My family was severely impoverished and I came to prostitution through homelessness and destitution.
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Many women mirror my entry point and many women mirror hers. A lot of women, tragically, mirror both.
Our stories are also different in other ways. I was prostituted from the age of fifteen to twenty-two, throughout most of the nineties. She was prostituted from twenty-one to twenty-six, through the latter half of the noughties I hate that term, but we have no other. I worked in all areas of prostitution; the streets, brothels, massage parlours and escort agencies.
She worked privately, in escort agencies, advertising online, which was an area of prostitution only taking off the same year I left it. I lived every moment of it as sexually abusive right there, as it was happening. This would obviously have made the experience of it more painful, but I strongly suspect it makes the memory of it less so.
On the subject of survivor memoirs: not in spite of how different, but rather because of how different, the memoirs of prostitution survivors compliment each other and are mutually strengthening, in a profoundly significant sense. This is because they cause people to understand that a woman or girl can come to prostitution through a myriad of circumstances, at any time, at any age, for many reasons, or for a mish-mash of reasons. Our different stories assert this. They emphasise and state and declare it. These are our truths. They are different truths, but they all end up in the same place — that mind-shattering reality of having your heart broken and your legs open on a brothels bed.
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The fact is that the blogs and books of every survivor who honestly lays down her story do not detract, but rather affirm the writings of other women. For all these reasons and other reasons besides, it is essentially important that the stories of survivor women stand alongside each other; just as us women must do and should do. We are all living the survival of the same pain and those of us who choose to speak out live all the same fears, are subject to all the same threats, suffer all the same traumas and are targeted at all the same points of our obvious vulnerabilities.
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Our sincerest warm wishes for each other are a healing balm that should be poured liberally and continually, with love and without restraint. Those posts will not be displayed here. As to the lies that have been circulated about me recently, well there is not much I can do about those. They are fairly obvious, most of them. This lie was constructed in order to query what business I have not being semi-literate. Because, you see, former prostitutes are supposed to be, apparently.
There are many others, each one less worth repeating than the last. These are common silencing tactics from the pro-prostitution lobby; all of us survivors experience them. Trafficking and Prostitution are two areas that are very easy to separate; and they would be, as they are inhabited by two groups of women whose experience is characterised by two different kinds of coercion, two different kinds of force. In one group, trafficked women, we will find the young Eastern European woman who has been tricked onto an international flight under the pretence that she is to be an au pair, only to find herself gang-raped and imprisoned in a brothel.
We will find the African teenaged girl who has been kidnapped and sold within the female slave trade, sometimes with the added psychological violence of voodoo rituals to incapacitate her mentally as well as physically. In Canada we will find young women and girls of native descent trafficked to brothels in numbers far disproportionate to the females of the white population, because their lives are deemed less valuable, because the western world has decided them to be so.
I will focus for a while on the situation here in Ireland, with which of course, being an Irish woman, I am most familiar. It focused on what was going on in Irish brothels, along with how they are organised and run. Some of the video footage was truly shocking. One Asian woman babbling, seemingly out of her mind on some substance, was not in a position to have a conversation, never mind involvement in any kind of sexual exchange. A young African woman described in broken English her years of sexual slavery in Ireland, beginning when she was only twenty years old:.
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She the pimp would text me the address of the place where they would tell me to go this day. The man called the woman that I refuse him sleeping with me.
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So I said, this is not the kind of life I want for myself, you know? The words of that African girl haunt me for two reasons. Firstly, because I feel such compassion for her.
Secondly, because I so identify with her, because the truth was, neither did I. I will include some text here from a blog I wrote this spring, which best explains the constraints of my own choices:. For many, choice is something perceived akin to standing in front of a deli-counter.
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Choose this, choose that, pick out your preferred option. Their concept of choice is rooted in the privilege of a genuine alternative. Their concept of choice itself is limited. When I think of my choices they were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger. Take your pick. I had a conversation recently with my sixty-something relative who is currently spending a few months visiting Ireland, after having lived forty years in America. It was a conversation my paternal grandmother had with the psychiatrist treating my parents in the local mental hospital.
My grandmother and this was before I was ever born had made an appointment with the doctor, very upset as she was that my manic-depressive father and his schizophrenic girlfriend had just announced their intention to marry. How could this marriage be stopped? How could these two very unwell people be allowed to go ahead and marry? The doctor told her that mental illness could not be used as a reason to curtail a persons civil liberties and that was his view of the matter.
But what, my grandmother wanted to know, would happen to any children born into that union?
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She was right to worry. It left us in state care, one after the other. And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order. And if we were to shift this situation into the deli-counter analogy, there is no young girl standing there deliberating on what choice to make. Those are her options. People will say and rightly say that the trafficked child or woman and the destitute child or woman constitute two different situations.
In both situations, choice has been severely constrained. In both situations, the fear of one outcome leads to another. Nobody sees this as a choice that she might be maligned for not making. In the case of the woman who is either in destitution or in fear of destitution, she can keep kicking and screaming mentally, and ignoring the reality of the economic threat against herself and her family, but people do see this as a choice that she is maligned for not making.
The bald-faced reality however is that both women are caught in two different versions of the same bind, and both women pay the same price for it. The difference is that the latter group of women pay an additional price — it is the price of a socially-assigned culpability. This situation would be better expressed by the likening to a pustule or a boil. The women documented were very racially and ethnically diverse. This left the viewer with one incontrovertible fact: the women whose bodies feed this trade are black women from Africa, brown women from South America, lighter-toned women from Asia and white women from several countries in Eastern Europe.
What links all these women from various ethnicities and nations? We are so used to thinking of slavery as being something that is imposed by one race upon another that we are now witnessing slavery being imposed by one gender upon another — without the capacity for recognising it for what it is — without the social competence to assign it its true name. The content, however, was revealing and important. Her attitude towards prostitution and the men who used her within it was starker, more marked and more undeniably fixed than anything expressed by any of the trafficked women.
The woman who said these words spent ten years in prostitution, and I must ask, do these sound like the words of a woman who made some kind of benign and autonomous choice? But women like myself understand, though our personal lived experience, that these are not two different individualised experiences. She can never say that because the world will never accept that, and she, consequently, must deal with a far greater weight of shame than the woman who can say she was physically forced.
I think we need to really examine, as a people, what we understand about the concepts of choice and force, and I think that until we do, we will never be able to decipher that murky hinterland with which the vast majority of prostituted women are intimately familiar; that place that bridges the gap between wanting to and having to; that place where so many women must occupy before they make a decision that is not a decision, a choice that is not a choice. It is a place that is imbued with a certain heaviness; the weight of an oppressive and secret force.
It is currently largely unrecognised — but it needs to be recognised. It needs to be unmasked. It needs to be understood for what it is.