KIM HAS avidly followed the news over the past few days. She is preoccupied with Helen Stacey's murder conviction for shaking six- month- old Joseph Mackin so hard that he died. Like any other mother, she has found her concerns about childminders reawakened. It reminds her of when she withdrew her own daughter from a carer, because she was not providing good meals. "It is so difficult to know you are leaving a child in a safe place," she says. "Especially a baby, because a baby can't tell you what has been happening while you have been away."
But the case worries her for another reason. Kim is a prostitute, as was Helen Stacey at one time. And the reporting of the Stacey case - with headlines such as "Vice girl secret of child killer" - has exposed a media assumption that prostitutes are unfit to be mothers. The implication of a lot of coverage is: "how could an ex-prostitute be allowed to register as a childminder?"
It is a view that may make sense to some. Not to Kim, a single mother who has been soliciting for eight years, since her early twenties. "One of the reasons I became a `working girl' was to support my daughter," she says. "I felt it would be flexible work and would fit in with being a mother. It's better than a nine-to-five job, which often doesn't allow for childhood illness and school holidays."
Kim is also aware of hypocrisy in the media coverage. Many of her clients are fathers. "They go back to their families after being with me, as though nothing has happened. Some say it doesn't affect their relationships. They don't see themselves as being unfaithful if they are paying for sex. I have never seen guilt."
And she does not think these men are exceptional. She is convinced that most men pay for sex at some time in their lives. "If I had only one type of guy coming along then I would say it's just a certain sort of man. But I see men of every race, age and class - good- looking guys, disabled guys. They are all ready to pay for sex."
Nevertheless, it is women who run the risks as parents. "It's a big fear among working women that they will lose their children." As the English Collective of Prostitutes says: "It is much easier to be declared an unfit parent if you are a woman working as a prostitute than if you are a violent father." This is clearly a big worry to many prostitutes, 70 per cent of whom may be mothers.
Most of these women choose to have a baby with their partner rather than becoming pregnant accidentally by a client. "In all the years I have worked," says Kim, "I have only ever come across one case of a prostitute having a child with a client. …