When Elena, 32, urgently needed money six years ago, she began providing intimate services.
“Men often offered me money, and I decided why not take advantage of the situation,” she said. “I learned how much intimate services cost and that’s how everything started.”
Elena, whose real name was changed to protect her identity, has been a From Heart to Heart client for more than four years. Here, she found help and support from social workers as well as opportunities for personal development.
“The first time I came here, I was tested for HIV, hepatitis, given free condoms and a lot of literature,” she said. “I was very surprised that everything was free and very good. I have never had any unpleasant situations in the organization.”
Elena is careful when choosing her partners. She doesn’t discuss her earnings, nor actively seek customers, and she’s vigilant of her personal safety.
“I do not agree to be intimate with people I don’t like,” she said. “I’d rather learn more about a man from a telephone conversation than going on a date, especially if they want to go to an unfamiliar places. I pay special attention to my own health – I do not agree to sex without a condom and I constantly go through testing for sexually transmitted diseases.”
Elena says she has always been impressed by the friendly atmosphere at From Heart to Heart.
“I was astonished at the attitude of the organization’s employees,” she said. “After all, most people have a biased attitude towards my occupation. But here there was a sincere, absolutely impartial attitude, and great support.
Today, Elena is actively involved in many activities organized by the organization. She also formed her own civic organization that assists women in commercial sex.
“I would not want anyone to join this area,” she said. “Many girls get addicted to drugs or alcohol, which greatly affects their emotional and physical health.”
She said From Heart to Heart has helped her cope with several aspects of her life.
“I’ve worked with social workers and psychologists who have helped me deal with many problems,” she said. “I can always come here and get support, and that’s the most valuable thing.”