Thursday, 18 November 2010

My Head Hurts My Body Hurts I Hurt

I'm going through a rough patch at the moment. My head's full of past hurts, vivid images all tumbling one after another, a quick progression, intermixing, going round and round. Tauntings and beatings and humiliations and being laughed at and pain and shame and degradation and being used.

My head hurts and my body hurts in turn and together, one then the other, feeling and re-feeling the stuff going through my head. Muscles twang with tension and then ache with release. I'm living in a warzone.


I can feel my trust going, feel my words going, feel my strength going. I feel incapable, defeated.

Everything's slipping away.

Everywhere I look, images of women as sex objects, voices justifying it, normalising it, singing praise of it.

Hurting me.

I've been here before, been through this before, I guess I'll get through it though the feelings tell me otherwise, the voices from the past tell me otherwise. They want me to give in. They nag at me, needle me, undermine me: what's the point? Did you think you'd ever make a difference you stupid fucking bitch? Stupid fucking bitch! Now shut the fuck up.

I will NOT be defeated. The truth simply can't be silenced. I just wish it wasn't so damn painful at times.

Monday, 25 October 2010

On Invisible Harms

I just had an article published by the European Women's Lobby. They sent me, along with a couple of copies of the magazine, a dvd called 'Not For Sale' , which they produced jointly with the Coalition Against Trafficking Women. They also sent me 'The Links Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Briefing Handbook', full of facts about prostitution and pornography. It makes for pretty grim reading.

What really interests me is this question: where are these facts and statistics when prostitution and pornography are debated in everyday life?

This information is not hidden away: it is not stored in some secret cache in a darkened room. Yet it is completely absent from most discussions. Why is that? If one were to debate the pros and cons of genetic engineering, one would never attempt to do so without recourse to information, to facts and figures. If one were to debate anything of import, from capital punishment to the welfare state, in any meaningful way, one would expect to use data and evidence.

The sex industry has made a good job of ensuring these facts are kept out of debates about prostitution and pornography by instead using a language which is extremely attractive to the modern western mind. Choice, liberalism, empowerment - who doesn't support those? I have argued elsewhere that this language has no place in the context of the sex industry. Their arguments are largely attractively packaged hot air.

The point that the dvd I watched made, and which I believe to be one hundred percent true is this: that when we adopt this language, in particular where a state legalises prostitution, it serves to make the harm done to the women involved invisible.

Legalising prostitution makes the harm done to the women it uses invisible.

There are fewer exiting services in countries where it prostitution is legal. Why? because where it is legalised, it becomes viewed as just another job, and why would you need help to exit a normal job? Just think about it. Where prostitution is legal, the pimp becomes a businessman, an entrepreneur, whose interests are protected by law. The language of abuse vanishes. The women who are prostituted become 'sex workers', the johns become 'clients'. A veneer of respectability is given to a system that is no respecter of human rights. An atmosphere where daily acts of violence and degradation are perpetrated on women becomes legitimate because it takes place in a 'safe' setting. What is safe about being penetrated, hurt, being used? Is it okay because it takes place in rooms with nice bedspreads (for the benefit of the johns of course) and indoors? If I am raped in a legalised brothel not on a street corner, how does that make it better?

Violence is inherent in the action of every john. They demand the right to take their pleasure in the manner they feel fit, and because they pay for it, it is deemed acceptable. Why is it more okay to rape a prostitute, to abuse a prostitute, than any other woman? Does an exchange of money, much or all of which the woman will have to pay to the house or to her pimp, make the unacceptable acceptable?

Legalising prostitution is not about improving the safety of the prostitute: there is no safety as a prostitute. Being an 'escort' may sound more salubrious, but the act is the same, the risks are the same. What legalising prostitution is all about is the safety and wellbeing of the johns, of the pimps. It gives them an air of legitimacy, enables them to hold their heads up high and chat about their 'business' in public (a very abstract, sanitised version of it, anyway). Legalising prostitution effectively removes any possibility of the prostituted woman asking for help, speaking about her abuse, which is hard enough as it is.

Legalising prostitution would be the equivalent hearking back to the times before marital rape was recognised: change the language and you silence the problem. How do you speak out without language?

I have struggled to access help, to be heard, since I have exited. I have experienced mental health practitioners (so-called) who fail to see anything wrong with prostitution. I have been told that I was wrong to have a problem with it, to be upset by porn (even as someone who was used in porn and was made to 'learn' how to be from porn) - told to get over it and that I chose it.


You don't choose to be treated that way. You're fucked up and you end up in it. That's what happened to me and I saw the same story time and time over with the women I met. They had been abused. They were caught in addiction. They had no money. They had no self esteem. They had no options.

You get to the point where you are so shattered by it, so exhausted by it, that the things that you're told - by the johns, by your partner who beats you, by the whole clamour of a society that has bought into the lies of the industry, that you cease to care what happens to you. They told you you like it, you chose it. You get confused. Maybe you did. Who cares. So tired. Just survive. Just survive.

I am lucky to have got out - just. I nearly didn't make it. I know a lot of women who weren't so lucky. We need to fight to keep the harms done them visible.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Appalled but Unmoved

I saw the other day that a 16 year old boy had been convicted for raping an 8 year old girl. People are appalled - and it is appalling and wrong. But it is perhaps not surprising. This is what happens when we live in a pornified culture. When we live in a culture that sells women, that degrades women, that makes a good deal of profit from depicting women as sex objects, constantly available, simply waiting for your cock (or any other passing object) to be inserted into their vaginas and rectums, we should not be surprised when our upcoming generations believe women wish to be treated this way. 'Underage' children* will access porn and will be affected by what they see. I remember seeing a friend's brother's porn collection when I was primary school age. Those images, and what they meant for me, stayed with me. When I told the men who used and sold me that it hurt, they told me it didn't, that I'd like it - just like the women in the films they watched said.

I don't believe they liked it either, judging from the expressions of pain on their faces.

Defenders of porn say it's harmless fantasy. But it's not fantasy for the women who are used in it ('actress' and 'model' seems too sweet a label for the truth: fuck doll). Or for the women whose partners watch it and want them to emulate what they see, totally ignorant of intimacy and equality. Or for our children who learn about sexuality and relationship dynamics between the sexes this way. Porn is not about equal partnerships of needs and wants. It is about assertion of power and ownership, lies and misinformation.

Most hetero porn doesn't depict safe sex - in any sense. Rarely do the men use condoms, and women are shown being penetrated both orally, vaginally and anally (higher risk of infection) by multiple men. Or the same man fucks multiple women, one after another, sans johnny. 'Bare back' as the industry likes to call it. How often does porn show lube being applied? Or any sort of nod toward the welfare of the woman. She is there simply to turn the man on: the man shown fucking her; the one wielding the camera; the one making money selling her and the man on his settee wanking over it at home. Her wellbeing, physical or emotional, just doesn't feature.

