The Sacred Solidarity of Survivor Voices

Someone asked me recently was I not pissed off that, after ten years of working on my memoirs, another former Irish prostitute who had just begun blogging had secured a book deal for her own book, which was to be launched before mine.  That was a fair question and I could see why it would be asked, but it was not a question that could be answered with a yes or a no.  It strongly necessitated a ‘no and here’s why’ answer, so I decided to blog about the ‘why’ part.

The book my friend was referring to is due out in the autumn of this year, about four months or so before my own and will be titled ‘Secret Diary of a Dublin Call Girl’.  It is currently being written by a young Irish woman known on the internet as DCG (Dublin Call Girl)

I first came across Dublin Call Girl’s blog in January of this year.  I came across it because, in the aftermath of completing the book, I didn’t know how to disengage from the subject.  Also, in a climate where prostitution was heating up as a political issue, I didn’t want to.

I was directed to a group-blog called Survivors Connect Network, and what I found there were blog-links to the writings of prostitution survivors from all over the world.  DCG’s blog was among them.

The first thing that struck me about her writing was that she used soft and evocative language; heartbreaking language, that moved me to tears more than once.  As a survivor of prostitution, that says a lot.  It says that she captured the prostitution experience in a very profound way.  The small things; they are often the things that set us survivors apart from the rest of society.  The things we think of, the things we remember, the things we struggle to forget; the things we can’t get through a single day without being assaulted by.  They were all there.

I was so glad.  My heart sung with joy to find this evidence of another Irish woman exploring her prostitution past, in the face of this psychological tsunami so few of us can push past to tell our truths.  I was so thankful that this young woman had chosen to defy the pain that assails us, and to call attention to it, and to put it before the public, at the cost of a pain that is beyond the comprehension of so many to fully understand.  I felt a deep and sincere affection for her.  I still do.

I started an email communication with Stella Marr, who is an American domestic sex-trafficking survivor and the founding member of Survivors Connect Network.  I told her that my book was completed and trying to find a home, but that I didn’t know how long that would take and because the issue of prostitution was now politically current in Ireland I felt I wanted to join the debate in the meantime.  I told her also that I intended to go public with my identity when the book came out, but that until then I’d like to keep my identity to myself.  She encouraged me to begin an anonymous blog of my own, and I thought that was a good idea, so I did.

As I did, I continued to follow the blogs of other women, paying particular attention to DCG’s, as she is a fellow Irish woman.  As her blog unfolded and her story was laid out, I came to understand something I’d like to put before the readers of this blog now.  It is that my story and hers are different in every way two women’s stories can be different, except for the most important way, which is the conclusion we both draw from them.

To being with, we are from different social classes.  She identifies as middle class whereas I am from a working class background, raised in council housing.  My family was severely impoverished and I came to prostitution through homelessness and destitution.  I can only assume, from what she writes, that DCG’s early upbringing was the opposite, and unlike me, she came to prostitution though the grooming of sexual abuse.  Many women mirror my entry point and many women mirror hers.  A lot of women, tragically, mirror both.

Our stories are also different in other ways.  I was prostituted from the age of fifteen to twenty-two, throughout most of the nineties.  She was prostituted from twenty-one to twenty-six, through the latter half of the noughties (I hate that term, but we have no other).

I worked in all areas of prostitution; the streets, brothels, massage parlours and escort agencies.  She worked privately, in escort agencies, advertising online, which was an area of prostitution only taking off the same year I left it.  I consider myself lucky to have missed that, especially for the sake of the creepy punters online ‘reviews’, where punters review every aspect of the women they have bought – pouring verbal contempt and scorn all over them.  This contempt repulses me beyond measure, and I have the deepest sort of sympathy for the innumerable women who’ve endured it.

Our prostitution histories are different also in the sense that, unlike DCG, I didn’t come to understand prostitution as something that was damaging retrospectively.  I lived every moment of it as sexually abusive right there, as it was happening.  This would obviously have made the experience of it more painful, but I strongly suspect it makes the memory of it less so.

