registration if they have it, with leaders of other organisations. That information is sent out to all the women, so they know who to be careful of. But, ultimately, once the car door slams shut, anything could happen. One man pulled the condom off and I got pregnant - I ended up having an abortion. I was so scared when the condom came off that I had HIV or something. I have never done it without a condom - girls would charge more for that.
There was one woman with dishevelled hair, brazenly shouting and screaming for booze in the day as she clutched a bottle of cider. There was a trio in thigh-high skirts and long boots, chatting away the time. One of the boys in my office gets accosted all the time. She was wearing skinny pink jeans and crying her eyes out, which made mascara run down her face, making her look like Alice Cooper. Until the moment a tiny mound of tobacco arrived in the palm of her hand, she was refusing to work that night.
A man pretended to comfort her, telling her she has to work. I was told it was her pimp - an ordinary guy in jeans and trainers lighting a cigarette like he owned the street - and told not to speak to the girls in front of Morning Swansea hookup.
The owner of one High Street business says her husband has been approached as he waited for her outside in his van. She says women - who she thinks are Welsh and Eastern European - and their clients also use an alley by the flats nearby and that the problem gets worse in summer.
There are condoms continuously outside. Sometimes I feel threatened, especially if there is a customer outside with a window open. You have to give it to Morning Swansea hookup. Leah says she never struggled to make money to cover the cost of her heroin habit. Friday, Saturday and, oddly, Monday nights were always the best. She says she was driven into prostitution after becoming hooked on a cocktail of drugs after years of abuse at the hands of her older brother, who drank himself to death.
She is lucky to still be alive. Unable to shoplift any more because everyone knew her, she turned to prostitution. There are a lot of prostitutes down here and most of them are getting abused.
After the abuse comes the risk of HIV and pregnancy, which are always at the back of their minds. There are lots of incidents of rape and robbery of the girls when they are taken off to quiet spots. He says these brothels have sprung up since a city massage parlour closed down. There are sex workers in Swansea. We are aware a lot of these sex workers have vulnerability issues and safety issues.
The issues being brought by you are not being sent through to us. The force has been running an operation targeting organised crime groups coming into Swansea from elsewhere in the UK. There have been dozens of arrests in South Wales, London and Liverpool.
We are trying to help them. We need to get our head out of the sand and provide services, which are more compassionate and understanding. I would close my eyes and leave them do what they have to do and then I would go. Thinking back on it I was disgusted in myself because I should not be putting my body through that. By Liz Perkins. Want the latest news from Swansea sent straight to your inbox?
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