So with both boys and girls often learning about sex via porn, we have a problem. Women feel that their needs and wants are invalid - there is no place for them. Women in porn have no needs or wants other than to be touched any way, fucked any way, fulfilling the man's requirements and demands. Girls growing up feel a weight of expectation. Boys feel that 'being manly' involves treating women as sex objects, being dominant, and fucking women with neither intimacy nor respect. It's hard to learn intimacy and respect in a culture of aggressive porn, especially when it's so mainstreamed. Fisting, gang bangs and DPs don't really go hand in hand with respect. And the presence of a camera and an audience don't exactly shout intimacy.

Human worth is out of the picture.

We should stop acting surprised when men or our younger generation of boys treat women like sex objects in the real world and take some responsibility for once. After all, if we condone women being treated like that in magazines and dvds, and defend it, cash in on it and laugh about it ('boys will be boys!'), why wouldn't that change how men treat women in everyday life and how women think about themselves? We need some consistent thinking, some ownership of our part in this and some definitive action to stop the sexual objectification of women becoming further normalised. Until we are prepared to act, to do things differently, we remain appalled. But unmoved.

* I find it bizarre that when a woman turns 18 her status somehow magically changes so that her exploitation in pornography becomes legal... Does reaching a certain number agewise suddenly make a human being less worthy of protection and dignity? Likewise with the age of accessing pornography - at 18 does it suddenly become okay to join in the buying of and abuse of women in porn? I am not arguing here that minors should not be protected but rather questioning why the concern for human welfare vanishes when a minor becomes an adult in the eyes of the law.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On Being Human

I've just been looking through some anti porn websites... A new one launched recently, The Anti Porn Men's Project. Finally! A space for men who have the vision to see that porn doesn't just damage women, but it devalues men, too. It is unhealthy to define masculinity in terms of treating women like sex objects.

It's good to know there are other voices, albeit still a minority, campaigning against the mainstreaming of what are unacceptable and inhumane practices. Our society has taken something innately damaging and normalised it to the point where most people just accept it - with a shrug if not open arms. Pornography is not inevitable, somehow a necessary evil! When we treat it as such instead of taking a stand against it, we do ourselves and future generations a disservice. What does it mean if most teenagers' ideas of sex and intimate relationships are formed through the lens of pornography?

The bottom line is that we are dealing with something that dehumanises, that diminishes, which makes women throw away commodities - when she's been thoroughly used and abused and is too damaged to 'perform' anymore, she is cast aside, another nameless woman put in front of the camera. Pornography robs people of their humanity. In pornography, women are shown being dominated, humiliated, penetrated and double penetrated and triple penetrated - hurt - and as liking this. Women are shown as constantly gagging for sex.

Respect and dignity have no place in this picture.

The pornographer wants the viewer to get a buzz from this. Even the men in porn sometimes act surprised that the woman wants such extreme treatment (usually large insertions in her vagina or rectum). No wonder when women are raped so many people say she asked for it! Women in pornography are rarely depicted as saying no to anything. And when the viewer might be in danger of thinking something being done to the woman looks painful, she is often given a line saying it's fun, that she likes it.

From the women used directly in pornography to the men and women who live in a society which accepts the selling of women for sex, everyone's a loser, if not financially then certainly humanly speaking. Money triumphs over humanity. And do we really want to be lining the pockets of pimps and pornographers?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fucking Intimacy

I found in my former life that there was fucking, and then there was intimacy. Ne'er did the two meet! The concept of loving sex, in a partnership of equals, was completely alien to me. In the context of violence, choice is meaningless. I did what I had to do to stay safe, sometimes instigating sex even when I didn't want to in an attempt to avoid a beating. Or else I did what I was made to do, whether by physical constraint or threat of violence. I had no control over my body, what happened to it, who had access to it, who used and abused it. Treated like an animal, I became one - living on instinct, without dignity or respect. Rape and dignity, violence and dignity, pornography and dignity are not compatible.

Unable to remove myself physically from what was happening to me, I removed myself mentally: I numbed out. Even now, my memories remain scattered, a series of snapshots preserved in all their glorious technicolour, with huge gaping voids of time inbetween, lost. The things I do remember I'd perhaps rather not, but then the gaps disturb me too.

I can still struggle to link sex with intimacy. I can still feel very detached when I am touched, or very vulnerable. My default position is still one of wariness: of being hurt, of being used, of being humiliated again. I still cry occasionally in an intimate context. Awkward though that may be, I guess it's a good thing. Tears bring healing, and it's progress that I allow myself to feel, even if I sometimes wish I felt differently! Allowing myself to feel, to be fully present, in a sexual context is still something I'm learning. I've had to unlearn a lot of things about people and how to relate to them. Not all men are like the men I met in my previous life.

I believe that trust is earned. I don't give it away lightly. I do get scared about getting hurt again. A lot. But ultimately I know that I can't survive on my own, trusting no one. That way lies loneliness and addiction! It's not something I take for granted and it comes and goes at times, but it's just good to be alive and have a chance to do things differently, to be in my own skin, to state my own needs, or if I'm not sure what my needs are, simply to know that it's ok that I have them.

Know what I'm saying?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

On Dreams and the Dreamer

I awaken, a tangle of confused thoughts and memories, of limbs and bedclothes. I feel the sweat trickling down my back, down my face. Soaking. The dream I was having is one of several, one of a rotation, a familiar set. These dreams...

They are a pushing out by my subconscious, a spewing out of matter pushed down and buried for my survival. When I dream like this it is a replaying, a reliving, of my past. It haunts me. The images may change but the scenario does not: I look down on a body, a body that belongs to me and does not belong to me, look down as my ex and the other men abuse it.

This body!

It may run but it can't outrun them, may resist but it doesn't stand a chance. Hopeless helplessness. My body. Me. I am the spectator, the voyeur, I am the fear and the shame, the pain and the terror. I am my feelings, in my body but too much, or else I am on disconnect, a floating mind, connected by the slightest thread.

I am and I am not.

Sensations so real in these dreams. Too real. Being touched and I don't want to be. Wanting to scream but nothing comes out. Trying to see but the darkness of a blindfold. Senses out of kilter, scent and taste and touch alive and overpowering.

My mind is letting in stuff, slowly, yes, but some of the blackouts, the gaps in memory, are being filled in. In all honesty, sometimes I'd rather not remember.

An image.
A sensation.
A snapshot.

Curiously, gloriously, split from my body, there but not there.

