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I n a parking bay on a deserted industrial estate in Lyon, Karen, in her late 40s, sat in the passenger seat of her second-hand Ford Transit van wearing only black underwear. She lit a pink lantern on the dashboard. Soon, a steady flow of cars was circling the car park — Mercedes, jeeps, old bangers — their drivers slowing to peer at the women in corsets sitting alone in a dozen parked, white vans, arms folded, candlelight flickering across their faces.
I'll say, 'What, for all that petrol you've wasted? A silver car slowed. A year-old agreed to sex for 40 euros. Karen climbed into the back of the van, which she had decorated with a bed, a heater, purple curtains and a chest of drawers.
Three minutes later the man walked out into the night. Karen laid out a clean sheet of paper-towel on the bed, spruced her blond hair. Most of the evening was spent sitting waiting. Then in 15 minutes, three clients paid for sex, including a Spanish man in his 20s in designer clothes. Each took less than five minutes. She had made her daily quota of cash needed to pay her bills. A former secretary from the southern naval city of Toulon, three times married, with two daughters, Karen first started selling sex in the s: She quit and got married, but in , divorced and with a young child she suddenly needed to "put food on the table".
She returned to sex-work, first in a hostess bar, then meeting clients at her home via a newspaper small-ad. For seven years, she has worked on the street in her van, Monday to Saturday from 7pm to around 1am, paying tax as self-employed. I'd rather do this than an office job, getting shouted at by a boss for a pittance. People try to say we're victims, say that we're alienated, that there's a sex attack in our childhood history, but I've never been raped by anyone.
This is my free choice. But in her top drawer beside the condom supplies is a petition signed by several of them: It's a protest against the new French government's war on prostitution.