Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Face of Oppression

We live in a culture that oppresses women. Many women have internalized that oppression. It is sold us every day on tv and in womens magazines, in social interractions, in common views and myths about gender differences and rape, in the mainstreaming of pornography. We are told how to look, how to dress, how to please our men. We have filled our breasts with silicone, turned our bodies orange, starved ourselves, learned what is expected of us in the bedroom (everything) and waxed our bikini lines to nothing to be what we’re told men want us to be. We now say we do it to make ourselves feel good. We are taught we’re not good enough as we are, we change ourselves and sexually objectify ourselves to be accepted and we say that say we choose it. It makes us feel good: we’ve done what we’re told that we ought to.

Does saying that we choose this make us powerful or powerless? Where do we get our norms and ideals? If the sex industry tells us that when a woman looks a certain way, acts a certain way - always sexually available - and ‘uses’ her sexuality by selling herself, that this is the height of women’s liberation and empowerment, does that make it true? Or have we been conned by a change of goalposts and a change of language?

In such an environment of oppression, is it fair to say, as do those who argue in favour of porn and prostitution, that individual women freely choose to engage in ‘sex work’? The word ‘choice’ implies an even playing field, a number of feasible options to be chosen from, freedom from financial, physical and mental constraints, the possibility to reverse a decision and quit at any time without repercussions. The statistics around porn and prostitution clearly indicate that this is not the case*. What the pro-sex industry lobby term ‘choice’ I call internalised oppression. That’s the very opposite.

       *  See:

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Women In Debt: The Sex Industry Trap

According to the news the number of unemployed women is at its highest level for 25 years. The budget has hit women hard. At times like this, the misinformation women are being constantly sold about ‘sex work’ makes it seem like a tempting option, an easy way to quick money.

Women in Debt ( puts it like this:

‘How far would you go to avoid debt, or to pay off debts you’re struggling to cope with? Shockingly, the answer from some women is ‘all the way’. In summer last year, an American website hit the headlines for offering college students the opportunity to pay off their university debts by dating ‘sugar daddies’ – wealthy older men willing to pay large sums to ‘spend time’ with young ladies. And sadly, the practice now seems to have spread to the UK.

With rising living and rental costs and the introduction of university tuition fees, many female students have resorted to literally selling their bodies to solve their financial problems. From pole dancing and stripping in nightclubs to full-on prostitution, 10% of students now say they know someone who’s funding their time at university through the sex industry.’

Depressingly but rather predictably, the website then went on to say that ‘at least these women have a choice’. A choice? Is it a choice to be driven to sell your body by economic necessity? If there were other options available, would women really be ‘choosing’ this?

Ten years ago, 74% of women cited poverty as the primary motivator for entering prostitution (Melrose, 2002). And ten years ago, it was estimated that around 80,000 women were in prostitution in the UK (Kinnell 1999), both figures likely to have risen and to continue to rise given the economic climate. This should be of real concern, given the common ‘side effects’ of prostitution. 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment (Ramsey et al 1993). More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted (Home Office 2004b). The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a).*

The answer is not to ‘make prostitution safer’ or ‘make it legal’ as some would mistakenly argue. There is nothing safe about prostitution, indoors or outdoors. Put it in a pretty room with a nice bedspread and you still have a woman being fucked by stranger after stranger. Making it legal serves only to protect pimps and re-label them as ‘businessmen’. The physical and psychological damage experienced by women in prostitution doesn’t just go away because it’s indoors, or socially acceptable, or deemed to be ‘just another job’. Re-labelling instead makes the harms done to women in prostitution invisible: it takes away the language of reality. We replace the language of economic desperation with the language of choice, replace degradation and abuse with 'work'.

There is no other 'job' like prostitution, and I include in that bracket stripping, lapdancing and pornography as well as escorting, massage parlours and street corners. I know of no other ‘job’ where you are bought (or sold) and treated as a human slave, to be called names and penetrated for the sexual gratification of man after man, told to look like you enjoy it and say it turns you on, having to dissociate from your body simply to get through.

Problem is, for women who have watched ‘Diary of A Call Girl’ and read endless women’s magazines where ‘sex work’ is painted as being not just easy money but empowering and a bit of a thrill, there is a lack of information on which to base a well-informed decision (even supposing a woman is free to choose). As a society, we are grooming girls and women for 'sex work'. The media portrayal of ‘sex work’ has nothing to do with its realities. Every chat show graced by a smiling ‘porn star’, every magazine article or book promoting sex work as liberating and fun (often using the voices of women in sex work) is an advert, a money maker – we are being sold the idea of being sold! Why? Because the porn profiteers, the sex industry profiteers, the guys at the top (not the women used in it) want us to keep on buying it, to keep lining their pockets. The fact that they use the voices of women trapped in it is nothing more than a PR stunt. Since when were you free to bad mouth your employer, particularly when that employer has untold power at his disposal, and you were financially (if not physically or psychologically) dependent? Their voices, yes, but speaking the words given them, not their own, mouthpieces giving credence to an industry which will use them in every possible way - and then throw them away in favour of ‘fresh pussy’.