The pain and the darkness is a part of me, I choose not to live in it these days in recovery but I cannot stop it slowly leaking out of me, working its way out, the Unacceptable forging its way out. No amount of denial, no amount of distraction, will stop this. Unwanted? Yes. So painful my whole body aches with it. But necessary, absolutely. My body and mind healing themselves on a deeper level than I can understand. Being heard brings healing, being accepted brings healing, and I need to hear and accept myself.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Oh, and PS....

Just a footnote to my last blog... the gentleman I was speaking with who was voicing the opinion that a lapdancing club was 'just a bit of fun' used as his main justification that 'he's a guy'. Ok, so he is a guy - but so what? That doesn't mean he needs to act like a jerk. In fact, I find it kind of sexist to imply that he is a guy ergo he must view women as sex objects. This ignorance and appalling lack of coherent thought behind damaging and sexist practices never ceases to astonish me. For myself, I like to believe that a man is not ruled by his penis and does actually have the same ability for self control that a woman has. I believe they call it equality.

The Defence of the Johns

His is the voice of every single man who ever hit me; every man who ever touched me when I didn't want to be touched; every man who ever bought me. 'Lads will be lads... it's just a lapdancing club'. I can read the subtext, no problem. What's wrong with you? What a prude! It's just a bit of harmless fun.

Harmless fucking fun.

I don't think so. It is the buying of women, the sale of an inequality, the legitimisation of abuse. All justified in the name of a 'good time', all squared off by the exchange of money (though most of that won't go to the women being looked at, being touched).

Yet I'm the one who's being charged with being extreme, unreasonable for daring to object, suggest there might be another way of looking at this. !!!!. Fearful of being termed prudes for not joining the cacophany of voices in support of the selling of women, too many women choose to be liberal about the oppression of their sisters. I have felt that pressure myself! Young and naive, I joined in the laughter of my companions at pornography, at some of its more extreme images (fancy putting that in her pussy and arse! You'd think it'd hurt but she loves it, she's smiling!) - until I found myself at the wrong end of the camera, being hurt, being used, being sold, torn apart - smile please! - and realised what this stuff means for me.

If she can be treated that way, as a collection of holes, as a piece of meat to satisfy men, so can I, so can every woman. It would be foolish indeed to think that people who regard lapdancing and pornography as the norm don't carry that mindset with them in their everyday dealings with women. To regularly look at material, or go to places, be that a lapdancing club or a brothel, where women are treated as less than, changes you.

Away from the pimping, the beatings, away from being a prostituted woman, I still rub up against people who think that way all the time. For me, it touches on old nerves, reflecting as it does that throw away attitude of the johns. It takes me back. I cry, I shake, sometimes I vomit.

Perhaps if these people could see the aftermath, see the reality of what they do to the women they use, they might grow a conscience. Maybe, maybe not. I don't feel too trusting of that right now. Sometimes people don't want to see the truth. It gets in the way of the fun, of the orgasm. I guess all we can do is keep putting the truth out there. We got rid of bear baiting, didn't we? Perhaps someday women's rights might catch up.

Friday, 2 July 2010

On Hangovers of the Emotional Type

My scars have come to my attention again, now I'm dating, seeing a new man. He notices and is curious. I'm not used to the questions. I had the same scars from my ex when I prostituted myself, but the johns couldn't have cared less. Fixated by boobs and holes, those staples of pornography, I doubt they even noticed.

Maybe not. They couldn't have missed the self imposed gashes on my arms, a desperate attempt on my part to survive, to live with the unlivable, to be me in my body, be me in the wreckage of my life. They wouldn't have wanted to know, anyhow. After all, isn't that the whole point of pornography, of prostitution, that it's the guilt free buying and using of a woman as a sex object? No place for hearing the woman's story, hearing her emotions, asking how it makes her feel and how she comes to be here - it would get in the way. The punters demand a guilt free, truth free experience, whether it be cumming in the face of the prostitute they bought or knocking one out over the shiny pages of a magazine, the woman's humanity another step removed, just to be folded up and put into a drawer.

The punter finishes and is free to continue with their everyday life. Not so the woman he uses! She lives this, she knows, has reaffirmed on a daily basis that her only value comes from being a receptacle for his spunk, a spectacle to be held open and abused and penetrated and sold. She doesn't matter: her pain, her feelings don't matter; what matters is him, the punter, his pleasure, his kicks. The only thing that matters about her is that she is available, that she is mute, that she displays nothing but pleasure and gratitude for whatever he chooses to do to her, however painful or sadistic. Rough anal sex? No problem - I love it. Double penetration? Feels so good! Ass to mouth? Fisting? Being pissed on? Can't get enough.

As if. Each time she is abused, she shrinks a little, becomes less. Every time he abuses her, he grows a little, becomes more. His power grows as hers diminishes. Boundaries no longer exist. Those sexual acts she didn't want, that hurt her and humiliate and debase her happen one by one. Her 'no' lacks power and the ability to remove herself from the situation to safety. You hear those words coming out of her mouth, asking for more, moaning with pleasure, saying she likes it, his words, but in her mouth. He is the puppet master. Take it from a woman who knows, the ultimate humiliation is being made to thank your abuser, to ask to be abused more. I cut, I drank and I drugged, I dissociated, I cried myself to sleep where there were nightmares waiting just to pick up where he left off.

With my ex, I knew what was expected. The violence, and the threat of it, was constant. I was told to smile for the photographs, to say that I liked it for the camera. Sometimes it was clear that I wasn't there by choice - there were welts and bruises, and violence on film (and that sells well in some quarters) but not always. It's easy to ignore what you don't want to see. For the user of pornography, he has behind him the weight of a society which condones and normailses his buying of women as laddishness. A society which, furthermore, says, don't worry about her, she loves it, is liberated by it, empowered by it, makes good money from it.

3 years out, and the bruises are gone. The wounds have healed into scars which will be with me for the rest of my life. But it's the mental scars that hurt me the most. My PTSD's been bad again of late, and it's not always easy to live with my past, the abuse. It continues to impact on my present, the emotional hangover of being sold which society continues to choose to ignore. It's a tricky trap to get free from. All I know is that as much as it hurts, trying to move forward is the only option. It's a beautiful thing to be with someone I care about. I'm going to use every means at my disposal to leave that shit behind so I can actually enjoy what I have.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Feminist or BS Artiste?

I recently spoke at a conference alongside several other speakers about my experience of domestic violence, pornography and prostitution. As ever, I was extremely anxious, but these days I try not to let my fear stop me doing things. Progress not perfection! One of the other speakers is a former lap dancer, Lucy, whom I met when I spoke at the Foyles event earlier this year. It was so good to sit alongside other women who are just committed to putting the truth out there about the sex industry and what it really means for men and women.

