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.
What a great post– and so spot on. Thank you so much for it. I will share widely.
Thank you for all your support Smash, it means a lot to me,
This is something I struggle with, as I was only prostituted as an adult. As such, it doesn’t matter to most people the circumstances. They get stuck on the age. As if a lifetime of being violently sexualized and exploited doesn’t matter. I was over 18, therefore it’s all on me, and not the sociopathic pimp behind the scenes. Thank you for speaking up about this. I find myself so angered over the division of ages of victims that are deemed worthy of help in agencies that are there to help. I have the same issue with the public perception that those prostituted indoors have more choice and personal agency, when they are just as in need of help.
You’re very welcome A. I agree that these agencies need to wake up. What they need to understand is that by being selective about who they are prepared to help they are passively condemning those they see to fall outside of their remit.
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Great post. Thanks for speaking out. What you had to live through absolutely boggles my mind. I’m glad you made it out and can talk about it.
This is terrific and brave. Thanks for posting.
I don’t know firsthand, but I have heard others criticize the advocacy groups for undermining their own cause by pretending some prostitution is voluntary and trying to shame or silence anyone who criticizes this view. The dividing process seems to me like a legalistic way to disappear older victims. Refusing to acknowledge anything but the absolute extreme of the age range only supports the status quo. Pretending that in a world where women are the sex class, any kind of prostitution can be truly voluntary, only helps to support a soul-crushing status quo.
Really great post, thank you. Shared.
Thank you all for your comments. It is nice to know my words are being heard,
I also applaud your standing up and speaking out. This is an extremely nasty situation and has nothing to do with the woman or in some cases even young boys choosing this situation. It is the coercion, lack of truth and humiliation that runs rampant in the sex trades . There is a lot of slavery going on. Please check my blog for my article on Slavery Exists Today.
Sexual Abuse is Sexual Abuse. PERIOD! Regardless of biological age. It is soul murder! And I find it evil! You are to be applauded for speaking out and challenging perceptions.
Your comments are definitely heard never doubt that….you do a good thing…this planet has come a long way….but we have a lot longer to go…in some ways we still live caves of our own making… I love your brave words because they instill bravery in others and lend a voice to the ones who yet need to be saved….Thank you.
Amazing articulation of the industry. I have been ignorant. I greatly appreciate your sharing and enlightening me.
I greatly appreciate your hearing me. Thank you Pamela.
Deeply moving, in the way that only the starkest truths are. Shared.
Thank you Terre. Your unwavering support to this issue is a sincere comfort to us all, x
These kinds of stories MUST be told. Thank you for sharing. A girl’s body, a woman’s body, it doesn’t matter – no means no.
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Thanks for posting this. I recently watched a documentary film about a journalist trying to pick call girls in Cuba named ‘Cuba Prostitution’. You can watch full documentary film here.
Thank you everyone for the supportive comments lately, and suesilver, I truly enjoyed your blog,
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Very eye opening and moving
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I’ve nominated you for a blogger award. Please visit http://souldestructionblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/silver-quill-blogger-award/ if you would like to see the post and nominate others to continue the award. With love, Ruth x
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Great post. Thanks for your honesty
Free Irish Woman,
Thank you so much for your bravery and your taking a stand to help those who are hurting. I am an American lady who is just learning about prostitution and trafficking. As I’m sure you know, the USA has people who want to legalize prostitution. Through studying, I’ve come to the conclusion that no offenses should be charged against prostitutes, but rather prostitutes should be allowed to file charges against sex buyers. What is your advice for me please? I would like to peaceably fight to rescue and protect those in forced prostitution. I greatly appreciate what you are doing in getting the word out concerning the injustices prostitutes face. It is helping me so much to read what you write. Even though I’m an American who greatly loves my country the USA, my ancestors are Irish/Scottish/English and I feel a connection with you, both as a woman and as a person who loves Ireland and the earth. Blessings!
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Prostitution is just another form of slavery. I don’t know when the world will wake up to this fact. More and more people should read this blog. It gives profound insights into womanhood.
Hi. I agree with you. I have worked on and off for a helping agency for 24 years. When I originally approached it I outright stated that my goal was to help women exit the industry.
Over the years the attitude in the organisation and who approaches it has become more and more pro-prostitution. Some, not all, of my colleagues say they loved it and never felt harmed by it. I have always respected each woman’s right to define her own experience.
Lately however, it seems any negative experience is seen as ‘anti what we’re doing’. Im staying! Im not going anywhere. I experienced it as damaging, harmful, soul crushing and outright abusive. I state this openly in an environment very afraid to hear it.
I am 40 years old and I was 14 when it began. Prostitution felt like I was controlling my abuse. It was one step up from living at home where the only abuse I could control was cutting myself to try and make myself undesirable to ‘him’. I left, I returned, I left, I returned… Exiting prostitution was not a one time deal and was not easy. It was financial coersion that caused my frequent returns.
One day in my early 20s I went around the ‘parlours’ (now called brothels) and one of the owners told me that a man had come in and asked for him to arrange a virgin, tge younger the better “if you know what I mean”. Despite this man’s business being prostituting women, he drew a line at this, child rape. He and I, oeganised a set up with the police. A girl who was around 15 or 16 posed as a 12 year old. The room was being recorded, she said her age, money got exchanged and this criminal pedophile was arrested.
People in the industry automatically assume it’s harmful to a child while simultaneously refusing to believe its harmful to adults.
I believe in decriminalisation to ensure prostituted women do not also fall victim to police. Also, to ensure agencies can find and help women in the industry, irrespective of their choice to continue or exit. I personally, never tell a woman what she ‘should’ do but instead ask, “In an ideal world, where would you be, what would your life look like? Ok, lets see. How can we get you from here to there?” Inevitably, every woman, no matter her age, says something that has nothing to do with prostitution!
Seriously. Even the college-aged women who claim they’re choosing prostitution to get through school complain that no other job they could get pays anything like a living wage. All I can think is, “Thanks for admitting you didn’t really choose this. You went into it because you thought you needed the money. That’s not a free choice.”
Thank you for such an eloquent and searing piece of writing that shows the reality of the arbitrary nature of the divides in prostitution. Bravo
Beautifully written. Wisely reasoned. As painfully true today as when you wrote it. Thank you, Rachel.