I have been exited for 5 years and I still struggle everyday with PTSD, with trust, with sleeping and eating and living a normal life. And I am not an aberration as the statistics show. Other exited women I have met tell the same story – the details vary but the ‘side effects’ don’t. Women get in the prostitution trap and accrue damage which serves to keep them there. Poverty is compounded by substance abuse and up to 95% of women in prostitution are problematic drug users, including around 78% heroin users and rising numbers of crack cocaine addicts (Home Office 2004a).* Not something you hear talked about a lot in all the pro-sex industry hot air being constantly churned out, but a reality. Prostitution hurts and drink and drugs help make it bearable, help numb you out, but keep you trapped there, strapped for cash.

No one is as much the object of myth, of fear of ridicule and of hatred as the prostitute. People talk about the ‘oldest profession’ (as if that excused woman hating!), ‘choice’, ‘liberation of sexuality’ but it’s just so much talk. Ask a woman in the industry if she enjoys it and she’ll tell you she does, because she has to. It is unsafe for her to do otherwise, the people who surround her (but out of sight) – her ‘manager’, her ‘madam’, her ‘pimp’ – will not let her say different. And to survive what happens to you, you live in denial anyway. You can’t acknowledge the damage, can’t acknowledge the danger until you’re out and safe, and even then it’s hard to face something so incredibly painful.

If you’re lucky enough to exit prostitution, and not become another statistic, someone else who died there, you have to face an unpalatable truth:

I was bought

Men, ugly men, fat men, smelly men, sadistic men, old men, young men, angry men, sleazy men touched me, whispered sick little fantasies in my ear and leered at me and fucked me and stared at me, had one over me

And it hurt

And I had to smile and say I loved it and please do all those sordid things you just said because, ah, baby, you make me cum

And that body was me

And that body is me

And that voice was mine but the words weren’t, they were lines given me, that I had to say in an attempt to stay safe, another dignity taken from me

And it doesn’t matter if I was using a working name because he was looking at me when he said it and touching me when he said it

And when he went away and laughed about it with his friends and looked at the pictures on his mobile it was me

Not too easy to come to terms with. You’re in for a lot of self-hatred and body issues and PTSD if not addiction problems. Being prostituted changes everything: the effects are long term and some irreversible. You can never look at the world quite the same way, look at people quite the same way because you know what they’re capable of. You know what men are capable of and you know there’s a whole army of people out there willing to defend to the hilt the ‘right’ of women to be treated just as you were because they do not understand, or will not understand, what it means for a woman to be bought and sold, an object to be wanked over and then walked away from.

The statistics remain for the most part hidden, the realities for the most part hidden, drowned out by the omnipresent background hum of the sex-industry. But I've found my voice. I had to say I liked it then but now I’m free to tell the truth. I am one of a growing number of voices of women who have been used and discarded by the sex industry who are joining forces and putting the truth out there because it’s vital that women know the realities of prostitution. And given the economic climate and its effect on women, it’s a matter of urgency. The doorway to quick and easy cash? More like the doorway to hell.

* for statistics see

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Lighting A Candle: The Battle for Words

To write, you must have energy above and beyond that necessary just to get through the day. I haven’t written for a while quite simply because I have lacked the energy. All the energy I possess has been channeled into surviving. Things are shifting and it’s painful, even if it’s good. Sometimes the pain is absolutely overwhelming – physical, mental, spiritual. I keep my head down and weather the storm. There are no quick fixes in recovery and boy, do I hate that! I do all the right things, but that doesn’t always mean I feel better – at least, not immediately. Opening up about my past seems to mean feeling worse in the short term.

When things have been really black I think, I can’t do this anymore. Too much, it’s too much. I feel raw and broken and scared and hurt and damaged, damaged beyond repair. And I’m exhausted from not sleeping, and my body hurts with PTSD and my mind’s full of technicolour images of the abuse, the scents, the sounds, the feelings. Enveloped with pain, frozen and mute with trauma, it chases through my mind: I simply can’t do this anymore.

But you know, what are the options? I contemplate suicide but I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to feel like this, to hurt like this. The survival instinct which brought me through the abuse and into recovery burns deep at the core of my being. So I put one foot in front of the other and do what I can to look after myself, to take care of myself, to pull through this, now as then.

Facing my past without drink and drugs to take the edge off, seeing my absolute powerlessness, experiencing fully the horror and pain and degradation that was my life is absolutely terrifying. I struggle to talk about what’s in my head: the realization of the brutality and humiliation to which I was subjected make the words stick in my mouth, make my lips seal together, form a dry sob in my throat. I’ve never felt more alone. But I do have help these days in the form of my therapist and my sponsor. I am doing the right things, trying to talk, trying to trust, trying to heal.

An old Chinese proverb says ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’. In taking care of myself as best I know, in keeping going, in riding it out, in being proactive in challenging the lies of the sex industry by telling my story, whether people choose to listen or not, that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking action, even if that action is painful and scary and feels woefully inadequate at times. Keep putting in the right actions, and no matter how slowly, things begin to change for the better. There's a long way to go, both in my personal recovery and in the larger scheme of things. But I'm in it for the long haul. It's the only way to be.