Streetwalkers' profession on its last legs

Poverty and humiliation following the footsteps of Jack the Ripper
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It was a warm Thursday night and the coach party of middle-aged women, dressed in blazers and cardigans, chatted excitedly as their guide took them on the ever-popular Jack the Ripper tour.

The group had just finished visiting the Whitechapel area of east London to see where, in 1888, five Victorian prostitutes had their throats slit and bodies savagely mutilated.

Less than three minutes' walk away from the tour party, down a dark side street, Rosie, 32, a mother of four, was offering full sex for pounds 15. Extras were pounds 5 each.

She planned to make pounds 55 that night . "I need to buy two pairs of shoes for my girls and some extra to go towards the court fines," she explained. On average she makes pounds 500 a week. Her husband is in jail for burglary.

She has been on the street for three years, but would rather work from a sauna or club. "It's dangerous on the street - I got raped within six months of working down here," she said. "I got into a car with this guy and there was another guy waiting who put a knife to my throat and a gun to my head. I tried struggling, but I thought it's not worth getting killed for. They both raped me, took my money, then blacked my eye and fractured my jaw. Afterwards I told them I had Aids to scare them - but I don't, I'm clean.

"When I went to the police they were really nice at first, but when I told them I was a prostitute they said 'sorry love there's nothing we can do' and showed me out."

Rosie said she got "nicked" about once a week and was usually fined pounds 50 each time. "It means I have to go back on the street to get the money."

At 10pm on Thursday, a constant dribble of punters trawled up and down her road. Some were in cars that drove slowly past, others were on foot. There were middle-aged businessmen, swaying slightly in their suits, stopping to talk before moving on. "Have you decided yet," shouted one woman. "No, I'm still looking," came the reply.

A young Bengali man spoke briefly to a woman before they both went into a darkened car park. Another prostitute joked with a youngish white man, clad in denim. Ten minutes later they emerged from a side street. She yelled at a friend as she finished pulling down her short skirt.

Angela, who looked worn and weary for 35, has been working Whitechapel since 1990 and has seen prices slump. "Some girls will do it for pounds 10 or even less - they're so desperate to make enough to pay their pimps."

She said more women were moving into the area, after being forced out of other parts of London, and that up to 20 prostitutes now worked the patch. In a night she can make from pounds 50 to pounds 200, but she said a lot more girls worked in clubs now. "It's getting dangerous on the streets, girls get mugged and attacked by punters and crackheads and pimps try to muscle in."

At that point, a muscular man emerged from the shadows. He wanted to know whether there was a problem. There was no problem, Angela was happy to talk briefly for pounds 10.