One of the key points to come out of the discussion is a point which I feel very strongly about, which is how the sex industry has hijacked the language of feminism to justify its oppressive practices (see Language Games amongst other posts on this topic). Although I have written a good deal about the use of language in the legitimisation of sex industry abuses in society, I hadn't really thought too much about supposed 'feminists' who defend the industry. So to rectify...

In brief, to me the idea that someone who supports the buying and selling of women could pupport to be a feminist is beyond irony: it is nonsensical. It's like someone who called themselves a human rights activist supporting the practice of slavery, not allowing slaves to speak freely of their experience of that situation, but aggressively speaking as though on their behalf in a language of rights to support their abuse, and insisting they be re-named an equal. After all, the language of buying and selling human beings is just so distasteful and unpalatable, doncha think? Almost makes it sound, well, bad.

If someone is being treated as less than human, no amount of wordgames can make it right.
It makes a mockery of language to use it in this way. Pornography and prostitution is about the consumption of an inequality. Just because it has been re-labelled by the sex industry and some so-called 'feminists' as being empowering for the women it uses does not change its true nature. The sex industry sells women and destroys the lives of those it uses. End of.

I have to agree with the suggestion of another woman who I spoke alongside at London that perhaps women who wish to call themselves feminists but are pro pornography should instead call themselves sex abuse positive campaigners. After all, what are they fighting for if not to defend the sexual abuse of other women? Let's call a spade a spade and apply a little common sense here rather than buying into the BS.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

On Equality

I was talking with a friend the other day about man hating, and it made me think... I am not a man hater. I did go through a phase of hating men, when I was 'working' as a prostitute, and looking back, it's easy to see why. My ex partner abused me, the men he introduced me to abused me and the johns paid to abuse me. It was far safer for me to say, men are shits, they hurt you, and to disconnect. I think it made it less personal, less hurtful to me as a human being, to say all men are like this.

Now, though, in recovery, and over time, I have come to believe something different. As the anger fades, and I can see things a little clearer, see the hurt a little clearer, I can see my old view for what it was: a defence mechanism which was helpful in a situation of extreme trauma. I have sought therapy in recovery (I spent 12 months seeing a male therapist, which helped me immensely with my difficulties trusting men), and met and became friends with some good men along the way. I have come to see the truth that just as there are good women and bad women, so there are good men and bad men. I just happened to have spent more time with the latter!

The porn industry perpetuates a lie, it sells us a lie that men and women are fundamentally completely different. Women are there to be used, to be fucked and photographed and filmed as sexual animals, who want that, who love that, and who get off on that (look at that smile!). Men, on the other hand, are there to dominate, to penetrate, to violate, with impunity. All this under the guise of 'free speech', of 'harmless fun', of 'boys just being boys'. It is excused, no, more than that, it is expected that men behave a certain way, treat women a certain way, in order to be men. The subtext is clear: if you do not buy into using pornography, into treating women as sexual objects, to be seen as a collection of body parts and 'holes' that exist for your pleasure, you are less than. Similarly, a woman who questions whether an industry that sells women's bodies, that makes vast sums of money not for the women it uses but for the men who sell them, is 'empowering and liberating' for women, are labelled as prudes.

The sex industry has achieved something quite remarkable: it has hijacked the language of feminism and choice to defend its destructive and oppressive practices. And society has bought into this. I don't believe it's easy for anyone, man or woman, to stand against what has become seen as 'normal' and mainstream. Society has naturalised something which is completely unnatural, which oppresses both men and women. There's nothing new about the oppression of women, but the way that the sex industry seeks to undermine its opponents by posing as some sort of protector of free speech, justice and liberty has added a clever twist and made it more difficult for people to speak out against it.

The lies that we are told and sold by the sex industry are damaging to both men and women. But we do not have to buy into those lies. I believe that men and women are equal, and that a healthy relationship between men and women needs to be founded on respect for their common dignity and humanity. We all bleed if we're cut. We all hurt if we're beaten. To tell men that they are 'less manly' for not treating women as sex objects is to do them a disservice. To tell women that they are 'prudes' for wishing to be treated as ore than sex objects is to do them a disservice.

It is not surprising that such a hugely profitable industry should defend itself at all costs against attack. What is perhaps more surprising is the way our society has bought into this so easily. In my experience, a good deal of the inaction around the inequalities the sex industry fuels is based purely on ignorance. People who lack personal experience of the sex industry look at the arguments as they are laid out (by the sex industry), and are drawn in by what superficially appears to be the side of 'choice' and 'empowerment' for women, ie the sex industry's argument. As a survivor of pornography, of prostitution and domestic violence, there is nothing more painful to me then to watch other women fight to defend the 'rights' of other women to be treated as I was. The arguments defenders of the sex industry use are abstract, impersonal, at a safe distance, and sanitised beyond meaning. I defy anyone, male or female, who saw what I saw, who experienced what I experienced - being raped, being beaten, being threatened, being sold - to continue to defend the practices of the industry. The use of women by the sex industry is nothing if not personal! Being naked and penetrated and wanked over and used again and again is as personal as it gets.

So though I remain cautious in my interactions with men (as I do with women: trust takes time to rebuild after being so thoroughly shattered), I do not buy into the lie of the sex industry that men are at the mercy of their hormones, controlled by their penises. I think men deserve to be given more credit than that. Men and women who oppose what the sex industry is doing to our society, and how it treats the people it uses, need to join forces and fight together. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for the good person to sit and do nothing. It's time we spoke out, side by side, male and female.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Drowning with Rage and Boiling with Sorrow

I seem to be feeling pretty angry recently. For me, anger and sadness go hand in hand, and sometimes what manifests itself as extreme rage turns out to be hurt or loss. I think it goes back to the places I found myself in life. Often, it was unsafe to cry, or to express any emotion. Angered by any hint of upset on my part, my ex would tell me to 'shut the fuck up or I'll give you something to cry about'. Or then sometimes he'd demand that I cry - he'd get off on it. Either way, it all became entangled in the games of power and control I found myself in, and I guess it's not surprising that it takes some moving on from.

Patience isn't my strong point and so much of the time I find myself berating myself for not being 'sorted', for still struggling with my past. My logical voice tells me I should give myself a break, show myself a little compassion, that I've been through enough and don't need to add to the pain, to the shame. But still, it's a work in progress. I find it so bloody hard to be good to myself! So much easier, always, to do the old thing, self destruct. Cut myself. Binge and purge. Starve myself. Take risks... In recovery, I'm really working hard to change old patterns, and its' exhausting. Accepting my body as me and mine means accepting that what happened happened to me, not to something 'other' or apart. It means acknowledging that everytime my body was beaten and sold, I was beaten and sold. That's a hard pill to swallow.