On the subject of survivor memoirs: not in spite of how different, but rather because of how different, the memoirs of prostitution survivors compliment each other and are mutually strengthening, in a profoundly significant sense.  This is because they cause people to understand that a woman or girl can come to prostitution through a myriad of circumstances, at any time, at any age, for many reasons, or for a mish-mash of reasons.  Our different stories assert this.  They emphasise and state and declare it.  These are our truths.  They are different truths, but they all end up in the same place – that mind-shattering reality of having your heart broken and your legs open on a brothels bed.

The fact is that the blogs and books of every survivor who honestly lays down her story do not detract, but rather affirm the writings of other women.  For all these reasons and other reasons besides, it is essentially important that the stories of survivor women stand alongside each other; just as us women must do and should do.  We are all living the survival of the same pain and those of us who choose to speak out live all the same fears, are subject to all the same threats, suffer all the same traumas and are targeted at all the same points of our obvious vulnerabilities.

Our sincerest warm wishes for each other are a healing balm that should be poured liberally and continually, with love and without restraint.  So to answer the question I was asked the other day: stupid jealousies and resentments should never get a look-in here, because, besides anything else, you can’t be in competition when you’re on the same team.

FreeIrishWoman

Hate Mail and other Ignorant Nonsense

This is a short post to inform those who have recently begun to bombard me with hate mail and ignorance in some of its other boringly blatant forms, that their efforts are wasted.  Those posts will not be displayed here.  There are plenty enough other areas of the internet that are infected with such bile; I am hardly about to allow my own blog become one of them.

As to the lies that have been circulated about me recently, well there is not much I can do about those.  In all honesty, there’s not much I would do if I could.  They are fairly obvious, most of them.  For example I am said to be just out of prostitution, despite that anyone who bothered to read this blogs ‘About’ page would know I am out of prostitution fourteen years.  This lie was constructed in order to query what business I have not being semi-literate.  Because, you see, former prostitutes are supposed to be, apparently.  Strange that this notion was constructed by a current prostitute! 

There are many others, each one less worth repeating than the last. They all have the same aim, which is to discredit me and everything I experienced and witnessed throughout seven years that spanned prostitution’s entire social spectrum.  These are common silencing tactics from the pro-prostitution lobby; all of us survivors experience them.  Well, as I said to a good friend of mine recently – none of this BS is going to keep our arses off interviewers’ seats or our books off the shelves.  Roll on next spring when my book is published and I will be making my identity public, for the primary reason that I damn-well intend to stand over my own experiences, and I will not be silenced by anyone.

FreeIrishWoman

Trafficking and Prostitution – and the Differences that Don’t Exist

Trafficking and Prostitution are two areas that are very easy to separate; and they would be, as they are inhabited by two groups of women whose experience is characterised by two different kinds of coercion, two different kinds of force. 

In one group, trafficked women, we will find the young Eastern European woman who has been tricked onto an international flight under the pretence that she is to be an au pair, only to find herself gang-raped and imprisoned in a brothel.  We will find the African teenaged girl who has been kidnapped and sold within the female slave trade, sometimes with the added psychological violence of voodoo rituals to incapacitate her mentally as well as physically.  In Canada we will find young women and girls of native descent trafficked to brothels in numbers far disproportionate to the females of the white population, because their lives are deemed less valuable, because the western world has decided them to be so.

I will focus for a while on the situation here in Ireland, with which of course, being an Irish woman, I am most familiar.  Our national television broadcaster, RTE, aired the documentary ‘Profiting from Prostitution’ in the spring of this year.  It focused on what was going on in Irish brothels, along with how they are organised and run.  It also included interview evidence from numerous women; some trafficked, others having ended up in the brothels by what I call ‘the traditional route’.

