Something that I find just uncanny is the amount of women globally who’ve come forward, all within a very short time-span, to refute the happy-hooker BS that’s been spouted for a long time about prostitution.
I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe there’s always something else going on, something beyond our comprehension, when this many ‘coincidences’ line up alongside and at the same time.
I spent years writing my book and in the final year of its construction the Irish government started talking publicly about new prostitution legislation. In January 2012, the same month my book was sent off to publishers and agents, a young Irish woman started a blog that became wildly popular and well read in no time flat. In the same month ‘Survivors Connect Network’ was formed – an international group-blog where writings from prostitution survivors from all over the globe could be found.
Early this year I met Trisha Baptie, a Canadian prostitution survivor and activist. I also met Cherry Smiley, a friend of hers, who is a member of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network. Both women have spent recent years working tirelessly to spread the truth about how prostitution affects Canadian women’s lives.
There is a real sense of ‘something in the air’ here – a sense that there is something more to the fact that women are rising up together, for the same reason, at the same time, all over the globe.
In February of this year, in the wake of the RTE documentary ‘Profiting from Prostitution’ I was asked to write an article for the Irish Examiner. I provided the following piece:
“The nation is finally beginning to take a look at the intrinsic harm of prostitution. I welcome this because it is a harm I have understood since I was a fifteen-year-old prostitute, being used by up to ten men a day. The one thing that linked those men together, besides their urges to pay for the right to abuse my young body, was that they all knew just how young I was. They all knew because I told them, and I told them because it had the near-universal effect of causing them to become very aroused.
“When a man is very aroused in street prostitution that is a good thing, because it means he’ll climax quickly and the whole ordeal will be over fairly fast. I learned that on my very first day while sitting in the car of an elderly man who, as he abused me, repeated over and over the thing that was causing him such sexual joy: ‘Oh, you’re very young – aren’t you? Aren’t you?’
“That is the true, sleazy and debased face of prostitution – the face that pro-prostitution lobby groups hysterically deny and attempt to conceal. Well, they cannot conceal it from me. I spent too long looking at it, too long being abused by it, and too long trying to recover from the soul-level injury it left behind.
“Many of the girls I worked alongside were not much older than I was and one was only thirteen-years-old – and there was no shortage of grown men paying to abuse her. Most of the older women had been working since they were our age or younger, and many of them had histories of sexual abuse that predated their prostitution lives. When a person looks at a thirty or forty-something prostitute what they forget is that they are looking, in most cases, at a woman who has been inured to bodily invasion since she was a prepubescent child.
“I didn’t just work outdoors. When the sexual offences act of 1993 came into force it drove me and many others like me indoors, where we had even less autonomy over the conditions of our own lives. In the brothels and the ‘escort’ agencies we had to endure the same things we did on the streets, but we had to endure them for longer, and with no screening process as to who would and who would not pay to abuse us.
“You might wonder, ‘if you were a prostitute, what did it matter who it was?’ That is an innocent question, and it is deserving of an answer. It mattered because, far from being unaware of the abusive nature of prostitution, a lot of men were not only aware of it but actively got off on it. The misogyny from a lot of men was so potent and so deliberate it could cause nothing but trauma, as it was designed to do. And we, as the prostituted class that we were, could do nothing to protect ourselves other than try to avoid its most potent manifestations. This had been at least somewhat possible on the streets, where we could do our best to discern whether or not a man had hatred and the desire to hurt us seeping out of every pore. It was not at all possible once we’d gotten run indoors and the immediate effect was a rapid escalation in violence and murder.
“Irish prostitution has been mainly conducted indoors since then, and nothing about this ugliness has abated because it’s been concealed from the public view. In fact the opposite has been true. We were abused more thoroughly, not less, with the only difference being that now there was the secrecy of closed doors to conceal it.
“There is no doubt that a good number of these men had daughters younger than I was, yet the abuse they unleashed on me was devastating, violent, humiliating and degrading. It was paid sexual abuse, just as it was designed to be. It was ritualistic, and I experienced it in every area of prostitution.