If it sounds blatantly obvious that me and my body are one and the same, it's worth saying that it's not obvious to me. Years of splitting, of dissociating, consciously or otherwise, of acting as the observer, an outsider, watching this body, these thoughts, detached and separate, leave me fragmented. Watching him shout at me, I'd find myself strangely calm, almost mesmerised. I can see his lips moving, but I can't really hear him, see words forming, but they don't mean anything. In my mind, I dissect each word and spell out each letter with precision. There's spittle forming on his lip. I see that this man will hit this woman, but it doesn't really matter, because that's not really me. I observe at a distance.

I'm told (and I've read - I do a lot of reading on this stuff now, to better understand myself, to recover) that such splitting is a product of extreme trauma - a defence mechanism. Unable to remove myself from the abuse physically, I sought to distance myself mentally, doing the only thing I could. The mind's a remarkable tool. Buddhists often speak of simply observing thoughts and feelings coming and going, they speak of impermanence and non-attachment, and that makes a good deal of sense to me.

But here, 3 years clean and sober, I'm in that tricky process of putting those pieces together again, of turning that brokenness into something whole. It's slow progress and painful. I've sought therapy, and I work the programme on a daily basis. I'm doing a lot of work around blame and shame at the moment, so it's not surprising my emotions are all over. When you've been told by the men that abuse you that you deserve what's happening to you, worse, that you make them do that to you, and you're isolated and afraid and full of fear and self loathing for the drink and the drugs, you believe it. And I'm finding that even though rationally I can see that what happened wasn't my fault, that the blame and the shame belong to the perpetrators, my emotions are taking a while to catch up. If this was anyone else, I would have no problem with that. But, it's that old story, while I can be compassionate and objective with others, I find it extremely painful and difficult to apply that same care and thinking to myself.

I'm so angry! At my ex for the extreme physical, verbal and sexual abuse he put me through. At the men who used me, who forced me, who knew that I didn't want to have sex, who slapped me about and laughed at me and fucked me anyway. At the men who made money, who took pictures and filmed what was done. At my ex for beating me and making me perform for these men like an animal, just to get a fix. At the doctors and nurses in A&E for judging me and treating me like shit on those occasions I was able to seek medical help. And I'm angry at myself for still feeling responsible for things that were way out of my control.

I'm angry at myself for being angry at myself (which makes absolutely zero sense, I know).

But underneath the anger, and I've seen a few glimpses this past couple of weeks, is just a deep, deep sadness for what happened to me, at what happens to women in this country every day. I've been told I was lucky to survive it, and I was. I believed absolutely he would kill me if he so wished - he'd told me as much. When you live through that, you lose so many things, and I feel like I'm grieving for some of that stuff now. You lose faith in people, in their humanity. But most of all, you lose yourself. When you're constantly having to mold yourself in a desperate attempt to avoid a beating, you don't know who you are anymore. When you act like an animal in order to survive, you hate yourself. When your body's not your own and men touch you and fuck you and hurt you and use you and you are powerless to stop them, you lose your dignity. Everything is taken from you: you don't belong to yourself.

My body, my mind, did what they could to protect me at the time. But here and now, what once protected me can isolate and damage me. I guess I need to be a little more gentle with myself. After all, there are no quick fixes in recovery. I am doing what I can, and getting help. When I'm measuring my progress by that of other people, I need to remember that given what went on, I'm doing ok. I am ok. I didn't used to believe that, but you know, most days, I do now. Angry or sad, tired or down, I am ok.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Public Face of Angel

Just to say...

I shall be speaking at this year's annual Compass conference. This will be only the second time I've spoken in public about my experiences, and I've had butterflies ever since I agreed to speak there! I tend to get a lot of conflicting emotions whenever I
speak out about this stuff, be it through my blog, through testimonies online or in public, face to face. I believe 100% it's so important that the message gets out there about what the sex industry really means for women, behind its feminist language. But I also find it incredibly painful to look at my past, and sometimes I have to back off for a while and take care of myself.

However, I'm putting in place some good safety measures for myself (being around friends afterwards, etc) and am speaking alongside a couple of women there who I'm lucky to be able to count as friends. I really have met the most amazing, strong and warm hearted people as I have got active in speaking out about prostitution and domestic violence. So I'm excited to be seeing them again, and also to have been given another opportunity to try to get the truth out there. Here's hoping some people turn up!

This year’s Compass conference is confirmed to take place on Saturday 12 June 2010 at the Institute of Education, London, with this particular seminar being held at 11am. Details are to be found at
There are lots of interesting sounding seminars, so we've got serious competition!

If you or anyone you know may be interested in attending, do it! It would be great to meet some like minded people, and the feedback I've had on this blog has been much appreciated - it would be good to meet some of you.

Apologies to those of you who are not based round London - I get frustrated myself sometimes as a Northerner that I can't get more involved. UK Feminista is one of the organisations I'm part of which is aiming to do something about that, so perhaps soon we'll have something similar further up country.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Desensitised and Anaesthetised

A group of us were round at a friend's house the other day, chilling out together, and we began to watch a film which someone had heard was good... 10 minutes later we were stopping it again, overwhelmed by the violence. Don't get me wrong, my friends and I aren't fragile or exceptionally sensitive. But when a man was depicted being graphically tortured, we were in agreement: it wasn't 'entertainment', it was sick.

I got to thinking afterwards how desensitised our culture has become. That this sells as entertainment is a little disturbing. But how much more disturbing that pornography is so widely accepted as 'harmless' and 'fun' and 'entertainment'! The blood in this film, the violence in this film, the cuts and bruises in this film were special effects: they weren't real. The actor would most likely object were it otherwise!

Yet in pornography, real women are penetrated and used and fucked and cum on or in, for real. No faking: the vaginas and anuses and mouths in the close ups are all part of the 'models', the women being sold. When that woman looks like she's in pain, that's because it hurts, it hurts her, for real, no acting required. That she is given lines sometimes in films to repeat, that it feels good, doesn't diminish that fact, though it increases her pain.

When I was raped and being hurt and it was being filmed or photographed for the entertainment of others, to make money for others, it was the final insult, to be made to 'smile' or say I enjoyed it. I didn't want to say those things, didn't want to be there, didn't want to smile, or at least, try to smile, not knowing whether I was or if I was grimacing. I remember thinking, I can't remember how to smile.

