In the wake of every traumatic experience humans are re-traumatised, in new and unfamiliar ways. These repercussions combine to create the occurrence of an aftermath, and are ripples of the traumatic events which gave them being.
To negotiate the aftermath of prostitution is to traverse a strange and foreign hinterland that is uncomfortable in its very unnaturalness. It has been remarked by several other exited women that what is normal for others is not normal for us, and it is our very unfamiliarity with social norms that makes the effort, or even the contemplation of that effort, an enormous struggle.
Sometimes a woman will feel drawn back to prostitution because that is the sphere of life into which she has become institutionalised. That is the sphere of life in which she can, through experience, navigate. More often a woman will feel drawn back simply because she is now dealing with the same financial problems that drew her into prostitution in the first place. Poverty is a frightening and deeply vulnerable sphere of life in which to be suddenly thrust, and she knows, through much practice, how to remedy that.
Also there is the strong feeling (and this is the one I personally identify with) that she is not fit for anything else; that she has been morphed and transformed by prostitution in such a manner as to make living in the ‘real world’ simply impracticable. What this stressor does, and does with great ruthlessness, is to convince us – once we have found ourselves here – that we are unable to operate in this normal non-prostituted reality occupied by the majority of humans, which seemed for so long exactly the Nirvana we were all missing, and seeking.
Of course a woman on the verge of exiting prostitution does not know this, and when she discovers it, it comes as a bitter, unexpected, and most unwelcome shock. It is a cruelty, and perhaps the greatest essence of this cruelty is the way it strikes with that most potent of weapons: the element of surprise.
To the inhabitants of any oppressive regime, freedom will always seem like the Holy Grail of all experiences. It will always seem as though all our problems will be over the moment we make the transition from one phase of life to the next. What we don’t know, and what we are most disappointed to discover, is that the next phase has its own difficulties, directly related to and drawing from the first.
This causes a state of intense disillusionment. It is only natural then, in the face of this unexpected and unwelcome reality, that some women will feel drawn back to prostitution, where at least they knew the rules, understood the functioning, and could operate without the new and frighteningly unfamiliar social rules they have since had such trouble accustoming themselves to.
Remember also that formerly prostituted women are blocked from their entry into normal society on levels and in ways that are thoroughly alien to those who have not experienced them. They are, nevertheless, relentless. Even now, almost fourteen years after my own exit from prostitution, I still find myself confronted by these obstacles. Most recently, for example, I find myself job-seeking. After three years with the company my contract at work has run out and, for reasons related to the Irish recession, they cannot keep me on. So now I must explain, again, to any potential employer why it is that I am in the unusual position of having a university degree but no leaving certificate. I can hardly say: “I did not progress beyond more than a year of my second-level education because from fourteen onwards I was homeless and from fifteen onwards I was a prostitute, but I got my life together and returned to education as a twenty-four year old adult”. I can hardly say this – if I want the job.
So many times in the company of others I must erase those seven years and cover them up with omissions, and at other times outright lies. Each time I must do that, prostitution has revisited my life, and each time it does that, I am forced again to live with the aftermath.
All of this means that the pain of prostitution extends far beyond and long after the physical experience of prostitution itself. This is not pain with a conclusion; this is pain with a series of phases, and the physical lived reality of prostitution is only the first one.