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 (www.womenindebt.co.uk) 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 www.object.org.uk/the-prostitution-facts

35 comments:

  1. Dear Angel, thank you for your latest post. As always it is inspiring and nails the system. Would you like to add your voice to this comment thread - in particular the, rather long, utterly patronising comment, by a poster called 'Tim'. I understand if you would rather not.
    http://alturl.com/nbrph

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  2. Thanks for this. I've just looked at the site you mention - I love what you wrote. I'm having some difficulty being able to leave a comment but I'll have another bash from a different computer and see if that works. This kind of moronic defence of the indefensible definitely needs answering!

    In solidarity

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  3. The doorway to quick and easy cash? More like the doorway to hell.

    Perfectly said

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  4. thank you for that post from the heart. i respect you for speaking out, standing up for women all over the world, for having the courage to keep sharing thoughts with the rest of us.

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  5. Thanks for this post, I really love your writing. These stats on female student prostitution mostly just serves to promote it to other female students and recruit those who may not have thought about it before (look! so many female students are doing it now! It's the norm! It's cool, choicey and liberating!)and promote it to potential male buyers of rape (see all those students desperate to be raped! go for it!)

    What's awful too is that this shows the scam of "equal opportunities" and women entering the male work world. Women's chances are scrapped from the very beginning, so men can be sure that even at university, no matter how many degrees women have, women will always remain the rapeable class. It's not a coincidence either that having a degree is almost the only way for a women to get any chance of having some degree of economic autonomy because men simply will only coopt other men. Pushing women students more into prostitution is like trashing one of the only lifebelts women have gained. It's such a farce.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. My thought when I read that Women In Debt had said these women have a choice was: what a backward kind of statement. It's no kind of choice! As you say, if women have to prostitute themselves to pay for their education we're taking a massive, massive step backwards.

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  6. tell it like it is...you speak the truth

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  7. That was an AMAZING summary!!!!

    Thank you so much, you have an amazing talent for writing x

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  8. Angel, I'm in tears. Thank you for the force and honesty of your voice. You are true north. You are brilliant.

    Re: 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.

    YES

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  9. Wow, I can definitely relate to this. I find it incredibly difficult to trust men because, like you, I know what they're capable of. It is disturbing how many young women, and some young men, are pulled into the sex industry by economic necessity. Keep up the great work you're doing here! It is definitely being heard.

    My Testimony
    www.antipornography.org/jacks_child_sex_abuse_story.html

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  10. Thanks for your comment. Just about to follow your link :-)
    In solidarity

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  11. Thank you, if you have any comforting words of support, I'd appreciate that so much :)

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  12. I've just re-read your story. So powerful! I've left a message for you there too. I'm really glad we made contact :-) Thanks for sharing. You are amazing - just to have survived is an achievement, but you are also helping others by speaking out.

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  13. Thank you Angel. Another amazing and moving post. I love your voice, your realness, your honesty and how it feels like you're digging into your soul to share your truth. Best wishes, Ruth x

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  14. Thank you, Ruth, for taking the time to leave a comment. It really helps!
    In solidarity

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  15. I can't tell you how much your blog has helped me. As a 19 year old student living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I went into the sex trade out of sheer desperation. I earned more money than I thought possible, but I felt lonely, absolutely worthless and lived in fear of being found out.

    I exited after about a year and a half, thinking it had left no scars but how wrong I was. I was raped twice, something which I'm only starting to deal with now, after blocking it out for so long. I thought I could successfully compartmentalise, and disconnect myself from my second life, but it's been coming back to haunt me. Reading your blog has made me realise that I'm not the only one who feels like this, and I think it will really help me deal with my PTSD in the future. Thank you.

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  16. Thank you so much for writing, Anon. Wishing you all the very best on your journey to healing. These things take time so be good to yourself. I can't recommend enough getting a therapist - but one who understands what prostitution really means, not a pro-porn / sex industry idiot.

    You are definitely not alone.
    In solidarity
    Angel

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  17. As a male who loves & lives with an ex prostitute I am so glad someone is speaking out against this evil, unfair & sadistic treatmeant of women. I don't understand how a man could bring themselves to fuck a girl that they know doesn't really want it. No matter what lie they tell themselves they know deep down it's rape. I hate men who pay for sex, I'd like to kick there arses so badly.

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  18. Thanks, Anon. I too would like to kick their arses!

