THE BLOG
28/09/2015 13:47 BST | Updated 28/09/2016 06:12 BST

Hooked on the Street - The Forgotten Women of Middlesbrough

"You been out long this evening then?" I asked 37 year old Kate*, late one September night. "Nah, not stopping out tonight, can't be bothered". She explains. "I just want to make a quick tenner so I can buy milk and cat food". Kate stands shivering in the cold, waiting on the dimly lit street. "It's been quiet down this end of town for the last few weeks" She tells me. "I've been working in central Middlesbrough for the last 20 years and it's always hard - but you just got to get by haven't you?"

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I've always been fascinated by compelling human interest stories and ever since my graduating student film, about Auschwitz survivor Iby Knill ended up being promoted nationally and watched by thousands on television, I've wanted to find the next story to tell.

Since moving into central Middlesbrough for work last year, I came across my next film project literally, right on my door step.

An explosive report last year, produced by the Barefoot Research Group, for the Durham Tees Valley probation service revealed that more than 630 men and women are trading sex in the Tees Valley region with around half engaging in "survival sex".

Kate is one of central Middlesbrough's drug addicted, street prostitutes who sells her body for as little as £15. Fellow journalist Jack Gaskarth and I met Kate when out researching one evening. We wanted to find out how and why these woman end up on the streets and explore this via documentary film.

"I first started working when I was 17, living in a bed and breakfast - my friend was doing it. I saw all the money she was making and I wanted it as well. So I got her to take me out one night and the rest is history." Kate continues, "After I started working, I got hooked on the drugs. Drugs are everywhere you go in Middlesbrough, it's a s*** hole - full of drug addicts. You just need to get out of town or go to prison". Kate tells us bluntly that she's been in and out of prison three times for various fraud, theft and drugs charges. Clearly undeterred and not bothered about staying out of prison, is our legal system working? Shouldn't we be providing aftercare for vulnerable people when they are released from jail?

Shock figures revealed last year, showed a huge drop in the number of arrests for curb crawling in Middlesbrough. Kate tells us she hasn't seen a drop in business. "Well, I usually do quite well down by the lorry park, just knocking on the windows. Sometimes, I'll get a lot of punters walking back from nightclubs or I'll just wait, on the corners for punters in cars - I can make £50-100 a night. Sometimes you can do nowt though! But you're always usually guaranteed one £20-30. Just depends on the day of the week really".

"What is a normal day for you then Kate?" She laughs, pausing to light a cigarette. "Well, I get up, have a fix, laze about for a bit. Then get ready to come out here and make some money. Then have some more gear and go home to bed. Same thing day in and out, same routine. Punters and drugs. Same crappy life... ha!"

So is life on the street dangerous for these women? "I've had loads of 'dodgy' punters. A guy one night, said he wanted business outside. He wanted hand relief so I asked him for the money. Then the next moment, I just saw stars, nothing but stars. I felt this warmth coming down my face. He'd smacked me in the face with a brick. I've still got the scar". She points to a deep two inch scar on her forehead. "There was blood everywhere. I was lucky to get out of that one."

Perhaps Kate's most shocking story comes from when she was just 17. She got into a car with what she thought was just going to be a regular punter. Kate was raped and mugged at knifepoint in a car by a man, who later went on, to murder a young woman in similar circumstances. The attacker was later prosecuted and jailed for the attack on Kate, however the ordeal didn't put her off. "I had no choice, cos I needed the drugs."

Kate's family know what she does. We ask her what they think of her work and she answers quietly. "They're not happy but.. as long as I'm safe. Or try to keep myself safe. Just, they'd rather I wasn't doing it but.. I dunno. I need the money".

Kate says she doesn't know of any support for women in her situation. However she does hope to get out of the business soon. She's currently waiting for a methadone script to help stop her drug addiction although it's still a struggle. "Even when you're on it, it's not that easy because you're always tempted to start again."

"So you're going to go to your methadone appointment and go get the script then?" We ask, "Yes definitely, 100%. I just want a nice little flat of my own - all done out nice and no street work!! So fingers crossed I'm going to stick to it this time."

*Name changed to protect Kate's identity. Additional reporting by Jack Gaskarth.