Some of the video footage was truly shocking.  One Asian woman babbling, seemingly out of her mind on some substance, was not in a position to have a conversation, never mind involvement in any kind of sexual exchange.  The only thing she said that made any kind of sense was “Work here, live here. No go outside”

A young African woman described in broken English her years of sexual slavery in Ireland, beginning when she was only twenty years old: 

“I went to Waterford.  After Waterford I went to Kilkenny, then Enniscorthy, then Navan.  She (the pimp) would text me the address of the place where they would tell me to go this day.  I have to do it because, I don’t know, it’s what I have to do because I was so scared.  I don’t want her to come and kill me.  I had nobody to run to”.

Asked how the clients treated her, she responded:

“The first man that came, I was crying to the man.  The man called the woman that I refuse him sleeping with me.  Anything could happen to me, so I don’t have any choice.  Whenever they come, I always tell them my situation, crying to some of them, but some of them, I don’t cry to them.  Some of them, the way they treated me, violence, calling me names, ‘bitch’ ‘whore’, you know, things like that”.

“When I look at myself in the mirror in the morning I cry.  I don’t even eat.  I was thinking ‘what kind of a life is this?’  Men coming in, going out, coming in, going out.  So I said, this is not the kind of life I want for myself, you know?  I don’t even know what is going to happen to me.  I don’t know where to go; it was what I had to do because I had nobody to run to”.

The words of that African girl haunt me for two reasons.  Firstly, because I feel such compassion for her.  Secondly, because I so identify with her, because the truth was, neither did I.  I will include some text here from a blog I wrote this spring, which best explains the constraints of my own choices:

‘Many people think of choice as I might have done, had I never worked as a prostitute.  For many, choice is something perceived akin to standing in front of a deli-counter.  Choose this, choose that, pick out your preferred option.  The men who choose which woman they’d like to fuck as they stare at those lined up for their consumption understand choice in just this way.  Their concept of choice is rooted in the privilege of a genuine alternative.  Their concept of choice itself is limited.

‘Choice does not always present as balanced; it does not always offer a different-but-equal alternative.  When I think of my choices they were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger.  Take your pick.  Make your ‘choice’.

‘People will never understand the concept of choice as it operates in prostitution until they understand the concept of constraint so active within it.  As long as the constrained nature of this choice is ignored it will be impossible to understand the pitiful role of ‘choice’ for women within prostitution.

‘I’m going to reveal something very personal now, and I’m going to do that simply to illustrate how warped the concept of choice was in my circumstances.  I had a conversation recently with my sixty-something relative who is currently spending a few months visiting Ireland, after having lived forty years in America.  She reiterated something I’d heard many years ago in our family.  It was a conversation my paternal grandmother had with the psychiatrist treating my parents in the local mental hospital.  My grandmother (and this was before I was ever born) had made an appointment with the doctor, very upset as she was that my manic-depressive father and his schizophrenic girlfriend had just announced their intention to marry.

‘She wanted to know what could be done.  How could this marriage be stopped?  How could these two very unwell people be allowed to go ahead and marry?  The doctor told her that mental illness could not be used as a reason to curtail a persons civil liberties and that was his view of the matter.  But what, my grandmother wanted to know, would happen to any children born into that union?

‘I wish I could go back in time and give my grandmother a hug for having the compassion and the foresight to think of where that situation would leave us.  She was right to worry.  It left us in state care, one after the other.  And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.

‘The constraints of my own choices began even before I did.  And if we were to shift this situation into the deli-counter analogy, there is no young girl standing there deliberating on what choice to make.

‘There is only a young girl standing waiting for what’s already been selected and pre-wrapped for her, and she can take it or leave it.  Those are her options.  That is her ‘choice’.’

People will say (and rightly say) that the trafficked child or woman and the destitute child or woman constitute two different situations.  Yes, they do – but what is so often ignored is that they also constitute two different situations that culminate in exactly the same place; with both sets of women lying with their legs open on a brothel’s bed.  In both situations, choice has been severely constrained.  In both situations, the fear of one outcome leads to another.  In both situations ‘choices’ have been made that lead to women’s bodies being sexually accessed against their will, which is lived as sexual molestation, in both cases.

