A woman who borrowed money from a loan shark to pay for her children’s Christmas presents has told the harrowing story of how she was forced to become a prostitute in the Sheil Road red light district to pay him back.
The woman has shared her story with the ECHO as a warning to others not to get involved with illegal money lenders and to reveal some of the horrors being experienced by vulnerable people in Liverpool today.
The woman, who we will only refer to as Claire at her request, turned her life around after visiting the Liverpool Six Community Centre and working with councillor Gerard Woodhouse.
Her terrifying account starts four years ago when Claire and her three children moved to North Liverpool to escape an abusive relationship.
After struggling to find work, she said she was badly advised by a friend to meet with a money lender because she couldn’t afford to buy Christmas presents for her children.
She explained: “He lent me £500 and told me it was £10 a week to pay it back over 50 weeks.
“I was made up, I got my kids what they wanted and started paying him back, he seemed really helpful – he even did my gardening and helped with my shopping, I looked on him as a dad, something I had never had.”
Some months later things took a turn, when the loan shark told Claire that she had not been paying enough – and that on top of the £500 she now owed £1,000 in interest.”
She said: “The next week he turned up and I gave him £70 – it was killing me, I was not eating and my children were going without.
“The week after I couldn’t afford electricity or gas because I had to pay him.”
This was when things started to get violent for Claire.
When she was unable to pay the lender, she said he got “very angry” and pushed her up against the wall.
She added: “He told me his partners weren’t happy – he said you don’t mess with them or they will blow up your house.”
“He had me under his control”
She said this was when her manipulative lender first tried to coerce her into a sexual relationship.
She said: “I was scared, he told me we could sort it if I slept with him and he would pay – I told him I wasn’t that type of woman.”
Desperate to find another way to pay, Claire said she emptied her jewellery box, which contained items her mother had owned and pawned them all.
Despite paying the loan shark she said her debt just kept going up.
She said: “Over the next weeks I scrimped and saved, I even got pulled into my daughter’s school because she needed school uniform – I was heartbroken.”
After the loan shark got angry, Claire sold more items – including her fridge, furniture and her children’s playstation.
After more struggles, threats and violence, Claire said she gave in to the lender’s demands .
She said: “The offer was there, sleep with him three times a week and he would make the payments, but if I didn’t it was out of his hands and I would have to face the consequences – he had me under his control.”
Claire said she would bathe with bleach after being with the man because he “disgusted” her – and the arrangement continued for eight weeks.
Claire said her arrangement was making her so depressed that she decided anything would be preferable – including working as a sex worker Liverpool’s notorious red light district in Sheil Road, Kensington.
She explained: “One day I was going to the doctors and I walked along Sheil Road, I saw girls selling themselves and I thought it would be a way to pay him back quicker and without having to sleep with him again.
“So off I went – when I first went out in Sheil Road two sex workers attacked me and told me to get off their patch.”
Despite this, she continued to work in the area, she added: “I felt filthy, but it was better than being with the money lender.
“Every week I went out, Sheil Road, Netherfield Road, Walton Road.
“Some of my customers were vile but I just wanted that horrible man off my back.”
Claire said she was earning £800-£1,000 per week as a sex worker and giving £500 to the loan shark as well as paying her sister back money she had borrowed.
She said she continued to work on the streets and hotels of Kensington for three years until one day when taking her children to the library she noticed a flyer for the Liverpool Six Community Centre in Everton.
She said: “The sign was advertising free lunches for children during the school holidays, so we went along.”
She said: “I will never forget it, there must have been 100 kids there all being fed – we started going every week.”
After a while, centre manager and city councillor Gerard Woodhouse spoke to Claire about her situation and asked what he and the team could do to help.
She said: “I broke down telling him everything, I must have been there for hours.
“He gave me two bags of food and shopping vouchers and made an appointment to see me the next day, he told me about the council’s Citizen Support programme.”
Cllr Woodhouse arranged for Claire to meet with the Citizens Advice Bureau and to have counselling.
With the team’s help she was able to get council assistance with her rent and benefits and eventually she was able to successfully apply for social housing in another part of the city.
She said: “I am not telling my story for gold points but to tell people not to judge a book by its cover.
“There are a lot of people living in poverty and often through no fault of their own.
“If I had not seen that leaflet that day I would never have known there was help.”
Cllr Woodhouse, Liverpool City Council’s Mayoral lead for older people and the manager of the Liverpool Six Community Centre, said: “We have been seeing Claire for about 11 months and giving her support, we have been there for her every day.
“We have reported this loan shark to the National Crime Agency and I believe the work is ongoing.
“She is a new woman now, she has had adult education classes and she has moved into a housing association home – she lives for her kids.”
He added: “Our staff and our volunteers have all been through problems, so they don’t judge and they are all there for the same reason.
“I asked Claire to write down her story and it broke my heart reading it, its hard to believe one person can go through so much – but it is great to see her doing well now.”