Women who survived prostitution share their stories

RealStars guestblogger Robert Schenck reviews the bok Prostitution Narratives, stories of the survival in the sex trade, where the reader gets to share in the valuable stories and experiences of the survivors of prostitution

Author: Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist, editors

Publisher: Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, Australia, 2016

Book review by Robert Schenck

“…there is a red thread that moves through the various lived experiences told throughout the book: the authors have survived, come out on the other side and want to share their stories with the world on what prostitution really is about” (pg. 20).

 The experiences that are shared by these women in this book are both horrible and traumatic. Yet, it is an excellent, honest and informative book that for everyone who wants to gain a better understanding of trafficking and prostitution should read.

The nineteen stories that make up the main content of the book are introduced by the editors in the preface. Once again, we are reminded of how we, who support the so-called Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchase of sexual services, are counteracted by powerful interest groups.

The preface is then followed by a short and well-written chapter by former prostitute journalist Rachel Moran, author of the autobiographical book Paid For. Moran says that she “was lucky” that she had already left prostitution in 1997. Since then, mythology surrounding “sex work” has grown enormously, and the internet has made life for prostitutes, if possible, even worse. For example, nowaways sex buyers create “communities online” where the prostitutes “are reviewed” and humiliated.

The rest of the book then follows with the nineteen stories written by former prostitutes. Some of the writers recall their experiences with a distinguishable maturity and distance after many years of processing their trauma. Others have less distance from the traumatic experiences. Collectively, all of these chapters are valuable to us readers. In some situations, dysfunctional family environments and childhood trauma are among some of the reasons why women end up in prostitution.

It is usually “easy” to get into prostitution, but it is all the more difficult to leave it. In addition to all the other dependencies associated with it, prostitution itself becomes an addiction. How can you return to a decent job and life when the money earned in four hours of prostitution is comparable to two weeks income in a “regular” job? and when the labour market is completely closed to those previously sold their bodies? It is only when the realization comes that the price of depression, drugs, violence and complete loss of self is far too high, that the arduous journey towards a new life can begin.Reading the stories about years in prostitution and the subsequent path towards healing gives great respect for these incredibly brave women who write:

“During my years in prostitution the violence was sometimes underhand, sometimes direct. 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 naïve 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.

I had sex with guys who were just out of prison or on remand: rapists, drug dealers, perpetrators of violent assaults with convictions and crimes committed that I had never heard of. I was such a ‘good girl’, ignorant and impressionable. Some didn’t say why they came to a brothel but they boasted that they missed their missus. Some looked normal and fashionable, some looked as if they’d had a rough life. Hippy or high-on-drugs couples who wanted the lesbian experience were also sent my way from reception. I was taken to swingers’ parties and had young, trendy, private clients. I took anything: what was important to me was that my act, each time, was convincing so I could get the most money from them.

I was abused by old men who took me on so-called ‘sailing holidays’ where I had to have sex all day on a small boat. The dream beaches and pristine turquoise water I saw could have been imagined in my head. The unsavoury ‘holiday’ memories eclipsed the beauty of the nature I witnessed on the Great Barrier Reef. Big-shot millionaires who own famous Australian businesses ordered me around like a submissive dog in training. One had pancreatic cancer and could not ejaculate, but I still had to get him off. He needed so much arousal that he always asked for two women. I had to fake orgasms, fake love, be ‘the girlfriend experience’ those losers were longing for.

Losing seven years of my life being a hole for men’s pleasure is violence.” (pg. 175-176)

Geneviève Gilbert, that wrote this, today is an artist. She has founded “Pink Cross Foundation Australia” which among other things offers “support, hope and alternative life choices to people that wish to leave prostitution…”

In Sweden we should feel pride in the Nordic model which survivors consider to be the only sensible social alternative in the fight against commercialized sex. So-called The legalization or regulation of prostitution does not solve any problems, in fact on the contrary. The criminalization for sex-buying and thus the demand is something that we must be afraid of. There are strong forces within the global sex industry that are fighting against the Nordic model.

Lastly, Spinifex Press has published numerous interesting book about prostitution, pornography, sexuality, and much more.