In the case of the trafficked woman, she can ‘choose’ to keep kicking and screaming and ignoring the threats against herself and her family.  Nobody sees this as a choice that she might be maligned for not making.  In the case of the woman who is either in destitution or in fear of destitution, she can keep kicking and screaming mentally, and ignoring the reality of the economic threat against herself and her family, but people do see this as a choice that she is maligned for not making.  The bald-faced reality however is that both women are caught in two different versions of the same bind, and both women pay the same price for it.  The difference is that the latter group of women pay an additional price – it is the price of a socially-assigned culpability.

I will return now to the situation in Ireland.

Irelands best known online escort agency ‘Escort Ireland’ was proven in the documentary I’ve mentioned to have advertised women trafficked internationally by one notorious criminal gang, who were busted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in an operation codenamed ‘Apsis’.  The operation would have been better named ‘abscess’, in my opinion.  This situation would be better expressed by the likening to a pustule or a boil. 

The documentary tracked the movements of prostituted women nationally through the Escort Ireland website and in doing so revealed a disturbing pattern of constant motion from city to city and town to town, where these women, advertised as ‘independent escorts’, were shown to be anything but independent and in fact were being prostituted under the direction and control of international pimping gangs. 

The women documented were very racially and ethnically diverse.  They had been trafficked from South America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.  This left the viewer with one incontrovertible fact: the women whose bodies feed this trade are black women from Africa, brown women from South America, lighter-toned women from Asia and white women from several countries in Eastern Europe.  What links all these women from various ethnicities and nations?  Well, it’s the fact that they’re women, of course, which means that what we’re seeing here is gender-based slavery.  We are so used to thinking of slavery as being something that is imposed by one race upon another that we are now witnessing slavery being imposed by one gender upon another – without the capacity for recognising it for what it is – without the social competence to assign it its true name.

About six weeks after the ‘Profiting from Prostitution’ documentary another Irish documentary was aired.  It was called ‘Ireland’s Vice Girls’, in an unfortunate editorial decision.  The content, however, was revealing and important.  Again, several women were interviewed, each with a different background, some having come to prostitution through trafficking, others through what’s commonly understood as ‘personal choice’.  What stayed with me after the documentary was the response of one woman, one of those who had supposedly made this ‘choice’.  Her attitude towards prostitution and the men who used her within it was starker, more marked and more undeniably fixed than anything expressed by any of the trafficked women.  She said ‘If I ever had to do one more punter, one of us would be leaving in a body bag’.

The woman who said these words spent ten years in prostitution, and I must ask, do these sound like the words of a woman who made some kind of benign and autonomous choice?  Does a woman who’d rather kill or be killed before she’d return to prostitution sound like a woman who was ever involved in it through true autonomous choice in the first place?

People view prostitution and trafficking as distinct because they want to, because they need to, or because they’ve been taught to – or perhaps a combination of all of the above.  But women like myself understand, though our personal lived experience, that these are not two different individualised experiences.  They are not distinct and separate and wholly apart at all, and the only real difference of note is that a woman prostituted through destitution or the fear of it can never say ‘I was forced’.   She can never say that because the world will never accept that, and she, consequently, must deal with a far greater weight of shame than the woman who can say she was physically forced.

I think we need to really examine, as a people, what we understand about the concepts of choice and force, and I think that until we do, we will never be able to decipher that murky hinterland with which the vast majority of prostituted women are intimately familiar; that place that bridges the gap between wanting to and having to; that place where so many women must occupy before they make a decision that is not a decision, a choice that is not a choice.  It is a place that is imbued with a certain heaviness; the weight of an oppressive and secret force.

