ANZ lit blog interview with Caroline Norma and MTR
I was a bit taken aback by the publicity email about this book; and it seems I am not alone. The authors and publisher are not finding it easy to get media and public recognition of the significance of the book.
Legislative reforms intended to decriminalise ‘victimless crimes’ and movies like Pretty Woman have changed the narrative around ‘the oldest profession.’ But what if it’s not just another kind of work? What if it involves horrific damage to women? I interviewed the editors to find out more about their purposes in bringing these stories to publication:
Tell us a bit about yourselves:
Caroline Norma PhD is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, and a member of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA). She is also the author of The Japanese Comfort Women and Sexual Slavery during the China and Pacific Wars (Bloomsbury Academic, London and New York, 2016).
Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator, blogger and advocate for women and girls. She is the co-founder of Collective Shout: For a world free of sexploitation. Melinda’s books include Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (2009) and Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry (2011 with Abigail Bray).
How did you come to be interested in this issue?
Both of us have been involved in feminist anti-violence against women, campaigning for two decades or more. We see prostitution as a form of violence against women, and so our campaigning forms a part of broader efforts. MTR is a founder of Collective Shout, and this organisation campaigns in particular against sexploitation, so anti-prostitution campaigning fits well into that agenda. CN does research and activism on prostitution, and has done for 20 years since completing an internship with a women’s organisation in the Philippines at age 19.
How long did it take to write the book? Was that what you expected when you set out to do it?
The book was put together over a year, which was quicker than expected because survivors submitted their pieces quickly and to a high quality, which we also didn’t necessarily expect. In many cases, survivors come from very disadvantaged backgrounds, and the task of writing about their experiences in prostitution is extremely difficult and re-traumatising. But, to their credit, all of the contributors were extremely easy to work with, and that’s why the book came out very quickly.
How did you negotiate processes for research? (I’m thinking here of trust and confidentiality in interviews about intimate issues; perhaps about defensiveness).
Yes, we gave this a lot of thought before commencing the project. We offered contributors the option to have their pieces written from oral interviews or ghost-written, but no-one took up this option. Around half did, however, take the option of using pseudonyms. We had a number of survivors tell us how difficult it was for them to write their pieces, and one contributor said she had to dissociate in order to write it. We suspect this might have been the case for others too. We’ve put efforts into organising launch and conference events where survivors can come along (they don’t have to declare themselves contributors) and perhaps meet other survivors, or at least see that their book is having an impact, and being received sympathetically. We’ve found that political organising in favour of survivors goes a long way to assisting them in overcoming the hardship of PTSD and dissociation. Around one third of contributors were already active politically in the struggle against prostitution, so their involvement was perhaps less traumatic.
What hurdles did you face?
Actually, the compilation of the book was relatively problem free. Instead we are facing hurdles in terms of media and public recognition of the significance of the book, given its unprecedented collation of the experiences of women who have been prostituted and have criticisms of the sex industry, and especially because many of these women are Australian. The political situation in Australia mostly sees prostitution as ‘work’, and therefore a book about prostitution as a form of violence against women is difficult for the public to understand. For many years the public has been led to believe that women in the sex industry enjoy their situation.
Was it difficult to find a publisher?
No, in fact, the publisher (Spinifex Press) was fully involved in the initial idea of the book and its organisation from start to finish. Spinifex has a long history of facilitating projects like this one.
Who do you expect your audience to be?
We’re hoping the book will be passed onto politicians and policymakers so it has the effect of changing laws in Australia toward the Nordic Model (i.e., a model of legislation that criminalises the customers of the sex industry), but in the meantime we expect that survivors of prostitution will be a readership, plus feminists and others concerned with violence-against-women issues. We hope women’s sector organisations, like Domestic Violence services, might read the book and understand the role of prostitution in relation to other forms of violence against women.
What do you hope (realistically) your book will achieve? What do you say to people who say that it’s impossible to stamp out “the oldest profession” and that it’s better to legalise it than to move the industry underground?