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  19. Thank you so much you explained exactly how I feel I could not have said it better. I believe I suffer from ptsd. I'm 20 and I sold myself for about a year now it is haunting me. I kept it a secret and trusted people with my secret. And now those people are threating to let everyone know and I honestly don't think I can bear that.

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  20. I'm sorry you're going through that. Just what you didn't need - a reminder some people can't be trusted. Hope it all works out ok and email me if there's anything I can do to help. It still amazes me how the women in the sex industry are used and exposed in every way while the men stay hidden. Take care of yourself - you're worth it :-)

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  21. Thank you for this. I left 8mos ago & have been struggling mentally/emotionally far more than I expected.

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  22. Wishing you all the best in your journey, Avery.

    In solidarity

    Angel

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  23. I have a serious case of PTSD and because I am somewhat in the public eye as an entertainer a lot of people found out about my dirty lil secret.

    They posted it on that horrible website The Dirty and I constantly live in fear of my past being exposed to employers and others.

    I choose not to confirm or deny this information; because I have no way of defending my reasons other than to say it was for the money. I was a single mother in need of quick cash, I had literally no food in my cupboards or fridge. I came to realize I could make a lot of money fast. But it never lasted because I would drink or do drugs to numb myself and spend it on "work clothes"

    It is going to be 4 yrs that I have been out of the industry and it is still haunting me to this day. I deal with harsh comments and being exposed on websites and my reputation is put at risk. I don't know how to handle it. I have been sober for 9 weeks and right now all I wanna do is run from this shame I feel and die. Last night I received an inbox from a random unknown person bashing me and claiming I was still involved. A couple years ago a man found out about my past very rudely asked me why I didn't offer him a massage. I am looking for some resources in helping me deal with this guilt and shame I feel. So if you know of any that be greatly appreciated.

    I am proud to say I have legitimate job in Administration and Customer Service. But I don't want my past to continually have me living in fear of being exposed.

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  24. Hi there, thanks for writing to me. Firstly: nice one for getting out. So many people remain trapped in the desperate poverty trap you described. Second: nine weeks is fantastic! It does get easier one day at a time. Early sobriety is tough because you get all your feelings back, and all that stuff you'd tried to push under the carpet with the drink and drugs can resurface. I hope you've got some good support there - for me, AA was a real lifesaver, other people filled with guilt and shame even if for different reasons!
    In terms of resources, I emailed Object (against objectification of women - google them) and they were very supportive, emailing me back and I met up with a couple of people there too. Survivors Connect Network is an online meeting place for women who have exited prostitution to get support, I am a member of that too. Also worth a look is www.antipornography.org, which has information about the damage done by sex work and also survivors' stories.
    If, like me, however, you prefer face to face help, I really recommend going for therapy. Don't be put off by or put up with any old therapist though - I've found lots of therapists don't understand squat about prostitution and they actually did me quite a bit of damage. If one doesn't work out, try another (BACP approved of course!). Nothing beats someone listening and helping work through stuff with you in person.
    Fear of being exposed is something I identify with - like you, I've worked hard to create a 'normal' life and I value it beyond measure.
    Finally, it sounds to me like you're doing really well. It takes guts to change and even more than that to stick with it, especially when you have full on PTSD. Keep on doing what you're doing, one foot in front of the other, and it will get better.
    In solidarity and with love
    Angel

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  25. I was a high class escort for 4 years, i have exited the industry 5 years ago and i am still struggling too, sometimes i feel tempted to go back to it since relationships have become impossible (we know too much... i always catch them seeing escorts or other women). I would like to be strong enough not to go back to it but the financial return in a very difficult time (potential insolvency) keeps coming back to my mind. I have cleared myself from a lot of damage the last few years and fear being damaged yet again returning to the industry even if only for a few months. I will look for the support you mentioned but feel embarrassed because deep inside i know the answer and how deep the wounds are even when we think we are having a great time with the odd nice and caring punter. We do get addicted to the quick escape from financial troubles and we use that to numb ourselves.