It is currently largely unrecognised – but it needs to be recognised.  It needs to be unmasked.  It needs to be understood for what it is.  Because, as I have written in my memoir ‘It is a very human foolishness to insist on the presence of a knife or a gun or a fist in order to recognise the existence of force, when often the most compelling forces on this earth present intangibly, in coercive situations’.

FreeIrishWoman

(The preceding piece was originally commissioned for the website prostitutionresearch.com and was first published there on 31st May 2012)

Prostitution and the Commercial Value of Youth

People who argue that prostitution would be free of coercion, trafficking, the exploitation of minors – and everything else that prevents it from being some kind of all-above-board consenting-adults-only autonomy party – are people who ignore one vital aspect of prostitutions reality. It is the commercial value of youth.

Just as in some actual industries, like modelling or professional dance, youth is highly prized among attributes. Unlike modelling or dance though, youth in prostitution is prized far above beauty and the fluidity of movement. In order to be most highly in demand in prostitution, you don’t need to be the prettiest flower in the field; you just need to be among the youngest. And what you can or cannot do with your body is irrelevant; it just matters that it hasn’t been on the planet for very long.

One of the commonest questions that comes through on any brothels phone line is ‘What age is the youngest girl you have?’ I could not count the times I have been asked that question, and I defy anybody who has answered a brothels phone to tell the blatant lie that it is not the commonest question they’ve been asked too.

The commercial value of youth is so profoundly built-in to prostitution that women routinely lie about their age in order to generate more business. The clients know this, of course, and even as women are shaving a few years off clients are adding a few on. ‘I’m twenty-six – I’ll tell him I’m twenty-three’ / ‘She’s twenty-three? – that means she’s twenty-six’.

Nobody’s fooling anybody here, and the only thing the whole pathetic charade is any good for is the revealing nature of what’s going on behind the pretence. What it reveals, of course, is that men who buy bodies for sex usually want to buy the youngest body they can find.

Last year it was reported to the BBC that prostitutes as young as thirteen were working the streets in Swindon, in the English county of Wiltshire. “Come here at the weekend and you’ll get 13-year-old girls to 19-year-old girls out here”, one prostitute told reporters.

When I read reports like these I just sigh. It tires me to pre-empt the shock people will express. It tires me to imagine that shock, whether it is genuine or not, because if it is genuine then that proves we have a long way to go in educating people about the reality of prostitution, and if it is not, well then, here is yet more in a tsunami of evidence that there are those who do not want the reality of prostitution understood.

Whenever any evidence of teenaged prostitution is revealed the pro-prostitution lobby move immediately to put forth the preposterous assertion that this town is somehow different or unique. The attitude is always either ‘thirteen-year-olds, good Lord, who ever heard of such a thing?’ – or ‘thirteen-year-olds, good Lord, we could clear up this situation if we legalised prostitution!’ – as if somehow the demand for adolescent bodies would vanish if only we’d make the sale of adult bodies okay!

Usually, however, they will simply deny that adolescent prostitution is widespread, or that adolescents are much in demand in the first place.

‘How do we know this is true?’ will come the query from the pro-prostitution lobby. It is not a query in the genuine sense of the word. A real query seeks an answer. This query seeks to obscure the same answer it purports to be seeking.

This will seem strange and confusing to some people. It is neither strange nor confusing to me; I’ve been exposed to the tactics of the pro-prostitution lobby for too long to be surprised or confused by these sorts of seemingly tangled and nonsensical tactics. What people need to understand is that they are not nonsensical. These are obscurest policies and they are purposeful and predictable, and when you understand their purpose you will have no problem predicting them too.

Their purpose is consistently the same; it is to deny and refute the sick and twisted nature of what actually goes on in prostitution. The truth they don’t want to you know is that men who pay for sex will most often opt to pay for a fifteen-year-old over a seventeen-year-old, a seventeen-year-old over a nineteen-year-old, a nineteen-year-old over a twenty-one-year-old, and so on and so forth.