The book has two outcomes in terms of real-world action. Firstly, it forms a basis for survivors to meet each other and join in political organisation against prostitution. Survivor groups are beginning to form in Australia, and the book plays a part in that. Secondly, the book can be used by activists, women’s organisations and political lobbyists to show politicians and policymakers that all is not fine in the Australian sex industry, and prostitution is not necessarily experienced as a form of work by women in the industry. We don’t expect the book to change Australian legislation straight away, but we do think it’s a step in the history of abolitionism in Australia that will eventually bring about policy change. To those who say criminalising the industry and its customers will push prostitution ‘underground’, we say that the hand of women in the sex industry is strengthened when these people are at risk of criminal penalty. When prostituted women are free of any legal sanction, but their pimps and customers are not, this puts them in a better position in terms of police assistance, and coming forward to receive public service help if they wish. While prostitution is viewed as work, these kinds of public services aren’t established, because there is seen as no need for them.
What about your own personal journey? What impact did it have on you personally to listen to these stories?
Reading and hearing the stories is a privilege, we feel grateful the contributors trusted us with their words. Everyone was very open and honest about their experiences, it was a very unique experience to be able to read them. Of course the details of prostitution are horrific, but we feel it’s important to hear about these details to break away from the ‘happy hooker’ stereotype of prostitution.
This is a courageous book. It exposes the suffering, degradation and physical torture of women in a way that most of us don’t want to think about. It could be a game-changer.
Editors: Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist
Title: Prostitution Narratives, Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade
‘Women enter the sex trade for money and the trade makes promises of loads of cash that it never delivers. The trade perpetuates the very poverty the woman is trying to escape’
At the World’s Oldest Oppression conference at RMIT last month – an Australia-first gathering of sex industry survivors and abolitionists – a number of woman who had left the industry shared their stories. Ally Marie, recruited into the industry as a vulnerable 21-year-old survivor of child sexual, was one of those speaking for the first time. (You can watch a recording of her speech here). Another was Sabrinna, who spent many years in the industry in New Zealand and Australia. She also volunteered off and on over more than two decades for the NZ Prostitutes Collective.
Now Sabrinna has joined forces with other survivors to expose its life-destructive realities. Here is an expanded version of the speech she delivered at the conference, in which she argues decriminalisation has not lived up to its promises, and that the only way forward lies in the adoption of the Nordic Model (recently legislated in France) which criminalises buyers but not prostituted people.
Sex industry survivors and activists at World’s Oldest Oppression conference
Hi, my name is Sabrinna. I’m originally from Melbourne but moved to New Zealand when I was 14, so most my talk will centre around NZ. I worked for too long, in too many ways; street, massage parlour, bars, hotels, escort agencies and brothels and in too many places; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, parts of the West Coast of the South Island, Brisbane and Sydney.
I also volunteered for the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) on and off over a 25 year span pre and post the Prostitution Reform Bill, passed into law becoming the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003.During my time at NZPC, I helped with the consultation process to write the PRA.
Under prohibition, ‘massage parlours’ rented rooms inclusive of a massage that the women were not paid for. Women negotiated their own money. Solicitation was the illegal part of that transaction and word games used to get around solicitation laws. These solicitation laws only applied to prostituted persons, not the Johns.
The streets rarely had pimps in NZ. Women negotiated their own money and used different word games to get around solicitation laws.
Escort agencies sold all-inclusives that only stated suitable attire for a date, company and the choice of a fantasy, e.g. ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Wife’s Sister’, ‘Daughter’ etc. No sexual services were overtly included. Women got paid a small fee and negotiated extras.
Police violence was rampant, using the threat of a criminal record. Women offered sex and money for a free pass.
There were clear boundaries on safe sex practices that were ‘policed’ by other workers. Kissing was an absolute no-no. No condom was considered absolutely gross and dental dams got used. Workers who broke with these practices were shunned from within the trade.
Did Decriminalisation Work?
Decriminalisation changed all this.
Massage Parlours became brothels and set the prices through ‘all-inclusives’. They left the girls to deal with the fallout of men expecting bareback, anal, passionate etc. ‘All-inclusive’ is not really all inclusive but of course, johns expect it to be. Where once men paid per/service, now they can have sex as many times as they can within the time frame booked.
I’ll note here that 20 years ago I was getting paid more than current prostituted people in NZ. Inflation has ballooned during this time, so a dollar then and a dollar now are not nearly similar. That is the result of giving power to the pimps. They’re usually men and they look after men’s interests.