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    1. You're right, relationships are difficult after prostitution. Trust is easily lost but not so easy to restore. You say that you have cleared away a lot of the damage in the last few years which must have taken a good deal of effort and courage. It would be such a shame to undo all that you've done by returning to escorting, however briefly. Financially, there are other options: it might be worth looking into benefits if you're not sure if you're eligible or not. You are worth so much more than the old life you've escaped! However hard it may seem staying away if things are tight financially, going back will be harder. I nearly went back a few years ago, I even spoke to one of the women I 'worked' with, I was in a really bad space and I'm so glad that at the last minute I pulled the plug on it. The damage is quick to accumulate and so much slower to clear.
      Things will get better, headwise, in time -relationships included. You are doing amazingly!
      In solidarity, and with love
      Angel

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  26. I left prostitution 8 years ago and it still haunts me - a silent torture. I see an old client at a shopping centre and even though he does not recognise me, I break into a sweat, my hands shake and my breathing quickens. I was not abused as a child, nor a drug addict - I used it to pay for my degree and when I couldn't get a job after my degree I prostituted myself. I look like a married, successful mother with it all but a part of me was destroyed and the psychological impact is a painful reminder which never goes away. It's disgusting the way prostitution is glamourised.

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  27. Thanks for your comment :-) It's always great to hear from another survivor.
    Be good to yourself!
    In solidarity
    Angel

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  28. I have been selling myself for the past 2 years. I would go months without and then relapse and getting quick cash would be all I thought about. I told some family members and friends recently and although they tried to comfort me I could tell they didn't understand fully how the PTSD was affecting me. I have reached out to mental health services to help but I was made to feel like I had bought all my problems on myself and not really offered any help to deal with the thoughts and feelings I was having.

    Thank You for writing what so many others have been through but can't put into words, I hope one day that I will be able to access support and move on with my life without the constant reminder of the past. xx

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  29. I'm so sorry to hear that the mental health 'support' services have been so unsupportive. I have found that some therapists have no idea what they're talking about and have the same misunderstandings about prostitution as many other people. However, I for me, finding a good therapist has been really important for dealing with PTSD and trying to make sense of things and move on. I booked one session with few different therapists to find one who I knew I could trust and would understand, and as well as giving them a little bit about why I wanted therapy I also put them on the spot and asked their views on pornography and the sex industry. It's a good way of disregarding any numpties without getting hurt by them and wasting time and money. Some therapists are willing to negotiate fees - I can't afford anything like £90 an hour! Although finding the money can be difficult at times I view it as a priority these days.

    I really hope you are able to try reaching out again for help. There are some really great therapists out there if you can find them and they are like gold dust, worth hanging onto :-)

    In solidarity and with love

    Angel x

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  30. Thank you so much for this post. I feel disgusted with myself everyday. I feel like I stole my teen years from myself. I am now 18 and I will never forget but this post helps me see I am not alone and I MUST carry on despite the mind numbing pain.

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  31. Sending you a big hug. Things do get better in time. Be good to yourself!
    love
    Angel x

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  32. I've just discovered your blog & find tremendous strength in your words. I entered prostitution four years ago to pay for university, and on paper it seemed like a fast-track to getting debt free and educated. As the years have gone by the realities of the choice I made have become apparent. I thought I was taking the easy/lazy option that would benefit me in the long run, but now see that choosing this work has taken me down a dark path from which I don't ever feel I'll be lucky enough to escape. I do not have normal social interactions, I do not trust people, I find it impossible to respect my body by eating well because I am still allowing strangers to hurt and molest my body several times a week - it just seems so paradoxical. My soul is destroyed, I look haggard, I can't sleep. I've begun the path to exit but realise that all the years I thought I was taking the fast-track route to success, I was actually making it much more difficult for myself to re-enter the normal work force, especially in this tough economic climate (as aside from my degree, which is in creative arts, I don't really have any useful skills). If only I'd known what damage I was doing to myself. I so admire those that have managed to exit prostitution. In many ways I feel that because I ignorantly chose his work, I don't deserve to find a normal job, but I'll keep trying. The difference between me and the men that pay to take sex from me is that I recognise and accept the choice I made to do this work, and I see the damage it has done to me. I honestly don't think the johns will ever look honestly at themselves and their choices, and I no longer try to engage with them in such conversations. I long for the day I'm free & can simply walk away from men who view women and sex the way they do.

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  33. Thanks for your honesty, Anon. You are worth so much more than what you're going through. It is possible to exit - hard, but possible. Let me know if I can help in any way signposting etc. The johns are wilfully ignorant and refuse to take responsibility, putting it back on us. I'm just doing some campaigning to make real changes at the moment - so stay tuned, will write more when we launch.
    It's so worth getting out - you do deserve a much better life. The damage is deep but things do get better.
    Big hug, try and be good to yourself
    Angel x

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