Now, let me be very clear about this – I will be called a liar for having asserted the above. It will be said that I am trying to demonise punters, that I am telling lies about their preferences and proclivities. I wish I was. In my first year in prostitution, when I was fifteen-years-old, I was used by countless hundreds of men; I truly couldn’t say how many. I saw up to ten men a day so you may do the maths for yourself (the thoughts of doing that calculation disturbs me). As I stated in my Examiner article back in February, men were so obviously aroused by my youth it made them climax very quickly, so I soon learned to tell them how old I was in order to shorten the whole ordeal. I made it a policy; it was one of the first things I said when I got into the car – not that I needed to bring up the subject because it was usually one of the first questions asked of me.

In all those hundreds of men, one man, just ONE, turned his van around and brought me back to where he’d found me.

So yes, those who advocate for legalised or decriminalised prostitution will do their damnedest to obscure the truth about the high commercial value placed on young bodies in prostitution, all the while squawking ‘Where’s the evidence? Where’s the evidence?’ – like some kind of belligerent and demented parrot, with all the repetitiveness and severe comprehension issues you’d expect. All beak and no brains, in other words.

This is to be expected; of course the pro-prostitution lobby don’t want you to know that girls who are post-puberty by only a year or two are routinely lusted after, sought out, highly prized and then abused for enough years ‘till they’ve lost much of their commercial value. If that was widely known, it would do a great deal of damage to the autonomous, sexually-liberated, empowerment fantasy depiction they are consistently trying to peddle.

As for ‘Where’s the evidence?’ – I don’t need to ask that question. When I was a fifteen-year-old prostitute I was FAR more in-demand than I ever was as a twenty-two-year-old, even though at twenty-two I was slim, pretty, and an extremely youthful woman; but therein lay the problem. I was a woman.

There is huge emphasis placed on the commercial value of youth in prostitution. ‘The evidence’ is in every brothel and red-light zone in the land, and I know that because I lived the evidence.

I know it because I was the evidence.

FreeIrishWoman

Please Help Lisia Mendiola – a Heartfelt Appeal for a Fellow Survivor

I generally don’t get unnerved in writing these blogs. I generally just say what I have to say and accept that I can only be honest, but cannot influence how anyone reading might receive them. This post is different. It is different because it is about a woman who is desperately struggling, desperately in need of help, and if I construct this post all wrong maybe nobody who reads it will feel inclined to help her. That is a lot of pressure. It unnerves me, but I can only do my best – so here goes:

This woman I am talking about, Lisia Mendiola Lopez, has survived a background of physical abuse, rape, forced prostitution, and just about everything else a woman wouldn’t want to experience. There is no doubt about this woman being genuine. Her story has been authenticated by another survivor and has been blogged about in survivor circles. She is now a mother, a survivor, and a final year university student. She has come through all this on her own and funded herself through college – until now.

Now, in her final semester, Lisia has run out of funds. She cannot pay her final tuition fees, 5.500 US dollars. Her college has informed her that she doesn’t qualify for financial aid and she is now in near certainty of not being able to complete her education, although she has brought herself so close to doing that.

In desperation, she has set up a fund that people might contribute to help her reach her goal. It has raised $925.00, but there have been almost no new contributions in the last month. It seems that interest has gone stale and this looks like the end of the road.

I know that people are deep in recession in Ireland and elsewhere, but this story hurts and frustrates me on a deep level; however I also have a deep belief in the basic generosity of people when they come across a worthy cause. So I hope, cash-strapped and all as we are, that we can club together, even if only ten euros/pounds/dollars at a time, to rescue this young woman from this horribly disappointing situation.

The saddest part of all this is that Lisia is due to graduate from a social work degree, and she has always intended to use that degree to help other women caught in the same situation that she was. It would be a human tragedy if she was not able to realise her dream. As she says herself, she has chosen “not to be an average statistic”.

Please help her not to be that.

http://www.gofundme.com/iebhc

FreeIrishWoman