The aforementioned expectations of ‘all-inclusives’ have become routine. Through doubles and bi-doubles I saw the difference first hand; unsafe sex for a price. The more one is prepared to do, the more jobs, and the more money; though still less in terms of buying power than when safe sex practices were an absolute.
Police brutality did cease, though helpfulness is very much at the discretion of individual police officers. As far as I am aware there has been no change in reporting violence since decriminalisation.
One place I worked for mysteriously had a bunch of Thai girls move in above the brothel, none of whom spoke English. None of whom ever exited the brothel for any reason, and all of whom had to ask for food, tampons, cigarettes and any other expenses. These were then purchased for them. I’m not blind enough to think they were on holiday. It looked like trafficking to me. [Jade, a NZ contributor to Prostitution Narratives, relates a similar account. Both worked for the same brothel owners – Ed.].
How Pimps Were Kept Safe
Originally the goal of decriminalisation was to firmly place the power into the hands of women. We wanted decriminalisation of all wanted parties, criminalisation of all unwanted parties. This proved too difficult because it isn’t clear what separates a brothel owner from a pimp, other than location. I’m now convinced that a brothel owner is a pimp.
Also, what are security staff doing, if not, ‘living off the earnings’. The avoidance of these words is what kept the pimps safe and decriminalised. The biggest difficulty is partners, whether married or not. A partner may be deemed to be living off the earnings by simply living with a woman working in prostitution. Yet, ‘the boyfriend grooming tactic’ is well known and in high use. How to differentiate a pimp grooming a woman and an actual partner is one that needs very careful and intense analysis in the writing of any Nordic Model legal structure.
When the PRA was passed, it was agreed that the law would not, under any circumstances be revisited for a period of ten years. At the end of the ten year period, it would be assessed to see if it did or did not work, with regular assessments and statistics being gathered during that decade. The pressure to ensure it worked was huge because to return to full criminalisation was the only alternative offered. In New Zealand there really wasn’t any great opposition to decriminalisation beyond those who wished to keep it under prohibition.
This meant that every problem encountered had to be dealt with by helping agencies using the new legal structure. It also meant that any huge unresolvable problems needed to be minimised and/or buried. So, the unsafe sex negotiations I had seen and been expected to undertake myself and thus fight off, were not recorded. We all knew it was happening but no-one spoke about it. For the right of it or wrong of it, this was a forced situation on those in the industry and on all helping agencies.
The Harm Minimisation model has been and remains the basis of NZPC policy. The first thing that must be noted is that the name itself automatically admits inherent harm in the industry. So, this is one area that all sides of the debate agree upon; there is unavoidable inherent harm within the industry that can at best, be minimised but not eliminated.
Under decriminalisation the power went to the pimps and johns despite that never being the goal. I respect the people I worked with at NZPC because I know they, like me, wanted everyone in the sex trade to have legal protections, power of conditions and negotiation, and a way to be as safe as possible. It’s been very hard to admit we failed but I feel morally obligated to do so. I still want the original goal and I believe the Nordic Model offers the best chance of making that happen.”
The Nordic Model is the only model that criminalises the John. I believe this is the pinnacle reason for opposition. Who does it criminalise? Men, average men, celebrity men, young men, old men, male politicians, husbands, sons, fathers, uncles, neighbours, men of good standing, men already criminals etc. Using women for sexual gratification under any circumstance is so normalised in society that many people have trouble seeing this as anything other than an attack on men and male sexuality.
What is rendered invisible is women. Prostituted persons, most of whom are women, are rarely, if ever, referred to as women. Usually called sex workers, prostitutes, whores, street walkers, escorts, ladies of the night, hookers and many other titles; all designed to ‘other’ the women in these industries. They’re not like you, your friends, your family, the people you know. But actually we are. In this way, women become invisible and replaced by ‘object’.
Harm Rendered Invisible
We know that abuse increases risk but we do not fully know why. We know that amount of sex makes no difference. The difference lies specifically in abuse. This is quite a recent area of psychology but it’s a significant one in looking at prostitution. Again, it’s not the amount of sex that needs to be looked at but the abuse within the industry. This is real harm. It is also invisible harm.