Sitting here at my computer, knowing that those images are still out there, I see that the best I can hope for is for that pain, that real pain and suffering, to be acknowledged. But I also sit here in the knowledge that pornography is becoming ever more accepted, ever more available, and ever more extreme, because as people become accustomed to it, it no longer seems shocking, and something new, something more 'hardcore', more 'shocking' is needed to gain the same 'effect'. All this combined with the fact that pornography is bizarrely seen as fantasy, inspite of the fact that the women it uses are real, and shrouded in a language of 'rights' and feminist terms, is deeply disturbing.

It hurts.

The women directly involved are damaged. But women who are not so involved are damaged by it too. What we view has a direct effect on how we act in our lives. So if in pornographic magazines and films women are treated as sex objects, and treated violently, and shown to enjoy it, and pornography is now viewed widely as acceptable, something men need to be men, something harmless, we are normalising treatment of women that should not be normalised. We are making the unacceptable acceptable. If we allow some women to be treated as fuck dolls, nothing more than a bunch of orifices to be used and abused for men's pleasure, we allow every woman to be treated as such.

Women need to know this. Women need to see that while they may not be in those pictures or those films, this touches their lives too. No one is immune. The prevalence of violence against women makes that clear. If I allow other women to be sold as sex objects, penetrated, wanked over and cast aside, that leads me to 2 possible conclusions, logically. Either I say that there is a sub-class of women who are in some way different than me, and therefore it's ok for them to be treated that way, but not ok for me to be. In this way I can remove myself from the picture, and say: not my problem. Or I have to say that the woman in the pictures is just like me, and that if it's ok that that can be done to her, it's ok for it to be done to me. I stand alongside of her and say: no, I wouldn't want this for myself, so it shouldn't be happening to her.

I am one of those women in those pictures, one of those women in those films. I am no different than you, reader. I laugh and cry, have hopes and dreams, have family and friends. I'm a middle class young woman who found that domestic violence, that addiction, that rapes and pimping can happen to anyone. That being used in pornography can happen to anyone. I'm not special or different, or unusual in any way other than to have come through it, to have survived it, and to be in recovery and finding a voice to speak about that now. I'm speaking for all those women who aren't able to, for all those women without a voice, for those women who won't make it out.

We don't have to let future generations of women suffer this way.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Living with the Aftermath

I haven't written for a while... I've been struggling just to survive of late. The feelings and memories from my past have overwhelmed me and threatened to take me under.

I feel like I'm absolutely going through the wringer.

Fighting to get help, seeing the GP, ringing round to try and get a therapist, and battling, just battling so much with getting out of the house, with letting people in, letting people close enough to see me in my pain, as I am, shaking, crying, low.

It's hard to trust people when you've been so hurt by them, so letdown, in the past.

It's scary to let myself be loved, because it shows what happened to me so clearly as unacceptable. If I matter, if Angel matters, is worthy of love, then I can't try and keep the abuse at arms length anymore, can't tell myself any longer that it doesn't matter because I don't matter.

It means acknowledging and feeling just how hurt I was, am, by the beatings, by the violence, by the rapes and gang rapes, by being sold and photographed and filmed and used as entertainment, treated as less than human, for the pleasure of others.

It hurts.

So many images! So many flashbacks! Horrific, in graphic multicolour, in my head, in my sleeping and waking, my body aching and shaking and retching and reliving, as it tries to deal, tries to heal.

If sex industry defenders, defenders of pornography and prostitution, could only see inside my head, and see the pain and damage it has caused me, and continues to cause me everyday, 3 years later...

I'm afraid to even watch the telly because chances are, there'll be some humourous or flippant reference to violence against women or objectification of women.

I'm so scared . Just doing the only thing I can do and hanging on in there right now.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


And I find myself in that place again. At war with myself, at war with my body, body and mind at their most conflicted. Even my mind's in conflict, a series of bickering, fragmented voices all vying for attention, clamouring to be listened to, acted on. Logic versus feelings, addict versus values, inner critic versus my more forgiving, compassionate side.

It's hard to see anything beyond me, beyond this, images and scenarios replaying before my eyes, difficult to hear the voices of friends when the voices battling in my head drown them out. The world clatters on around me but I am lost and disoriented, inhabiting the past, and terrified of the future.

The only constant is fear.

I shake and my heart races and my thoughts race, chasing themselves round in circles, round and round, picking up momentum, getting more confused. The words start to run together, I'm losing my words, and I feel like I did then, and it's terrifying and it's everything and it's nothing and it's dark and it's tangled and twisted.

A knot in my stomach.

A tightness in my throat.

A choking breathlessness.

Can't think. Can't speak. Can't move.

Terrifying. Despair, blackness, hopelessness, pain, lostness, powerlessness.

I can't connect. Lonely on my own, lonelier in company.

Even when it stills, when it calms, it's ever present, lurking in the background, an ominous presence, threatening to blot out a fragile grip on reality.

Then, existing through the pain, through the violence, caught in the cycle, I named this place The Pit. I used to think, once you're in there, ain't no getting out, baby, not ever.

I had revised my opinion.

But now... I reconnect like I was never away.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Angel, Emma and I: Finding a Voice

Yesterday, I shared my story with an audience in London. I've never spoken about my experience in front of a group like that before, and I was terrified, although I'm told it didn't show. I forget sometimes that how I feel, and how I think I look, and how I actually look to other people are often quite different things! I used a pseudonym, Emma, but still, being face to face with an audience, speaking about what I used to term the unspeakable, was daunting. When I was first asked if I would consider speaking there, I said no: the fear got in the way. But after thinking it over, I realised what a great chance this was to be heard, to do something, however small, to have a voice. So I agreed.

I'm so glad I did!

When I was in the middle of it all, caught up in the violence, the addiction, the drinking, the prostitution, I was mute. Quite simply, I just didn't have the vocabulary to form a narrative of any sort. Words ceased to do justice to the pain, the shame, the confusion and the terror I felt. Trusting no one, I became a ball of feelings, a mass of tangled emotion, of jumbled thoughts, of fragmented snapshots. When you are isolated save for the men who use and abuse you, but tell you you like it, deserve it, belong here, you lose touch with reality. Doubting yourself, loathing yourself for your inadequacy (ashamed of your addiction, and he reminds you every day that you make him do this to you, that you couldn't manage without him, that you're lucky someone loves you inspite of all your failings) you lack perspective. What they tell you about your reality and your experience of that reality are 2 different things. You get confused. You lack validation.

Even when you get out, if you get out, you continue to be invalidated. You turn on the tv and are told sex 'work' is fun, easy money, just a job. Magazines tell you the same, even the women's magazines. When everywhere you turn you are told that selling your body is fun, empowering, liberating, harmless, feminist even, you quickly learn that you and your story are not acceptable. Before you even open your mouth, you're put on the backfoot. You risk the label 'prude', 'conservative', 'moralist', 'judgmental' by just daring to say, hang on a minute, that's not how it was for me.

