Underground Voices: Stories from the Sex Trade in St. John’s

Kendra's Red House is the exception. The clean, safe, supportive, respectful exception.

Inside Kendra’s Red House
By Kerri Cull

The chandeliers caught my attention right away. Large, ornate, shiny, unexpected.

The hardwood floors were gleaming. The house itself solid, old, and rich with stories and history. Smells of lemon and coffee permeated the entrance. A large wooden brochure holder, once full of advertisements for whale watching, local restaurants, and Signal Hill, empty of suggestions for things to do.After getting buzzed in, I had to take off my shoes, and leave them on the mat so not to drag salt and snow throughout the house.

Elaborate floor and crown mouldings line the floors and high ceilings. A narrow stairwell runs through the middle of the house connecting three floors and eight rooms, each with its own bathroom and shower. Each room has towels, a massage table, candles and warm light.

Two women, wrapped in silk robes, are relaxing in the living room. One is drinking a Tim’s coffee and the other is texting her child’s babysitter. I am there to take Kendra out to supper and chat about the state of things. Over supper we discuss Bill C-36, her history, the house, the clients, the pros and cons of being in the business, and more.

While Kendra’s Red House is spotless, the air is sweet, and the workers seem happy, this is not necessarily the norm for the majority of sex workers, and by sex workers I mean men and women who work in sensual massage parlours, on the street, as dancers, or as independents out of hotels or their homes. This is the exception. The clean, safe, supportive, respectful exception.

Kendra tries to run the house the best way she can, and she’ll admit, while not perfect, there are rules and guidelines created with the safety and protection of the workers in mind. Sometimes they have a bouncer, they always have a code to protect them when they’re with a client, and they always have the final say as to who they want to see. It is rare that a client even attempts to rough up these women in the rooms, and if a client seems even remotely sketchy, he’s told to leave.

Say what you want about the type of work some do to pay their bills, but leave the actual workers out of it. The truth is, no one knows the real reasons. For some, it’s a divorce plan and the money they make offers a much needed and desired whiff of independence. Some consider it a smart and fruitful way to pay for their dream vacation or tuition. Others need it to pay for childcare, groceries, gas, and hockey skates for their kids. The point is, if we are to judge these people or the business in which they work, we need to just as harshly judge the system that quite possibly gives them no other choice, the clients that avail of the services, and the politics that promote harmful stigma.

Kerri Cull is writing a book about the sex industry in St. John’s and she’s seeking people to tell their stories. If you have something to share – the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly – email kerrijanewriter@gmail.com. Anonymous contributions welcomed and respected

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