The long term problems rarely appear in the harm minimisation model because long-term harm often appears, or is noticed and diagnosed after a woman has left the industry. So, she no longer appears in the statistics. This is part of the industry’s abuse; to take years and years of her life, in return for money that has more hands dipping in to take a cut than any other job ever does, and to follow it up by dumping her on her ass, alone and impoverished with no support and more problems than she entered with. (Some of the physical and mental harms to women are documented by Melissa Farley here).
Women enter the sex trade for money and the trade makes promises of loads of cash that it never delivers. Ironically, the sex trade perpetuates the very poverty the woman is trying to escape.
For those of us who have exited, we face hidden discriminations. Huge gaps on the CV, outdated and unused qualifications with high student debts, vast experience with no way of demonstrating it on job applications, fear of being outed to family, friends and potential employers.
I have been too afraid to tell a counsellor for fear that the rapport we’d built would be destroyed in a single sentence. Our intimate relationships are compromised. Do we tell or remain silent? Does he or she have a right to know? If I do tell, will it become common knowledge? Will it be placed on a revenge porn site? Will they use it every time we disagree? Whore! This is stigma.
Stigma has not left under decriminalisation or under legalisation. It exists no less strongly now than it did in the bad old days of prohibition. It’s my personal belief that stigma cannot be legislated away. It exists because no one wants their baby girl to do that. No one wants their mum doing that. No one wants their partner doing that. No amount of legislation will change this instinctual response to abuse. We want to protect ‘me and mine’.
The services we need to exit
I’m fighting for the rights of people in prostitution to have more power while in it and more options when leaving it. I’m also fighting to protect the next generation from being lured into the sex trade by glamourised and false images.
Harm minimisation or harm reduction focuses only on the industry itself. We need to start focusing on the individuals in the sex trade. Irrespective of legislation I’d like to see non-religious, unbiased, non-judgemental exit services across Australia and New Zealand. A place where a woman can go and say,
‘This is where I’m at.’
‘This is where I want to be.’
‘These are the blocks in the way.’
The service will then provide options to help remove the obstacles. The woman makes her decisions. No decision is made for her, and no decision she makes is up for debate or judged; even the decision to return to prostitution or remain in prostitution. That is my definition of agency and empowerment.
Male sexual entitlement is the problem
I hate online debating with the people who defend all sex as positive irrespective of context. They tell me that the real harm is stigma.
I remember when a street walker was run over by an unhappy John, backed over, run over a second time, backed over a second time, and run over a final time. I remember the ambulance turned up, pronounced her dead and left her body on the road. I remember the press taking photos. A couple came into NZPC. They found out their daughter died by reading about a dead prostitute without a name in their local paper.
Stigma is the problem? Stigma does pose problems but it is not the real violence. When the ‘sex-pozzers’ say they’re being triggered by violent language, and stigma is the worst of the worst, I feel like screaming. That is not violence; not even close.
John smashes his wife’s head against the home wall and then storms out of the house. He jumps on a train and tells an 11 year old girl she looks sexy in her school uniform. He buys sex and bashes a woman’s head against the brothel wall. Society tells us he hurt his wife due to his poor childhood. Society tells us he was only complimenting that girl. Society tells us he harmed a prostitute because of stigma. Bullshit.
Male sexual entitlement taught him he owned his wife. Male sexual entitlement taught him public space is male space and females are his to comment upon. Male sexual entitlement taught him that sex, bought, given or taken is his right as a man. The problem is male sexual entitlement and male violence. The Nordic Model is the only model that recognises the actual problem.
Four sex industry survivors share their stories at Gold Coast Prostitution Narratives launch
Ally-Marie, Kat, Alice and Kim shared their stories of survival in the sex trade in Australia, New Zealand and the UK at our second launch of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade. The Gold Coast launch, which saw a packed audience at the Surf City Café, followed on from the first launch in Melbourne earlier last month. Special thanks to emcee Erica Bartle (of Girl With a Satchell fame), City Women and everyone who supported the event, and especially the survivors who so bravely related their experiences. Stay tune for information on future launch events!