You learn early on that the people who hurt you, who make money from you, are a just part of a wider picture, a clever story which the sex industry has told us, has sold us, in which they are the good guys, championing women's rights, and their critics the bad guys. In disbelief you listen as they hijack the language of feminism, a cause which supposedly protects and promotes practices to help tackle inequalities, to end abuses, to further women's rights, for their own ends. And in doing so they have amassed the uncritical support of the mainstream. You see people, other women, otherwise moderate women, defending the very people who hurt you, fighting for women to have the 'right' to experience what you experienced! Or at least, what they believe you experienced, which is something altogether different. You feel alone.

You are struck by the absence of personal words in the debate around surely that most personal of experiences, being used in prostitution and pornography. You find that these defenders of 'free speech','liberalism' and 'rights' don't seem able to listen when you speak of your experience, of pain, of lack of choice, of body fluids and fear and degradation and exploitation. The sanitised language the industry adopts around its practices - 'girls, clients, escorts, business, workers, models, actresses' puts a comfortable distance between the majority of women, who have no direct experience to go on, and the reality. People who defend images of women, open legged, penetrated, as 'rights' (on behalf of us women! Thanks for that...), react with anger or embarrassment when you tell the truth: 'I was raped' or 'I hated it'.

You see you face an uphill battle just to be heard, to be acknowledged. Used, judged, and finally dismissed ('she has mental health problems you know'), left to shut up and put up with the mental scars that threaten to overwhelm you, you question, at times, if you can take this anymore.

In it, you find yourself colluding with the lie, telling the johns as they hurt you, as they touch you, as they fuck you, that it feels good, that you like it. It's not enough that they abuse you, they demand to hear that you want it. Smile, baby! And trapped as you are, desperate as you are, needing the money as you do, you say it. He gives you money, and you ease his conscience, massage his ego. The ultimate betrayal, you feel you've sold yourself out, body and mind.

So to have the chance now to get the truth across, to give that a voice, is awesome. It's not a given. It makes me feel ... lucky. Unbelievably lucky. There have been so many occasions I have thought I wouldn't make it, that I wasn't going to get out alive, with the violence and the addiction...

Just to be alive after prostitution, after the violence, is amazing. Not all women make it out. But to have the words now, clumsy as they may be at times, and inadequate as they sometimes feel to convey that pain, is a miracle. It's 3 years on and it's taken me that time to begin to articulate that chapter of my life. When I first got sober, I couldn't even put a word to how I was feeling, I had got so used to hiding how I felt. My emotions were just a huge tangle, and incredibly, janglingly raw. That takes some unpicking! And then putting together some sort of a narrative of what happened to me, with all the blackouts and gaps... It's been a slow and painful process, and one that continues as more memories resurface and repressed feelings emerge and demand attention.

Being given the chance to speak out, and not just told to shut the fuck up, feels... truly liberating. For all its talk of free speech, the sex industry puts a mute on the women it uses, it sells her body and then puts its words in her mouth to justify it.

The only way this situation will change, and I believe it can change, is if people are prepared to stand up, to take a risk, to speak out, to join forces. We need to shift the grounds of the debate from the abstract to the real, where it belongs. It's by showing the sex industry for what it is, by speaking the concrete language of our common humanity, talking about the physical and emotional suffering it creates, that we will change things.

It was a real gift to be asked to speak yesterday. Meeting again with women from Object and UK Feminista who are taking action, fighting for change, I was given fresh hope. It doesn't have to be like this.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Mind Body... and Me

More present than the present, more real than the real, I re-live what happened to me, as some of the blackouts, some of the blanks, fill themselves in... I find myself triggered and suddenly transported back to it all in all its technicolour detail. I'm waiting to be fetched downstairs to perform for them, to entertain them, and I'm shaking and rocking myself backwards and forwards, disconnected from my body yet strangely aware of its every sensation. It's like I'm in two places at once - in the sick fear I feel vibrating through every cell of my body, but also at a distance, observing, in a mind empty of anything but fear. The fear is all consuming.

My mind and my body stop working for me. I feel simultaneously numb and out of it but also more solid than usual. My body seems to have become a dead weight, not responding to my commands. It feels strangely heavy, while my mind feels floaty and light. My mind can't process, can't think straight.

It goes beyond tears, beyond movement. I sit and stare blindly: nothing else is possible. When he orders me downstairs, I can't move. Observing this scene in a detached way, I see that it's going to go more badly for me because this he will view as disobedience. Until my mind reattaches itself to my body in that jolting way that it does, I am a helpless observer. In that jolt, I suddenly find myself seeing through my eyes, hearing clearly, no longer a voyeur, back inside my body, a rush of physical sensations both disorientating and nauseating.

Sometimes the drink and drugs are responsible for this. But fear, at the pitch I experience it, has the same effect. I have some idea what's coming.

And now, years later, I find myself feeling some of the things, seeing some of the things, that my mind fought so hard to distance myself from at the time. Disconnected images, like projections on a big screen, appear before my eyes, obliterating my present reality. I am transported back, I find myself quite without warning there again. Staring at the inside of a toilet bowl and the nausea as I vomit before they use me. A man moving a blindfold towards me. A semi darkened room and bright lights and shadowy figures around the room. A particularly disturbing image he's showing me in a porno magazine to teach me how it's done. Staring uncomprehending at this reflection in the mirror, a woman I can't even recognise as me, bruised and bloody, as he holds me up by my hair and shouts and shakes me like a rag doll.

Painful then, painful now, me but not me, present but past. My mind and body battling between their partly chosen, partly unconscious, separation, and the knowledge that we are one, and need to integrate to heal. At war with myself, I struggle to eat, struggle to accept my body as it is, with its scars, its past, its associations. Common sense tells me to lay the blame, the anger, where it belongs - with the men who abused me. But sitting outside myself, as I so often find myself, dissociated, I struggle and hurt, feeling the dual betrayal of a mind and a body which couldn't rescue me, couldn't keep me safe, couldn't stop what happened.

Pain doesn't even begin to describe it.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bread and the Games

The Romans had a saying: 'give them bread and the games'. What they meant by that was that as long as the people they ruled over were fed and entertained, all would be well. The status quo, Rome's survival as a ruling power, rested on this belief (amongst others).

I have been thinking recently about games, and circuses... an email discussion with an ex 'liberal feminist', now parted from that school of thought that porn and lapdancing and escorting are just a bit of fun, sparked off some reflection for me. There also seems to have been something of a run of articles in the national press of late at last talking seriously about the pornification of our society and what that really means for us and the next generation.

