The headline of this article will probably cause some people to do a double take, but the truth is violence from women in prostitution is nothing new, especially in street prostitution. It doesn’t compare to the prevalence of violence from men, but it happens, and when it does it comes as a particularly nasty shock, especially to the new prostitute.
When I first arrived on Benburb Street in the summer of ’91 I was fifteen and, at the risk of sounding like Samantha Brick, I was tall, slim and long-haired, with disproportionately large breasts, long legs and a pretty face. No doubt the man who brought me there was well aware of what I’d be worth in monetary terms, of how much of a target I’d be for the clients. I don’t know if he realised (and I know I certainly didn’t realise) what a target I’d be for some of the older women.
The first time I was attacked by a woman in prostitution is something I’ll never forget. The northside red-light zone of Benburb Street was unusual in that it was a 24 hour street. Business operated ‘round the clock because Bunburb Street ran the entire length of Collins Barracks, with high stone walls on either side, and no shops or houses lined along it. There was, in short, nobody to offend by our presence. Because I was afraid to be doing what I was doing in the dark I worked from late morning, around 11am, till late afternoon, around four or five o’clock. Consequently, it was on a beautiful sunny day that I was first attacked by a woman in prostitution.
She would have been around late forties. I don’t remember much more about her except that she was a dark-haired Dubliner, solid and squat in build, and that she seemed to – bizarrely – have it in her head that she was doing me some kind of favour by giving me this beating. I knew something was up the moment I saw her striding purposely towards me with that pissed-off look on her face and she didn’t stop to say a single thing. I guess she felt she was communicating enough with actions when she grabbed me by the hair and slammed me up against the wall. As she belted her hand into my face she kept screaming ‘What are you doing down here? You’re only a child! Have you no respect for yourself?’ When she was done doing what she’d come there to do she threw a ‘That was for your own good, now get out of here and go home’ over her shoulder.
I had never seen that woman before that day, and she had arrived with another older woman who often worked the street at the same time I did. I’d no idea what was going on at the time, but it is obvious to me now that the reason the other woman didn’t attack me and rather got someone else to do her dirty work was because she was afraid that my pimp would target her in retaliation for it.
What is strange to me now, looking back on it, is the conviction of the woman who attacked me that what she was doing served some higher good. That if she beat me hard enough and frightened me badly enough I’d go home and forget all about this prostitution business; that somehow the circumstances that brought me into prostitution would dissolve all the more thoroughly with every slap and shout and handful of hair she dragged out of me. There was such ignorance in that, it just boggled my mind. It still does.
I was back down the next day, needless to say, the only difference being that now I had a few bruises and bald patches.
About nine months or so after I first started on Benburb Street I moved over to Burlington Road on the southside red-light district. I was brought there by a girl I’d met on Benburb Street who worked both sides of street prostitution, north and south. If she needed money quick in the daytime she’d work northside, but usually she worked at night on the southside district, on Burlington Road.
One of the differences between the two districts was that the Southside was a night-time only collection of streets, squares and canal-sides. This was the case because the areas where we worked were scattered throughout residential and business districts. You couldn’t go to work until it was dark, or at least until night was falling, which meant that in the height of summer you couldn’t go to work until ten o’clock and that you often wouldn’t get home until three or four in the morning. In winter you could work from around 6pm onwards, but you were still in the dark. That was frightening for me at first and it took a bit of getting used to.
The threats of violence from the women on Burlington Road were predictable. I was only gone sixteen but I knew what to expect by then. The only difference on Burlington Road was that there was no pretence of it being for our own good. These were just bitter oul cows who didn’t appreciate the business our presence there was costing them and didn’t make any secret of it. One night I got out of a punters car to find my friend slumped against the wall, bruised and in pain, just moments after a beating.
Night after night we were approached with threats and night after night we returned, until one night my friend was told to forfeit her place on the street and get me out of there immediately otherwise we’d both have our faces slashed so that we “wouldn’t be able to work”. We knew the threat was serious and we moved on to the parallel street, Waterloo Road.
Waterloo Road wasn’t a red-street at that time, but it was by the time we were finished with it. The women from Burlington Road followed us around the corner and continued their threats. We’d had enough by that stage and told them to get the fuck off our street, which, thankfully for all concerned, they did. I think they knew they were wasting their time trying to move us.
The point of all this is that violence doesn’t come from one direction in prostitution. It comes from all directions, and it can come at any time. You need to watch out, principally, for the punters, but you also need to watch out for the pimps, the police (who are sometimes punters themselves) and you need to watch out for the other prostitutes – which is particularly fucking tragic.