The most powerful and emotionally charged moments of the World’s Oldest Oppression conference at RMIT University in Melbourne and the closing launch of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survivor in the Sex Trade earlier this month, were hearing the stories of survivors in their own words. Some women spoke publicly for the first time. It was very beautiful seeing them support each other, finding strength and solidarity in their shared experience, harnessing their collective personal experiences into the emerging and fast growing global survivor movement calling for abolition of the sex trade.
New Zealand born Ally Marie, who now lives in Brisbane, was among those who decided it was time to go public with her experience. Conceived as a result of the gang rape of her teenage mother, with a history of child sexual abuse (starting at 4), by 21 she was easy pickings for the sex trade. Since then, she has clawed her way back to life out of drug addiction, mental illness, and suicide attempts. Her nine children have helped inspire her recovery. (More of her story on her website).
It was a big step for Ally Marie to speak to the packed auditorium. She explains:
Leading up to the conference I was extremely nervous and fearful. There were many times that I wanted to pull out, not to share this part of me that I had locked away and basically thrown away the key. I had endured a lot through my life but this was a part of me that I had never shared in so much depth with anyone. The voices of fear, despair, sadness, worthlessness, kept playing over and over on my mind like a broken record. But I pushed through, remembering my friends who were no longer able to speak on behalf of themselves. This wasn’t about me, it was about them, and all the women who are still in this life too afraid for their lives, for their own sanity and safety.
Sharing with these beautiful incredible women was so empowering, inspiring and most importantly healing. I finally felt that by sharing, all the pain was now worth something, so much bigger than me, that this would save lives. The support and love I have received has been overwhelming and in this moment I feel so loved and supported.
Now my vision to support survivors is so much stronger than it ever was before I shared my journey. I am excited for what the future holds, not only for myself and my children but for the millions of women’s lives that will be changed.
Fortunately, a friend captured Ally Marie’s speech on film and she has since uploaded it. You will see why she moved us all to tears. Ally Marie will share her story again at the forthcoming launch of Prostitution Narratives on the Gold Coast this Friday. She will be joined by two other survivors, including ‘Charlotte’, a contributor to our book. More info here.
Extensive coverage of Prostitution Narratives in Daily Mail
Autumn Burris from California, who is now the director of Survivors For Solutions, shares her story in a chapter entitled: ‘No life for a human being’, in which she explains how being a prostitute exposes women to violent attacks.
‘When a sex buyer rents your body he often demands more of you than agreed. If you reject him, more often than not, violence ensues,’ she recalled.
‘It is common for sex buyers to act out violently against prostituted women. Upon entering prostitution it is immediately clear that there is no such thing as respect for human rights or physical boundaries as soon as a client buys power over you.
‘They live out their fantasies through renting your body. Fantasies they wouldn’t think of asking their loved ones for, are requested of you.
A written testimony of suffering, pain – and resilience
Our new book, Prostitution Narratives: Stories of survival in the sex trade (Spinifex Press), was launched in Melbourne Sunday night. It was, I think, the most profoundly moving and affecting event I’ve even been part of. A number of contributors shared what being part of this book had meant to them. They felt heard and validated. They drew strength from each others stories. They resolved to join together together to fight for support and services to help other women exit the industry.
MTR with book contributors
UK feminist and journalist Julie Bindel launched the book, describing it as a “stick of dynamite”. The book was, she said “deeply disturbing and profoundly upsetting” and yet, also “a book about hope and resistance.” Irish abolitionist and survivor Rachel Moran also spoke (in her beautiful Irish lilt) about how the book echoed her experience and that of so many others and how it would help to bring about change. For those who couldn’t be there, here’s my speech delivered on the night:
Without these 20 women – almost half we are delighted to have here with us today – there would have been no book.
These 238 pages are created from your stories of survival. These pages are chiseled from the pain of your lives. Your trauma. Your suffering. Your strength. Your resilience. As we wrote in the opening lines:
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.
We must never underestimate what it must have taken out of you to re-live your experience. But we are so thankful you were willing to do it. To put every word down, to piece together sentences, building paragraphs and then whole chapters.
You were willing to endure nightmares, and flashbacks, and returning (in your minds) to the scenes of the crimes against you, to make this book happen – to render the harm done to you and so many others, visible.
And so we are grateful to you all, above all, for bearing witness in this written record.
Your presence in the book and in person, stands as a protest.
