Julie Bindel has a new book coming out this summer on prostitiution, and has recently given an interview with the International Business Times on some of her experiences while writing it. She talks about the ‘Nordic Model’ – and how it is that many NGO’s (such as Amnesty International) can support legalization when reality shows it to be ineffective. The link to the 20+ minute podcast is here (click) – and if you’re at all interested in her ‘radical feminist‘ approach to things like prostitution, pornography, gender-issues and what not, follow her on Twitter for a while. You won’t be disappointed.
While on the subject, I read a book not so long ago titled Prostitution Narratives. It’s a take off on the Slave Narrative that gave those who’ve lived and breathed the actual slave experience a voice of their own, and in that sense it’s a brutally honest and insightful look into the behind the scenes world of prostitution the average person will never experience. Like slavery, I feel prostitution too should be abolished as its fundamental purpose makes the prostituted person an object. Many argue ‘sex work’ is akin to any other job that will have a worker wear their body down over time, but the difference is that a regular job has you abuse your body for an external product, whereas in prostitution the product is the person themselves. It’s a traumatic affair because of this, and profoundly affects the lives of most who find themselves involved.
Here are a few excerpts that caught my attention from Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade. If anything grabs your interest, I highly recommend getting a copy. It’s less than $15 on kindle.
Men who frequent prostitutes have a sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to abuse and use any woman, whenever they want. To support these industries is to be in denial. The work chips away at you. At first I found it fascinating and exciting but it’s like tiny pinpricks over and over that become deflating. No woman should have to resort to prostitution. Although some tell themselves it’s a choice, it is more that they are in denial that is a survival strategy that gets you through the night.
Why didn’t I just walk away? After all, no one was holding a gun to my head, right? But the gun doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be psychological. And that is every bit as persuasive and threatening.
Instead of learning that my body was private, mine, something special to treasure and look after, I learned that it was a commodity to be used exclusively for the pleasure of men in exchange for money or goods. A concept that even all these years later I was yet to unlearn.
Some say they love their job. I caution them that it may look glamorous at first, but that the ongoing abuse of our body without consideration for our mind and soul is extremely destructive for a person’s life.
We do not report when we are conned or violated —it is part of ‘the job’. I gained great strength when by accident I came across Sheila Jeffreys’ book The Idea of Prostitution in 2009.1 All of a sudden I understood the deeply dehumanising nature of the sex industry. Everything fell into place; Sheila’s view of feminism was ‘radical’: she analysed the root cause of women’s oppression.
Losing seven years of my life being a hole for men’s pleasure is violence.
What was important to me was that my act, each time, was convincing so I could get the most money from them.
I was gagged, choked, gang raped, pushed, pulled by the legs, shoved, yelled at, threatened, lied to, anally raped, filmed and photographed naked with and without my consent. I had to put up with foul-smelling clients, obese clients with flabs of skins completely hiding their penis (and you have to find it), nervous, dangerous men on hard drugs, men who drugged me without my consent. For example —and this shows how naive I was —one of my regular clients liked to take cocaine in the room and constantly offered me some to get high with him. I always refused. But the shifty ones would put some powder on their tongue just before going down on me. The drug travelled through the skin into my blood vessels and a short time later I was not myself anymore. I lost control: the drug had kicked in. I felt nervous and stressed. I didn’t like the feeling of derailment of my thoughts that these drugs often provoked.
In prostitution, people are simply used. The money earned is an illusion of power. Real power is found in mutual respect, compassion and giving to others. These values do not exist in the world of prostitution.
I didn’t ‘choose’ prostitution: a mixture of the culture I lived in during the 1990s, ‘sex-positive’ feminism and a longing to be loved by my biological papa who had abandoned my siblings, mother and me, chose it for me. Poverty chose it for me. Anger chose it for me. Wanting to be loved chose it for me. I fooled myself into believing that if I was having sex, then I was being loved. With this faulty thinking, my secret transition to prostitution was relatively easy.
