Refuting the lies, debunking the myths
There’s nothing quite like receiving the first copy of the new book you’ve just had published, in the mail. You take it out of its packaging. You run your hands over the cover. You flick through (hoping no mistakes will leap out!). You turn it around in your hands. You read the back page, struck anew by the wonderful acknowledgements other writers, activists and academics you hold in highest esteem, wrote for you. You think of the friends who urged you on to the finish line. And how fortunate you’ve been to have a publisher who believes in your work and backs you all the way.
The feelings evoked are right up there with the birth of your children. OK, not quite. Four children. And now, five books, safely delivered.
Prostitution Narratives Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade is my fourth book with Spinifex Press (Defiant Birth, Getting Real, Big Porn Inc, now this one). And my first co-authored with Dr. Caroline Norma. When I first had the idea for a collection of first-person accounts of formerly prostituted women, I knew it couldn’t happen without Caroline, who is a leading authority on prostitution and trafficking globally.
Harm rendered visible
With a prologue by Irish abolitionist Rachel Moran, who tells her story in her autobiography Paid For. My Journey through Prostitution (2013), then introduction by myself and Caroline, the essence of the book is the 20 survivor stories who render visible the harm done to women in the global sex industry. Their intensely personal accounts are followed by three commentary pieces – one by an ex-pimp, another on the johns and punters, by Collective Shout’s Caitlin Roper, and finally, a case for the Nordic Model by Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT, Meagan Tyler. The cover artwork Legal Slave, is by survivor and contributor Genevieve Gilbert. With official publication date April 9, our book will be launched in Melbourne April 10 by UK journalist, author and broadcaster Julie Bindel. A number of contributors, including Rachel Moran, will also speak at the launch. It will come at the end of a 2-day conference at RMIT University on ending global sex trade abuse.
Here’s an extract from the introduction:
Prostitution survivors speak out
Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist
Prostitution Narratives presents powerful stories by women who have survived the prostitution industry. The testimonies collated in this book bear witness to the effects of prostitution on women and girls, and bring to life its dismal statistics.
Such stories are rarely published. Instead, it is the profiteers who are most dominant and influential in speaking and writing about prostitution. This billion-dollar industry seeks to persuade the world that prostitution is a service like any other that allows women to earn vast sums of money, and to travel and enjoy life’s luxuries. In large sections of the media, academia, public policy and the law, the sex industry has had its way. With money no obstacle, its polished representatives repeat the mantra: sex work is work, prostitution is a job like any other, and the sex industry should be treated as just another business enterprise.
Right-to-prostitution groups present women in sex businesses as ‘escorts, hostesses, strippers, dancers, sex workers’. Prostitution is euphemistically described as ‘compensated dating’ and ‘assisted intercourse’ with women who are ‘erotic entrepreneurs’. But the sex industry’s public relations campaign makes little mention of the damage, violation, suffering, and torment of prostitution on the body and the mind, nor of the deaths, suicides and murders that are common. It is in its economic interest to do so. As long-time abolitionist Melissa Farley observes, much of the business must be concealed and denied in order for it to continue:
There is an economic motive to hiding the violence in prostitution and trafficking … prostitution is sexual violence that results in massive economic profit for some of its perpetrators … Many governments protect commercial sex business because of monstrous profits …
This information [on the harms of prostitution, pornography and trafficking] has to be culturally, psychologically, and legally denied because to know it would interfere with the business of sexual exploitation.
In critiquing the business of sexual exploitation, the accounts in this book sit outside the sphere of mainstream publishing in exposing the prostitution trade for what it is: violence against women.
Prostitution Narratives begins with, as mentioned, Rachel Moran’s Prologue where she identifies the ideology of ‘sex work’ as a dehumanizing force that conceals the reality of prostitution. The survivor testimonies which follow then unpack the reality of commercial sexual exploitation. From the streets to strip clubs, to brothels and escort agencies, from web-camming to the filming of prostitution for the pornography industry, from underage girls groomed for prostitution through child sexual abuse, to young women caught up in a criminal world of gangs and drugs, to students, artists, and single mothers desperate to survive, the chapters of this book have a unifying thread: their contributors survived, got out, and want the world to know what being prostituted was really like…
In order to better understand and respond to the global human rights violation that is prostitution, we must first comprehend what the sex industry looks like and does to the girls and women most affected. For this, first-person accounts by survivors are the only way to begin.