As does your presence at the gathering we have just had. The sex industry tried to stop you. They tried to de-platform you. They tried to intimidate and harass you. They couldn’t stand it – how dare we expose the true nature of their industry? There were nine protestors who went to the wrong venue but even then they were still trying to recruit with their ‘why be poor?’ posters.
A multi-billion dollar sexual exploitation industry built upon the backs of the bodies of real women and girls tried to stop you. They failed. The prostitution profiteers, the right-to-prostitution groups lost today.
Secondly, Caroline. What an honour to work with you. I cannot adequately express my admiration, though I tried, in the endorsements. You provided the academic weight and research heft to this book. You are possibly the most humble woman I have met. Last night when some of us were partying with Julie and Rachel at the Union Bar you were at home making vegan sandwiches for our conference. You always sound so surprised when I tell you how damn good you are!
Renate, Susan and Pauline and the rest of the team at Spinifex. My 4th book with you now. Thank you for all your support and for believing in my work – other authors with other publishers would be envious of the level of support and backing you’ve given me over two decades. And now this latest book. It was a difficult labour and delivery – but here is the new baby, thriving and well.
Caitlin, Meagan and Jacqueline who make up the appendix. Caitlin exposes the pimps and the johns without whom there would be no demand and no industry. Meagan gives us a tool for activism around the Nordic Model. Jacqueline, it can’t have been easy to come out with your role in the industry. But you have chosen to turn what was bad into good.
And all our endorsers – I was blown away by your words! And to have Julie Bindel launch our book is like a dream come true.
My friends here. Especially my Collective Shout crew – Coralie, Caitlin, Melinda are here and a number of CS volunteers and supporters.
Clearly there has been a shift. Growing in strength, and bravery, encouraged and supported by new survivor groups emerging around the world, refusing to be relegated to the margins, linked together by common suffering and common determination to change things for other women, today we launch Prostitution Narratives, with our 20 survivors.
Two of our key hopes in curating these accounts was that women would find solidarity and strength in their shared experience. Yesterday I was sitting at St Kilda beach reading Julie’s Guardian piece on the 11 year anniversary of Andrea Dworkin’s death and these words stood out: ‘Andrea healed her wounds by listening to the stories of other survivors, despite the pain that would cause.
Our other hope that women still in the industry would find a spark of encouragement to get out of it. (And here I have to say the status of funding for exit programs and other outreaches which help women leave the industry in this country is a blight and a shame – note the struggle of Project Respect, for example). The first contributor Linda told me her friends, still in the industry, were sitting around the brothel where she had worked with them, reading the copy she’d sent them. I love this image.
I want to end with a quote from a young survivor who I know personally and who has become special to me.
Near the end of the book, ‘Charlotte’ reaches out offering hope to other survivors.
To anyone reading this who is still involved in the sex industry – you are so much more than your body and your ability to provide sexual gratification. You are worthy, important and loved. You deserve so much more…You will survive this.
Tanja’s letter in Prostitution Narratives reprinted on News.com
Former prostitute takes aim at her clients in scathing letter
Dear sex customer,
If you think that I ever felt attracted to you, you are terribly mistaken. I have never had any desire to go to work, not once. The only thing on my mind was to make money, and fast.
Do not confuse that with easy money; it was never easy. Fast, yes. Because I quickly learned the many tricks to get you to come as quickly as possible, so I could get you off of me, or from under me, or from behind me.
And no, you never turned me on during the act. I was a great actress. For years I have had the opportunity to practice for free. Actually, it falls under the concept of multi-tasking. Because while you lay there, my thoughts were always elsewhere. Somewhere where I was not confronted with you sucking out my self respect, without spending as much as 10 seconds on the reality of the situation, or to look me in the eye.
If you thought you were doing me a favour by paying me for 30 minutes or an hour, you were wrong. I would rather have had you in and out as fast as possible. When you thought yourself to be my holy saviour, asking what a pretty girl like me was doing in a place like that, you lost your halo when you proceeded to ask me to lie down on my back, and then put all your efforts into feeling my body as much as possible with your hands. Actually, I would have preferred if you had gotten down on your back and had let me do my job.
