Look closely. I think this has a lot to say about how the (often blatantly fraudulent) “survivor culture” has been created and manipulated.
I was far younger and too inclined to over identify *my* issues (some of which are uncommon) with *every* sex worker, and have learned the error of my ways since. The terminology I used was different, and some of the questions I was asking were different, but my conclusion remains the same.
Full decriminalization and real, neutral resources rather than self serving exploitation so that no one can ever be forced to sell sex by circumstances again.
Perhaps the problem is that to get out of prostitution, in many cases you have nowhere to turn for help but the system that put you there in the first place.
Because of that the system cannot afford to acknowledge your real needs or limits. Because of that it cannot offer you any real or valid help.
When I left prostitution in late March 1993, there was nowhere to go for any help. My Uncle gave me every last penny he had. A handful of old and treasured clients suddenly developed sex drives they hadn’t had since they were 18, and a deep need to pay extra money. They maintained my self-respect along with my survival. A well known credit card company marketed it’s services for the first time in this country by implying that accepting their services was vital to retaining a department store account I, and many others, had. They gave me a $1,500 limit I hadn’t even asked for. It was six years before I finally had no choice but to renege on the payments.
Apart from that I had no income. I couldn’t apply for unemployment because I hadn’t claimed it while I was a hooker. Even Policemen on the beat told me I should. I believe that money is for people who need it, not for people who have an adequate income, even if they only have that adequate income out of sheer desperation because welfare payments were inadequate in the first place. After all, isn’t that the principle behind ensuring welfare payments are set at inadequate levels?
I would support that if there were sufficient structures to enable people to enter into the workplace at a realistic level of payment. Structures that would make it possible to work round the problems that kept them out of it in the first place. As it stands using inadequate welfare payments as pressure is just another way to force the most vulnerable members of society into a wall.
When I left prostitution I also had some serious outstanding debts. Maybe $3-4,000, $250 a month that had to be found, and I had day to day living expenses as well.
There was absolutely nowhere to turn, not for advice, not for support, not for the help I badly needed, and still need, with the emotional and psychological problems that have crippled me all my life.
Those problems make working in a normal situation absolutely impossible to me. I’ve tried, I disintegrate very fast, and when I do, there is no help available to help me rebuild myself from the ruins. Apart from that, how much chance did I have with no resume? An ex hooker in a country of 3.5 million people where everybody knows everybody?
I tried a lot of other things. I tried to buy items in flea markets I could repair/restore and sell, I got absolutely nothing out of that. I advertised to run up soft furnishings and curtains. I taught myself to do that years before, absolutely hate it. I have no talent for it, grim determination, and taking as much time as I have to, yields the right results.
Within 3 years I was working an 18-hour day, and usually a 7-day week (when there was work at all). Running around an entire county picking up what little work I could get, undercutting everyone so that I could get SOME work (one of the disadvantages of being unable to participate in Social Networks). I was making nowhere near enough to live on, with no hope in sight. The most I ever made, when there was work, was $200 in a week, and there wasn’t always work.
In the down time, I campaigned at my own expense, against *recriminalization and for the rights of women in prostitution.
Which ran me headlong into a **couple of organizations that had sprung up and began to ride to prominence on the issues around prostitution.
At first I felt grateful for ANY support at all, but over time I changed my mind.
These organizations seemed geared to distorting the issues to suit their own agenda. The first signs were the lengths they went to persuading the women not to even try and speak for themselves.
They played on their fears, their low self-esteem, the reservoir of learned helplessness in many of them. They did this at a time when some of the women were ready (and well able) to stand up for themselves and make their case. As they had done in the past. The overall message was “You cannot speak for yourselves, you need us to speak for you”.
The same women, who had gone to court ten years earlier to obtain a degree of decriminalization in the first place, became silent.
These organizations also promoted notion that if there was a chance of a forum of any kind, the women must be paid to take part in it. To pay someone for standing up for their rights and truth is to disembowel them in a very final way. No hope of putting their case, as equals, to equals, but on display, as hired help. No could take them seriously, least of all themselves. The only time I took money from these people was when it was handed to me in a stiff white envelope, and I assumed it was some kind of card. When I opened it the ‚20 inside felt like a slap in the face, even though, that week my ability to buy food was in question. After that, despite numerous firm but polite statements, that as an independent activist I would pay my way like other conference delegates they used attempting to pay me as a way to try and keep me “in my place”. On one occasion quite publicly, I walked away from it quite publicly too. It wasn’t offered as recognition, more in a way that looked like a pay off.
It was quite horrible.
I investigated the main organization and discovered it appeared to be connected an EU initiative to collate data on prostitutes all over Europe, including the migratory prostitutes who were flooding in from the East. The objective would appear to be legalization and state control throughout Europe. On the surface this sounds like a good thing. But underneath the implications are terrifying.
One declared agenda is the legalization of pimping.
Another agenda is taxation.
Another is that all prostitution be confined to brothels.
The women were NOT told this, they would never see the places where it is declared, few would understand the language used to state it. If they knew this none of them would support it. As it is few of them do.
Nowhere in the agenda is there any provision for trying to find ways to enable women to leave prostitution, nor of exploring ways they could be prevented from getting into it.
The eventual outcome could be a situation of total acceptance for State controlled prostitution, including blanket acceptance that people should have to survive by that means.
If that doesn’t sound so bad then let me tell you about some former neighbors of mine in another country, where prostitution is legal. There was a brothel within half a mile of me. They are currently offering anal sex (among other things) for $75 dollars. If that is so comfortable and acceptable to women in prostitution, (including the wide variety of health risks, AND the pain of such an act when not in a state of arousal) then how can it be that no woman in Ireland was prepared to offer this facility at any price, before *recriminalization?
In an atmosphere of total acceptance of prostitution (and denial of your right and needs as an human being) you sometimes cannot make money unless you are prepared to submit to such acts. The brothels, cushioned in “respectability” become selective. You have to have the mentality of a pimp to run a brothel. It is harder to get work unless you are very young, very attractive, and prepared to submit to any act required of you.
Desperation is not confined to the very young, very attractive, and very submissive. In real terms men are quite happy, and sometimes prefer to pay for older, less attractive women. But the brothels only want the guaranteed big money spinners. The younger, and more compliant, the better.
My neighbors from the brothel were recognizable on sight. They had the same dead eyes as any prostitute.
*NB There was a typo here that put a “d” where an “r” should have been uncaught by spellchecks (and may have been caused by spellcheck in the first place) in every place these words appeared (including my memoir). I do hope I haven’t caused a terrible ongoing misunderstanding?
**The two organisations referred to here were Ruhama and the Women’s Health Project let us say there is a lot more substance to their contradictions than the tyranny of spellcheck