As you’ve heard, I worked in ‘higher-end’ legal and illegal brothels. I was in the ‘safer end’ of the industry. I did street prostitution only once. Sometimes I wonder which is worse: the prostitution I endured –which I insisted was my ‘choice,’ a requisite of the ‘job’ –or having to listen to people defend it now. The prostitution itself –the men, one after the other, after the other, after the other, with their sad and lonely stories (but they wanted the sex), with their entitlement (they had a right to the sex), their hostility (they demanded the sex), the violence, (they paid more to hurt me for sex or just hurt me in the course of it). All men from different walks of life who believed they had a right to me because, well, I was there. On top of me, inside me, around me, touching me, grabbing at me, trying to kiss me, ignoring me if I was exhausted or upset and doing it anyway, some even apologising to me, but doing it anyway. Some complaining about me (oh and I suffered for that!) but coming back to do it again anyway, or finding another woman who hadn’t forgotten to take her valium that day like I had –but who had just enough valium to dissociate but not look like she had, and most importantly, remembered to smile. And they call this ‘sex work’?
When will society begin to let go of the lies and learn the truth that prostitution itself is a violation of human rights, and this is not changed by ‘choice’?
When clients were really rough with me I would cry or even pray while they were pounding. I didn’t even try to pretend with the rough ones anymore. I am not religious but I found comfort in softly praying while a client was pounding the shit out of me. I found praying got my mind off what they were doing to me. Sometimes clients could hear me pray but it didn’t stop them brutalising me.
So I had to start degrading myself even further. I started to do sick shit I would never have done before. This meant bondage where I beat men until they bled, using strap-ons and fucking and fisting men up the arse. It made me feel so revolting. One time a really old man came in with a catheter. Fucking a man with a catheter is a truly sickening experience.
I was also drinking before my shift because I found the number of clients I was seeing really stressful. The men I saw became a blur. Some were married and would complain about their wives not putting out. Others were single and lonely. Some young men were just horny and wanted someone to pound into and get their rocks off. The odd one was pissed off and wanted someone to jam their dick into as hard as possible. Some were old men who just wanted fresh meat. They came from all walks of life. You could never tell if they were going to be an easy client or someone who would be rough and treat you like a whore. The ones who were really nice were the hardest because when they were nice it made me want to cry (I don’t know why).
I hurt when I see people viewing prostitution as a victimless activity and shouting loudly for its legalisation. They forget the stark reality of what it does to an individual’s soul. It aches when people argue about ‘choice’ when virtually every sexual service provider only ‘decides’ to sell sex, at best, due to a lack of better options, or as a means of escaping violence at the hands of someone forcing them to submit to sexual exploitation.
Still, I feel as though I have so little of ‘me’ left because I spent so much of my life pretending to be someone else. I still feel like an escort on the inside years later, one that just hasn’t turned a trick in a while. The day I received my first legitimate paycheck I broke down sobbing because it was the first bit of money I’d earned in the previous seven years where I didn’t have to lay on my back and spread my legs.
The fantasy that there was something noble in devoting myself to giving men affection, offering my body to prop up their self-esteem in exchange for money and being grateful for occasional kindness and superficial affection, was wearing thin.
Prostitutes exist only because men like you feel you have the right to satisfy your sexual urges using the orifices of other people’s bodies. Prostitutes exist because you and your peers feel that your sexuality requires access to sex whenever it suits you. Prostitutes exist because you are a misogynist, and because you are more concerned with your own sexual needs than relationships in which your sexuality could actually flourish.
People always ask me how the criminalisation of buyers would have helped me while I was in prostitution. My answer is this: If it had been a crime to buy women for sexual pleasure then I would have known that what these men were doing was wrong. For a long time I blamed myself, thinking that it was my own fault. I chose to be a prostitute. I gave them the opportunity to buy me. I took their money. How could I blame them? How could I blame anyone else but myself? But I am sure I would have left prostitution much earlier if I the law had been on my side. Because then I would have known that what these men were doing was wrong.
When a person is paid for sex they are being paid precisely because of the fact the sex is unwanted. Sexual autonomy cannot exist when a person is sexual for any reason outside their own desire, for their own pleasure. The sacrifice of my bodily autonomy was precisely what I was being paid for.
It is the choices that men make because they have the power to make those choices because of cultural norms, lack of education and harmful legal frameworks. This is the real reason girls and women are prostituted.
It is important to understand the links between the psychological trauma which results from prostitution, followed by the introduction of drugs either by a client, staff or other prostituted women and how this combination is the noose that tightens and traps girls like me in ‘legal’ sex work. The constant bombardment of trauma and the drugs to escape it creates an inability to function outside of addiction, hence the need for quick cash through sex work, reinforcing a cycle that is not easy to break. So women get literally trapped in the industry.