“Do not for a moment think that the men paying to abuse here are not ‘ordinary men’. I could not possibly count the number of wedding rings and babies car seats I encountered. The men who pay to debase and degrade women and girls in prostitution are, the vast majority of them, the same men who play out the pretence of being happily married family men.
“I wonder sometimes at the amount of women who would be shocked, not only to know their husbands are visiting prostitutes, but also to know the depth of their own husbands contempt and misogynistic hatred of women.
“Under Irish law, the abusive nature of prostitution has been allowed to flourish unhindered and it is a living hell for the women struggling to survive within it. It is primarily for the sake of these women, but also for all of us who want to live in a gender-equal society, that I am gladdened to see the Irish government finally pledge to tackle this issue.
“I only hope that they go the right way about it, which is to criminalise the purchase of sex, because nothing will change for prostituted women and girls until the commercialisation of female bodies is dealt the hammer-blow it so richly deserves.
“To those who would say legalisation would make prostitution safer: I think the same thing every former prostitute I’ve ever spoken to thinks, which is that you may as well legalise rape and battery to try to make them safer. You cannot legislate away the dehumanising, degrading trauma of prostitution, and if you try to, you are accepting a separate class of women should exist who have no access to the human rights everyone else takes for granted.”
Here is the link to that article: http://www.irishexaminer.com/news/the-harsh-realities-of-being-raped-for-a-living-183894.html
A few months before I wrote this piece I provided a written statement to be read out at a prostitution seminar; I will publish that here at some future time. I am far from alone in this. Many women are involved in different areas of activism, as I am.
The bottom is this: former prostitutes are finding their voices and refuting the lies that have so long been told about what it is to live life as a prostitute. There are no coincidences here. This is not happening for no reason. It is happening for a very clear reason – the reason is that it is time.
I really appreciate your clear, honest account of the traumas you experienced at the hands of these abusers. It really challenges the mis-informed attitudes that prostitution is a choice, that it can be glamarous and worth the degradation. It’s a tough subject that is difficult, as it should be, to hear about. I really hope this is the start of changes in what so many people argue is the oldest industry, just because it’s been allowed to carry on since time began doesn’t make it right. Good will to you!
Thank you Celilia, good will to you too.
You mentioned that you have written a book. Is it out yet? What is its title? I would love to read it!
Hi Laura, thank you for your interest in the book. It’s not out yet but I will have some news on that very shortly and will post about it as soon as I can.
This is so well-written it took several tries to get through. I was a little girl, then a little bigger, then a teen before my family stopped leasing me out to play with perverts. Every time I was sent, I clearly saw the disgusting leer of men who got off on the perversion of their behavior. As you wrote, ” a lot of men were not only aware of it but actively got off on it.”
I was always a child. Not one of my rapists could ever deny that he was clearly destroying a child… and enjoying it. I learned to be as non-emotive as possible when the ‘toys’ came out because any response from me just excited my abuser even more. I learned not to cry, no matter what… eventually.
I’m so sorry to read that Meredith, that is just beyond tragic. When you said “I learned to be as non-emotive as possible”, that just really struck a chord with me, as it will with every former prostitute reading this, I can assure you.
Learning to dissociate is to the prostitute what learning to type is to the secretary; that is why childhood sexual abuse is often referred to in prostitution literature as “bootcamp” for prostitutes, and that is why there is such an extraordinarily high percentage of child sexual abuse survivors in prostitution. So many of us learned to do the job before we got anywhere near it.
I don’t know if you know it, but your own writing is very well constructed. I found writing my book to be healing. Maybe you could write out your pain too? I hope you find peace from your past. All my warmest thoughts are with you.
