Just two days ago I penned a piece concerning the enforced silence of prostitution survivors and now, true to form, I have been given a most accurate example of what I had written about. The spurious claim has been circulated that I am inauthentic, that I am not legitimate; in other words that my experiences never happened. I am trying to imagine which would have been the easier road, which would have been better for me: if I’d lived exactly as I’d lived or if I were sick enough to fantasise that sort of existence into being. I’d certainly have had an easier time of it in many senses if I were that sort of nutcase, but I am a realist, which was probably part of what made prostitution so painful for me. I was never very adept at lying to myself.
In the summer of 1992, in June I think, the now long-defunct Evening Press ran a front page story concerning prostitutions impact on my life. ‘Sixteen Year Old Taken from Brothel’ screamed the headline. Any woman who worked in prostitution in the early nineties will remember this. It was a major talking point and considered quite a scandal at the time.
It was only a scandal because I was arrested. There were many girls my age and younger who were never arrested, who never made those headlines, and who, consequently, were never were held up to the scrutiny of the public view. That does not mean they were not there. They were there, and I know they were there because I was among them.
Sometimes we worked the streets (as I did, from 1991 to 1993) and sometimes we were prey to the rackets of pimps who moved under-aged girls around in the early nineties. Sometimes we had both experiences simultaneously, as I did. When we were pimped-out indoors it happened far from the sight of the street-walking adult women, some of whom now have the nerve and the audacity and the ignorance to deny our experiences, just because they weren’t there to see it.
I remember having coffee once in the Health Centre on Baggot Street where they handed out coffee and condoms. I was seventeen at the time. The sixteen-year-old-girl who’d been arrested from a brothel the year before came up in conversation and I was bemused by this, and stated casually “That was me”. “That was you?!” one woman shot back, eyes agog. I had been sitting in these women’s company since I’d made the switch from the northside red-light district (Benburb Street) to the part of the southside red-light district where I’d been working (Burlington and Waterloo Road’s) two years before, but you’d think to listen to this woman that I was a creature who’d just landed there from some other planet. She didn’t know what age I was, and she obviously assumed I was at least a few years older than I was. She hadn’t any idea I could be that girl, and it had obviously never occurred to her.
The southside red-light district of Dublin is not one defined place. It is a scattering of streets, squares and canal-sides that covers probably almost a square mile, and what I am discovering in my post-prostitution life is that some former prostitutes are actually ignorant enough to think that what was happening on their own street was the sum-total of prostitution in Dublin at that time. This is strange to me, because I worked in so many areas of prostitution during my time – and by areas I mean not only geographical locations, but the full length of prostitutions social spectrum – so I do not relate to the idea of prostitution as being confined to any one of the streets I worked on, or the brothels I worked in, or the God-knows-how-many homes and hotels I visited. They were all just pit-stops on the journey of my prostitution life, and it takes a deliberate attempt at understanding on my part to grasp why any woman would think that if she didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.
I suppose the world of prostitution was just very narrowed down for some women, and I certainly hold nothing against them for that. What I do hold resentment and animosity about is that because someone wasn’t there to see it, they are ready to assert it never happened; to erase the authenticity of my experience – of all the experiences of the under-aged prostitutes in Dublin at that time. And there are women out there ready to assert that, because there are women out there who claim, bizarrely, that we did not exist at all!
The truth of my experience was plastered all over the front page of one of our national newspapers at that time. To these women I would say: oh we existed, we existed alright, though there were many times we wished we did not.
As for my legitimacy and authenticity; these claims need to be seen for what they are: just another mode of silencing women – just another tactic in the ongoing struggle to impose silence on us survivors. These tactics will never, ever, work on me.