The question of what is a representative prostitute is an important one. I will answer it based on my own lived experience of prostitution and what I saw to be representative of the women I worked with, both indoors and outdoors and at the upper, middle and lower ends of prostitutions social spectrum. I do so because there were certain commonalities between the lives and the attitudes of the women in all these areas of prostitution. They were distinct and unmistakeable.
A representative prostitute is somebody who’s lived experience of prostitution and consequential attitudes towards it are those experienced by and held by the majority. So of course in discerning what a representative prostitute is we need to look at what are the most commonly held attitudes among prostitutes, what are the most common opinions towards prostitution expressed by those who’ve lived it. If we are to truly discern what the defining features of a representative prostitute is, then we need to know what are the most common reasons for their entry into prostitution and what are their feelings about those reasons, and about where those reasons led them.
We also need to know (and it is very important to know) what are the majority experiences and opinions of the formerly prostituted, because it has been charted that the opinions of women undertake a significant shift depending on whether they currently are or have ever been prostituted. This has been noted, for example, in the Swedish Independent Evaluation of 2011. Its findings make sense to me; in fact I don’t see how it could be any other way. My own expressed opinions in prostitution were always constructed in the effort to protect myself. I berated myself over that for quite a long while afterwards, but to the best of my ability, I don’t do that anymore, because it was only natural that I would protect myself anyway I could and I need to be understanding and gentle with myself about that.
A detailed analysis of the interior experiences of the prostituted class has yet, in my awareness, to be undertaken. There have been many studies done that focus on prostitution, but not of the sort I am imagining: I would like to see a study that shaped the inner experience of prostitution for the publics understanding. I wonder how possible that would be, given my memories of my own closed-off ‘this-far-and-no-further’ responses to questioning during prostitution. I not only experienced that myself, but witnessed it constantly among at the attitudes of my peers to questioning by outsiders; so perhaps that is not even possible, or at least would not be possible in the absence of lie detector tests. I know that’s what it would have taken to have gotten the truth out of me in those times.
So I think it is safe to assume we will be operating in the absence of such a study, and in its absence, cursory glances at other studies, even just here in Ireland, give us the strongest possible hints as to the reality of prostitution as a lived experience. For example, the findings of the Haughey and Bacik analysis ‘A Study of Prostitution in Dublin’ (conducted with funding from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Trinity College, June 2000) were very telling. In this study, twenty-nine out of thirty prostituted women stated that they ‘would accept an alternative job with equal pay.’
Now this may not tell us the whole story, but it gives us an unmistakably clear signal that the vast majority of the women polled here, would not, if they could make the same money elsewhere, choose to experience another moment of prostitution ever again.
There are no surprises for me in what this study reveals. In seven years of prostitution, I never met a woman who wouldn’t have accepted an alternative job with equal pay. And yes, we did discuss these things, and many other aspects of prostitution besides. We discussed them with each other, because we felt safe discussing them with each other; it was only under the scrutiny of strangers that our sense of safety evaporated, and our openness evaporated with it.
When we ask the question ‘What is a representative prostitute?’ we are asking (or ought to be asking) what is a representative prostitute globally. When prostitution is the last resort for women in developed countries – when it is the last resort for women in countries with social welfare systems that are the envy of the rest of the world – then it is reasonable to assume that fiscal coercion is very much more the norm in countries that do not enjoy these supports. Therefore, whatever we see of coercion in Europe or North America is nothing compared to what is experienced in numerous nations in Africa, Asia and South America. We know that children in these nations are more liable to be prostituted than the children of western nations by many many times. Are we to assume that the women and children of under-developed nations have a higher propensity to assert their ‘personal agency’ to prostitute themselves, as the pro-prostitution alliance would have us believe, or are we to assume that their extreme financial constraints – might – just – possibly – have something to do with that?
It is clearly unreasonable to assume that there is even a possibility that a globally representative prostitute could be characterised by the minority of western women earning two hundred pounds/euros/dollars an hour. These women are not even representative prostitutes in the western world, never mind anywhere else. Yet there are those who’ve never spent a moment being prostituted who like to play around with statistics so as to present the prostituted as a class who are, or at least may be, represented by the happy hooker mythology – those women who supposedly do nothing they don’t want to do, and what they do want to do, they do for up to, and in excess of, a thousand euros per night. It is hard not to hate the non-prostituted hypocrites who peddle these myths, especially when they are women. Where is their experienced-based evidence? They have none. Here is mine:
This is a short roll-call of some of the prostituted adolescents (it would not be accurate to call them women) that I have personally known and worked alongside. I have changed their names out of respect for their privacy.
Lisa was a representative prostitute. She left home at fifteen and was prostituted at seventeen. She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t even consider going home, and there was nothing else she could do.
Anna was a representative prostitute. She left home at fourteen because her stepfather had been sexually molesting her for years. She was prostituted at seventeen, and found prostitution nothing very new. The only difference was money changing hands, instead of sweets, clothes and gifts. Most importantly for her, she could walk away at the end of the encounter, instead of having to sleep with her abuser all night in the same house.
Tori was a representative prostitute. She left home at eighteen and was working as a stripper within six months – that was the gateway for her, and she was prostituted before she was twenty. She was gang raped at twenty-one. She was supposed to see them all one by one. She would never have the right to say what was done to her, because they paid her before it happened.
Lillianne was a representative prostitute. She left home at seventeen and was working the streets within the year. I will remember her vulnerability and her first-night frightened face forever. “Do you think he’ll be okay?” she asked before she got into the car. I gave her arm a quick squeeze and offered the useless guidance “Keep your wits about you”.
Marie was a representative prostitute. She left home at fifteen and was prostituted at seventeen. Marie, who didn’t even know how to roll a joint when she first started in prostitution, was hopelessly addicted to narcotics for years while we worked together, and was still strung-out the last time I saw her. I remember her childlike embarrassment at not being able to roll a joint, but she got good at that in no time. There are so many other things I wish she’d never learned.
I was a representative prostitute. I left home at fourteen and was prostituted at fifteen. I am still here, I am still alive, and thankfully I am no longer narcotic addicted. The voices I echo are not only my own; for my sake and for all our sakes, I will never ever be silenced.
So yes, the question of what is a representative prostitute is an important one; it is just unfortunate that it is sometimes posed by those who go on to answer it dishonestly, in the effort to obscure what a representative prostitute truly is. A good hint as to the intentions of anyone posing this question is in how they will construct it. Members of the pro-prostitution alliance will far more likely use the sanitising/normalising language of ‘sex work’; therefore will most likely ask ‘What is a representative sex-worker?’
This is an exercise in misrepresentation and concealment; obscurest language here is such a commonplace theme. The profile of a representative prostitute needs obscuring for anyone of the pro-prostitution lobby, because the profile of a representative prostitute lays bare the immeasurably ugly profile of prostitution itself.