When you thought you could boost your masculinity by getting me to climax, you need to know that I faked it. I could have won a gold medal in faking it. I faked it so much, that the receptionist would nearly fall off of her chair laughing. What did you expect? You were perhaps number three, or number five, or eight that day.
Did you really think I was able to get turned on mentally or physically by having sex with men I did not choose myself? Not ever. My genitals were burning. From lubricant and condoms. And I was tired. So tired, that often I had to be careful not to close my eyes for fear of falling asleep while my moaning continued on autopilot.
If you thought you paid for loyalty or small talk, you need to think again. I had zero interest in your excuses. I did not care that your wife had pelvic pain, and that you just could not go without sex. Or when you offered any other pathetic excuse for coming to buy sex with me.
When you thought I understood you and had sympathy for you, it was all a lie. I had nothing but contempt for you, and at the same time you destroyed something inside of me. You sowed the seeds of doubt in me. Doubt as to whether all men were just as cynical and unfaithful as you were.
When you praised my appearance, my body, or my sexual abilities, you could just as well have vomited on me. You did not see the person behind the mask. You only saw that which confirmed your illusion of a raunchy woman with an unstoppable sex drive.
In fact, you never said what you thought I wanted to hear. Instead, you said what you yourself needed to hear. You said that, which was needed to preserve your illusion, and which prevented you from thinking about how I had ended up where I was at 20 years of age. Basically, you did not care at all. Because you had one goal only, and that was to show off your power by paying me to use my body as it pleased you.
When a drop of blood appeared on the condom, it was not because my period had just come. It was because my body was a machine, one that could not be interrupted by a monthly cycle, so I inserted a sponge into my vagina, when I menstruated. To be able to continue on the sheets.
And no, I did not go home after you had finished. I continued working, telling the next customer exactly the same story that you had heard. You were all so consumed with your own lust that a little menstrual blood did not stop you.
When you came with objects, lingerie, costumes or toys, and wanted erotic role-play, my inner machine took over. I was disgusted with you and your sometimes quite sick fantasies. The same goes for the times when you smiled and said that I looked like a 17-year-old girl. It did not help that you yourself were 50, 60, 70, or older.
When you regularly violated my boundaries by either kissing me, or inserting your fingers into me, or taking off your condom, you did it knowing perfectly well that it was against the rules. You were testing my ability to say no. And you enjoyed it.
When I did not object clearly enough, or when I too often would simply ignore it. And then you used it in a perverted way to show how much power you had and that you could cross my boundaries.
When I finally told you off, and made it clear that I would not have you as a customer again if you could not respect the rules, you insulted me and my role as prostitute. You were condescending, threatening and rude.
When you buy sex, it says a lot about you, your humanity, and your sexuality. To me, it is a sign of your weakness, even though you confuse it with a sick sort of power and status.
You think you have a right. I mean, the prostitutes are out there anyway, right? But they are only prostitutes because men like you stand in the way of healthy and respectful relationship between men and women.
Prostitutes only exist 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 the relationships in which your sexuality could actually flourish.
When you buy sex, it reveals that you have not found the core within your own sexuality. I feel sorry for you, I really do. That you are so mediocre that you think that sex is all about ejaculating into a stranger’s vagina.
And if one is not handy, it is never further away than down the street, where you can pay an unknown woman to be able to empty yourself into a rubber while inside of her.
What a petty and frustrated man you must be. A man unable to create profound and intimate relationships, in which the connection runs deeper than just your ejaculation.
A man, who expresses his feelings through his climaxes, who does not have the ability to verbalise them, but prefers to channel them through his genitals to rid himself of them. What a weak masculinity. A truly masculine man would never degrade himself by paying for sex.
As far as your humanity goes, I believe in the good in people, also in you. I know that deep down, you have a conscience. That you have quietly wondered whether what you did was ethically and morally justifiable. I also know that you defend your actions and likely think that you treated me well, were kind, never mean or did not violate my boundaries.
But you know what? That is called evading your responsibility. You are not confronting reality. You delude yourself in thinking that the people you buy are not bought. Not forced into prostitution.
Maybe you even think that you did me a favour and gave me a break by talking about the weather, or giving me a little massage before you penetrated me. It did me no favours. All it did was confirm to me that I was not worth more. That I was a machine, whose primary function was to let others exploit my sexuality.