Horrors happen in sex work, but horrors happen in EVERY industry. Child labor and abuse happens in every industry across many countries. Clearly your experience in the “Former Prostitutes are Finding their Voices” post is true, I believe that, I’ve had bad experiences as well out there on the street that were not pleasant. But should we ban making clothing, other services industries with abuse? Pushing sex work farther underground away from the light of day has proven over the many years in the US it’s been underground that is hasn’t made things better! We need to try a different way. I don’t know any pro-sex work groups that is advocating for the horrors to continue. We want to bring sex work into the light of day, make it legal, give the industry child labor laws, OSHA standards, etc. We as pro sex work, want to end the horrors, but our solution is not to hide it even further away from cops view, but to bring it out in the light of day. If clients know they get quality service legally from X, Y and Z place, then suddenly they don’t need to hide from the police and commit all these atrocious horrors against sex workers. STOP THE VIOLENCE! We want the same thing(s) to end violence and have good working conditions for EVERY human being, but our solutions are very different on how to achieve this.
“quality service” sweet Jesus.. Liz I am too busy to reply to you right now so it’ll have to wait, but you can be sure I’ll be responding to that.
Hello Liz. I approved your comment a few days ago because, unlike some others who’ve attempted to engage me in debate, you haven’t tried to lead me by the nose from this website to any other. I don’t get led anywhere by anyone; I learned that lesson over twenty years ago when I was first led down to the local red-light district. You’ve also had the common sense not to link to opinion pieces by people known to have zero credentials and fuck-all personal or professional experience to back up their claims. You’ve also not been disrespectful enough to refer to me as a former ‘sex worker’, so kudos to you for all these ‘have nots’.
Firstly, you are going to need to understand that there is no such thing as ‘sex work’ in my lexicon. You are free to use whatever words you choose, but do not think that I will ever collude in the terminology of ‘sex worker’ and ‘sex work’, because I do not subscribe to that normalising/sanitising language and I never will.
The base reality, however little it suits some people, is that ‘sex work’ does not exist. Prostitution remains prostitution, regardless what sanitising pseudonyms people prefer to put on it. We can call apples oranges the whole day long – that is never going to give them pitted skin and a sharp citrus aftertaste. Besides, I have nothing but contempt for any language that seeks to paint the veneer of respectability over the most damaging, degrading, demeaning practice I have ever known.
Secondly, please do not equate the experience of selling the human body with the manufacturing of the material that clothes it. That is a tactic so clearly disingenuous it’s scarcely worth responding to.
You say “I don’t know any pro-sex work groups that is advocating for the horrors to continue”. If they are pro-prostitution, then they are most certainly advocating for the horrors to continue, because prostitution is a horror in itself. It is experienced that way by the vast vast majority of women, and please do not attempt to insult my intelligence by telling me otherwise.
You want to talk about eradicating the horrors of prostitution? Fine – let’s talk about that. Prostitution is the very pinnacle of sexism. It is the result of gender inequality having reached the horror of its fullest potential. If you ever want to get rid of the horror of prostitution there is only one way to do that – and that is to get rid of prostitution itself.
We will never achieve this though legislation alone, as I am blue in the face saying. We will achieve it only when women have access to choices that will determine their own futures – and it was the absence of these same choices that led (there’s that word again) most women into prostitution in the first place.
I have to tell you, however civil and respectful, responses like yours are truly depressing because it is sure evidence of patriarchy having been very thorough in its work when women are arguing for the ‘right’ to their own status as products.
A friend of mine posted this link and out of respect to her I read it, I have never resorted to the type of traumatic practice that you have so heartfully described above but I, unfortunately have encountered people,(men) talking openly, mainly in bars, about their exploits with Prostitutes and their prowess in “satisfying” them beyond belief. It’s disgusting and makes me ashamed to be a male member of the species. I congratulate and commend you for the courage you have and are showing towards what is a thorny issue, to say the least, and wish you well with the book.
Thank you for your response Mike. To be honest, if I overheard the sort of conversation you describe I doubt I’d be very offended. I’d be too busy reeling from their idiocy; any man who thinks he has sexually satisfied a prostitute is a fool of the highest order and is as far removed from the reality of the situation as it is possible to get.
