The issue of child prostitution and its supposed alter-ego, adult prostitution, are personal to me because I’ve experienced both, having been prostituted between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two.
I sometimes think of what those who knew nothing of me would have thought of me, as they caught glimpses of me, on the different stages of those seven years. Who doubts that the majority would have looked at my young teenaged self and wondered what sort of world we lived in? And who doubts, if they’re honest, that many would have looked at my young adult self and wondered what sort of women populated it?
This is the dichotomy of adult and child and they are viewed as very separate, very distinct, so that there is a clearly perceived line between these stages, these ages, but in fact it is not a line. It is a bridge. It is a bridge that spans the in-between; that gap that connects the points in the lives of so many women who were prostituted first as children then as adults. I lived that bridge in my own prostitution life, when I was turning from a child into a woman, and I was used sexually for money on most of the days that made up my adolescence, as I was before in childhood and afterwards in early adulthood. And here is the crux of the matter: it was all the same nightmare to me.
People chose though, before and after those in-between years, whether I was blameless or blameworthy. In the interim, while I existed in the in-between, each individual who looked at me or fucked me had the privilege of making up their own mind. Many did, and most chose the latter.
After that, when I was identifiably a woman, it was not a case of ‘most’ anymore, but ‘almost all’ – because almost all those who looked at me in my young adulthood decided that I’d chosen what was happening, and saw it as what I was doing rather than what was being done to me.
The ‘done to me’ aspect died, you see, along with my adolescence in the perspectives of other people. The problem was it didn’t die, and I was still alive, living the ‘done to me’ reality every day.
As a fourteen-year-old girl, a full year before I ever started prostituting, I first realised that some men felt an actual entitlement to my body. This was perfectly expressed by the extreme belligerence they’d display when I rejected their advances. They would be so angry. ‘How dare you?’ said their actions. I couldn’t make any sense of that attitude. It was literally like someone was speaking in a foreign language to me, and it was a foreign language in a sense; it was the language of sexual entitlement. I became fluent in the language eventually, but fluent in the sense of someone speaking a language not of their origin; someone who can understand it audibly, but will never be able to write it.
At that time though, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could think it was okay to walk up to someone on the street and wrap your arms around them, or grope somebody, or growl what you’d like to do to them into their ear. But I had all these experiences as a fourteen-year-old girl and I’d had three approaches by paedophiles as a pre-pubescent child, and still I could not fathom why and how this was supposed to be acceptable in the view of these men, why this was supposed to be okay. I remember one man’s surprise and affront as he told me “You’re very standoffish!” after I pulled away from a physical embrace I didn’t initiate, ask for, permit or fucking want.
These experiences came thick and fast from the age of fourteen, when I began to be more noticeably developing breasts. It is little wonder I became fluent in the language of male sexual entitlement. Facial expressions, aggressive stances, weary sighs, protracted silences – all these too make up part of that language, all these are used to communicate the idea that you’re expected to consent when a man decides he will have rights to your body.
So I’d had some schooling, in that sense, as to what prostitution expected of me. What I didn’t know was how bad it was going to get. I couldn’t have known that before I experienced it. It was unknowable. Well, I soon found out, and what I found out didn’t get any better on the day I turned eighteen and it didn’t get any better on the day I turned twenty-one either.
They bother me, these stupid irrelevant lines that are drawn that attempt to divide the lived reality of the prostitution experience based on whether a female is fifteen or seventeen, seventeen or nineteen, eighteen or twenty. They are diversions to the central matter at hand; they divert from the core issue. They disappear the fact that this is wrong, not only by degrees that deepen with the youthfulness of its target, but by its nature, so that all those who’ve been paid for sex they do not want have suffered sexual abuse. There is a shelf-life for women in prostitution, but there is no shelf-life for the nature of prostitution. Its abusive core does not morph into something else on a person’s eighteenth birthday. Not that many men wait that long in the first place.
And on that note, people need to start querying what is the criterion for fuckability according to sex-buying men? What is their divining rod for ‘of age’? Is it a pair of breasts? My experience of prostitution is that it is any pair of breasts, regardless that they’re still developing; and this we’ve got to see as a form of sexual selfishness that has decayed to the point where it’s putrid. It is also a nonsense of a position, because if a pair of breasts at any stage of development signify completed womanhood then every females adulthood actually began at the onset of puberty; not began to form, but began in full. Every woman was a woman before she was a woman, by that ludicrous standard.
I am sure we will have a lot of indignation from sex buyers on this point, but as a fifteen-year-old child with developing breasts I was abused by a multitude of these men every day; men, some of whom would never have considered themselves paedophiles or predators or abusers – and I saw the same men pay to use the bodies of other adolescents with breasts, one of them just thirteen years old, so I can assure the reader that these men assured themselves wherever there was the presence of breasts there was the absence of childhood.
Added to this, men who buy sex are obsessed with the act of despoilment; they are, as a group, blatantly obsessed with the desire to fuck the youngest girl they can find. The upshot of this of course is that there is great commercial value placed on youth in prostitution. I have thought at length and written a little about Prostitution and the Commercial Value of Youth, and I know both that this exists as a reality in prostitution and that is speaks with great clarity to the putrid sexual selfishness I’ve just mentioned.
So adolescents are fair game in prostitution; I’ve made my point, but it’s important also to look at an uncanny resemblance here: adolescence is the physical reality, the mirror image made flesh and form, of that place where a woman is halfway between being prostituted and being trafficked. That point where women go to other countries knowing they’ll be working in the sex trade, but not knowing what that reality really means, or not knowing that they’ll be charged four and five figure sums for the privilege of their prostitutions organisation. This is another of prostitutions in-betweens. They exist in various forms, and very often these mid-spectrum situations are misrepresented and then misappropriated so that they can be used to gloss over the reality of the sex trade. For example those women who are working back thousands of euros/dollars/pounds of money they supposedly ‘owe’ are not classified as trafficking victims, although that is what they are. The sex industry calls them ‘independent escorts’ and ignores and erases the misery of their lives.
In the same way, people who live prostitution during the transition between childhood and adulthood must be mislabelled and filed away, inconvenient as they are. They must be either a child or an adult according to the sex industry, and also, disturbingly, to some anti-trafficking groups. Some groups decide to find a way around this by subdividing adolescence into stages where those from twelve to fourteen are deemed worthy of sympathy and attention, while fifteen to seventeen-year-olds are brushed to one side with the gut-churning excuse that they have so much more ‘personal agency’.
When, I would like to ask the senior members of these groups, did my personal agency begin? Because by their criterion it seems to me it began at the stroke of midnight as I entered my fifteenth year, which makes me feel like a very sorry version of Cinderella; except the slipper in this fairytale was never going to fit because it had been shattered, and believe me, Prince Charming was nowhere to be seen. I had no more personal agency at fifteen than I had the year before, in fact I had significantly less, because at fourteen I had only six months of homelessness behind me; at fifteen I had a year and a half. In homelessness your desperation increases with time, not decreases. If people think ‘personal agency’ always increases with the forward march of time they are lucky people who’ve never had to deal with the miserable conditions of their own lives intensifying with time, and they’re obviously so detached from that life experience they’ve never even considered it.
By drawing distinctions between trafficking and prostitution, between under and over eighteen, some well-intentioned anti-trafficking organisations acquiesce to the perpetuation of a system known to be extremely violent and damaging while continuing to stigmatise and blame most of its victims. This stigmatisation maintains the disempowerment and marginalisation of the same population these groups want to help. It also empowers the predators who prey on our most vulnerable, whether under or over eighteen.