I have many experiences from prostitution. They enable me to write this letter to you. But it is a letter, which I would much rather not have written. These are experiences I wish I could have avoided.
You of course, you thought of yourself as one of the nice customers. But there are no nice customers. Just those who confirm the women’s negative view of themselves.
This news.com.au feature by Emma Reynolds today is the first mainstream media piece on our new book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of survival in the sex trade (Spinifex Press) to be launched Sunday in Melbourne. We are so pleased to see the stories of five of our contributors – Rhiannon, Simone, Jade, Annabelle and Rachel – highlighted in this piece, given how rarely we see accounts like this in Australian media. Here are some extracts:
‘I clutched the cash while he used me’: former prostitutes on why they want the industry banned
AT RHIANNON’S lowest point, she agreed to sex for money with a man who found her drunk, high on prescription drugs and crying on the street outside the strip club where she worked.
Back at his home, she cut her wrists in his bathroom and stuck toilet paper on them.
“The man felt it was worth paying a hundred dollars to have sex with a woman who had a tearstained face and bleeding wrists,” she said.
“I insisted on clutching the cash while he used me.”
She told him she was going to kill herself and he should call an ambulance. He shrugged, so she went outside and did it herself, staring at Brisbane’s Story Bridge and thinking that if it didn’t arrive in 10 minutes, she would jump off.
It was the start of her journey out of the sex industry.
Her story is just one of the graphic first-person testimonies in Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a shocking book that will be launched at an anti-sex trade conference at RMIT University in Melbourne this weekend.
…a growing group of survivors and abolitionists say they are disturbed at pro-sex trade lobbyists painting the industry as a profession, chosen by autonomous women because it makes them feel empowered.
She said many of the prostitutes she has met have been single mothers or students looking for money. More than half of sex workers have been sexually abused as children or teenagers. Others have been raped, neglected or harassed. “Many women are trying to escape abuse or domestic violence,” said Simone. “They have nowhere else to go.”
Simone has been left with PTSD, anxiety and agoraphobia, so her advocacy work and travel has been challenging, but she’s desperate to create change.
Sexually abused as a child growing up in Melbourne, Annabelle* writes in Prostitution Narratives that her experiences “set her up for the sex industry.”
She believes the idea women enter the industry by choice is wrong, because they are often so young, and don’t have all the facts.
“I believe all prostituted women are held captive, not just physically as in the case of trafficked women, but by the lies of the sex industry.”
For Jade, working as a prostitute “was like experiencing a car crash every single weekend”. Eventually, she was diagnosed with drug-induced schizophrenia and PTSD, and she has counselling to this day. “It is hard to maintain relationships after you have been treated night after night with contempt. It is hard to value yourself when you’ve been sold for as little as a packet of cigarettes.”
“I couldn’t negotiate my own life in any sense without making that trade off: prostitution for poverty.
This week France became the latest in a growing list of countries to decriminalise sex workers while banning the purchase of sex.
The French legislation is based on what has become known as the Nordic Model, a form of decriminalisation that treats prostitution as a cause and effect of gender inequality and a site of violence against women.
The Nordic Model shrinks the market for prostitution by targeting demand: making the activities of sex buyers illegal while removing any punitive measures against prostituted persons. It has been effective in Sweden, and has since been adopted in Norway, Iceland, Canada and Northern Ireland. Read more here
‘World’s oldest oppression’ the first ever gathering of sex industry survivors and abolitionists in Australia, will be held at RMIT University in Melbourne next weekend.
The two day conference, April 9-10, will hear from survivors of the sex trade and abolitionist activists including Rachel Moran, author of Paid For, My Journey Through Prostitution and UK feminist and journalist Julie Bindel.
The conference will conclude with the launch on the Sunday afternoon of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a collection of 20 personal accounts by women in Australia and internationally. Edited by Dr. Caroline Norma and myself, and published by Spinifex Press, we are so honoured that Rachel Moran and Julie Bindel will launch the book.
Here’s two of our contributors, Simone Watson and Caitlin Roper, having just received their copies of Prostitution Narratives. Simone wrote a powerful chapter about the reality of life in ‘massage parlours’ and Caitlin documented the attitudes of the punters and johns who purchase women for sex.
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.
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