Also, as far as being ashamed of your gender is concerned, there are a lot of good men out there and men still inspire feelings of love and warmth in me, as I explain in my article ‘Why I Still Love Men’.
Would you be able to email me your contact details? I’d like to do a piece about your new deal. Well done on that.
your story fills me with sorrow, my eyes fill up on reading about your pain, and my heart breaks that you were treated so. I admire your bravery and courage in speaking out, and your’re right, there are no coincidences, it is time for women to be protected more completely. Our repressed, fascist society needs to take a good look at the consequences of gossip, carelessness and arrogance that bedevil us.
Please, continue to speak up so that a change may come
I will continue tc, thank you for that.
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Wow. With sharp and eloquent writing like this, you are am incredibly powerful voice for making people stand up and notice. I wish you all the best and I will be sharing your blog with urgency. Thank you.
Thank you for the encouragement Andrea.
Hello again! YOU are simply an amazing woman! Thank you, thank you, thank you for starting this much-needed blog. Yes, it IS time that the truth must be told, and I’m right there with you! I always said that prostitution is where you get paid to be RAPED. The men think because they are giving you money that they have the right to treat a woman or girl any way they see fit. Many prostitutes think “Well I am the one in control here. I choose to do what I want to do with these johns, and I have boundaries that must be respected.” WRONG! (I am an ex-prostitute, as you know). I could never control the filth that came out of the john’s mouth at me, they way the johns BEG and BEG to not use a condom (“just the tip, baby!” UGH), they beg to violate me another way by performing oral sex on me with their filthy mouths who have been who knows where, they tried to kiss me (sometimes forcibly),they try to run my boundary about having unprotected intercourse and anal sex (which I am not into), they may try and force my head down when a CONDOM COVERED b.j. is being “performed,” call me misogynistic names, want to ejaculate on my face, etc. These are blunt examples of prostitutes NOT being in control. There are other examples like they could have a buddy of theirs hiding in the closet ready to hurt me, rape me, or even murder me. Remember, escorting means going to a strange man’s home and accepting money for sex. This makes a woman or girl extremely vulnerable! Of course, there’s the self-esteem breaking “incall” service where I had to line up with the other ladies, and the fucker got to pick which girl or woman he wanted to abuse. Sounds like fun, hmmm? Prostitution will slowly eat away at one’s self esteem. It will make you feel like getting high, or drinking to escape the painful memories of this wonderful “job.” There is a generation of women and men who call prostitution “sex work.” Gee, that lightens the reality of it nicely! Well, thanks to the women and girls on this website, we are going to tell it like it really is when you are “in the life.” It’s more like “in the death!” No one “enjoys” being a prostitute. We all tried to tell ourselves we did at times. We were opening our legs to disease and degradation! No sane person wants to have sex with, and be intimate with someone you are not sexually attracted to. Myth-all johns are dirty old men who smell bad. Wrong. Johns come in all shapes and sizes, and yes, there are ones who stink, but I have been abused by really, really “normal” looking guys. Ok, that’s all for now. Thank you, Free Irish Woman for letting me tell my truth..
i wonder if some of the married men you talked about freeirishwoman, sexually abuse/rape their own wife, and children too.
I recently engaged in a debate concerning the legalisation of prostitution. I argued against such a travesty by pointing out that prostitution, and not whether it was legal or not, was the problem due to the way the industry degraded, dehumanised, violated and exploited desperate girls and women. I also stated that legalisation would simply give credence and legitimacy to such horrendous crimes and allow the victims of exploitation to be further abused with impunity. During the course of my debate I googled “prostitution harms women” and it brought me to your article, I hope you do not mind but I was so struck by the raw, honest and heartending account you gave of your tragic experience that I sent the link to this person. As a result they were forced to concede that prostitution was an evil and that the victims of it needed protection from it, not legal documents allowing their suffering to continue. Anyway to cut a very long story short I would just like to thankyou very much for writing this wonderful article and to let you know it is making a difference in the way people perceive prostitution, I shall continue to make people aware of it as much as I can, God bless and Good luck xxx