I got to thinking, animals in the UK and US are better protected by law than women. Think about it for a moment if you will... suppose a person were to videotape an animal, being held down and taunted and laughed at as somebody probes its anus and genitals, and inserts things, large objects in particular, and fucks it roughly and at length with them, and laughs more as they show close ups at the end, pissing on it as a final climax.

Such a person would, quite rightly, be locked up.

Here's another picture for you. A woman is videotaped having large objects inserted into her anus and her vagina. She is fucked roughly with them and the camera man and the man or men in the video laugh as they they do that, they hold her open for 'gaping' shots, they fuck her anally, orally, vaginally, and then as a final act they piss on or in her and cum in her face.

What becomes of the cameraman in this case? The person who videotapes this is not pursued by the law. No cops turn up on his doorstep! Instead, he markets it, adds it to a growing collection of similar videos of other nameless women, and he sells it. And he profits from it ad infinitum. Not only is he secure in knowing he will not be arrested for this, he rests safe in the knowledge that he is supported in his efforts by a huge clamour of voices calling for 'free speech' - whatever that might mean in this context - and in favour of pornography.

Okay, the word 'choice' here enters the debate. Perhaps this woman, these women, choose to put themselves here. Certainly, the element of coercion is less obtrusive in this case. In our example of the animal, we could see it being held down, or caged. I would argue, however, that some cages are not so visible, but for all that, they are just as real. If a woman appears in pornography, apparently freely (not tied up, chained up etc), and particularly if that woman smiles at some point, or says lines expressing that she likes what is happening to her, we say, see, fine, she chose it. She likes it! I can buy and watch this or look at this with a clear conscience.

Let's take another look. Is coercion, is lack of choice, is lack of freedom, really so clear to spot? Does a smile or a lack of obvious physical constraint in pornography or prostitution really give us grounds to say, everything's fine here, let's move along?

Such an approach would be over simplistic. It ignores the bigger picture.

So what is the bigger picture? The reality is, here in 2010, women are still not financially equal to men. The sex industry constantly wants new women, new 'meat', because your average 'user' wants to see 'fresh faces' ( or 'fresh pussy'). Women who work in the sex industry often seem weary beyond their years and that's not what 'users' want, the industry chews women up and spits them out, damaged both physically and emotionally. There is a high turnover as women are used and discarded. So in reality it is extremely easy to gain employment in the sex industry. Age, weight and looks, academic ability, accent... none of these matter, if you're willing to get naked, there will be a market for it, and someone who'll sell you. If women need money to live, and other jobs are not as easily accessible and available to us as sex 'work', to what extent do we have choice?

The sex industry also carefully manages its public image... women's magazines speak of 'high class' escorts who get taken for dinner etc... the seediness, the reality is edited out or made fantastic (literally: fantasised). Highly paid porn stars say how much fun it is being paid for something so 'fun' - to say anything otherwise could cost them a job. As for 'glamour modelling' - even the language sanitises it and makes it sound respectable, glamourous. As I've argued in greater detail in previous blogs, the whole porn industry thrives on the lie of being harmless enough, just some fun. No mention of the deep mental and physical damage women in the industry commonly endure (see Object website, If women are groomed to think that sex 'work' is just harmless fun, the reality hidden until they are living it, to what extent do we have choice?

Many women in the sex industry have mental health problems. Sometimes these problems include substance addictions. Addiction has 3 major effects that serve to make women highly vulnerable to sex 'work':
1. Active addiction needs a constant supply of money, and desperation for a fix may lead you to do anything, even things that you hate and which hurt you: addiction is all consuming.
2. Addiction changes perception and level of consciousness, disinhibiting, numbing, and lowering awareness. This makes it almost impossible to maintain mainstream employment, so you need money but can't get regular work. It also leaves you open to being exploited sexually (blackouts) and means that you are not aware always at the time of how much you have been hurt. Women trapped by addiction may be in pornography or sell their bodies as prostitutes initially to get money, but end up needing to use higher and higher levels to block out the physical pain of prolonged rough sex, and the humiliation. This in turn requires more money and so the cycle continues. At the same time, ability to take care of basic safety eg use of condms becomes compromised, and violence and exploitation increase.
3. Addiction and self loathing / low self esteem go hand in hand. The shame of addiction, with all its social unacceptability, may lead a woman to feel she deserves to be treated as an object, used, abused and sold.

If women are trapped in active addiction, and stigmatised for it and given no help to get out, to what extent do we have choice?

The shame of addiction and the secrecy surrounding it (or attempts at it!) are preparation for the secrecy and feelings of shame which arise in 'working' in the sex industry. Bizarrely, as a society, our thinking is not at all coherent around the women who are used in pornography and 'work' as prostitutes. Despite talk of empowerment and free speech and liberation and choice, the reality is that supporters and users of porn / prostitutes ultimately do view and use the women simply as sex objects - bought to be wanked over or on for a quick release. So though these people publicly and very vocally laud pornography and its supposed 'liberalism', their use and purchase of women as objects still invokes negative feelings for the women involved.

For myself, I felt humiliated, exposed, degraded, objectified, used (first by the pornographer, then again by the consumers), discarded, and very, very hurt. The hurt was physical and emotional at the time, and in time when the physical pain stopped, the emotional pain grew. I do still get body pains, part of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I (and many sex industry survivors) suffer with. I get flashbacks, I struggle with food, and body image, I don't like to be touched, sometimes I wish I was invisible. I get nightmares that it's still happening. Of being humiliated and scared and hurt, and in the dreams I run but I can't get away. Just like the reality. I hear people who argue for pornography in a seemingly erudite, liberal fashion laughing and joking about the bodies of women like me, speaking with one language but acting with another.

I still think somedays, when a guy looks at me, has he seen pictures of me or videos of me? Sitting opposite my psychotherapist, I think it again. Or that man? Or that? Porn has a long shelf life, and once it's out there, once it's in the hands of the pornographer, there's no taking it back! Something I and every woman who has ever been photographed or filmed has to live with every day. The power inequality is obvious, because he can see me, and I can't see him. He can buy me and look at me intimately, and I wouldn't recognise him.

In the pictures they took of me, the videos, the violence, the lack of choice, wasn't always obvious. Sure, sometimes it was. But other times, the threat of violence ever present, and his warnings ringing in my ears, I put the mask on and was in his words a 'good girl'. No beating tonight if you take it like you should! Smile, cover up the pain, when they're fucking you in the arse, or double penetrating you, just breathe and get through it conscious, don't look like it hurts. Sometimes I guess I must have looked fairly out of it, with the drink and the drugs. Other times, though, you might not have known. I never injected so there were no track marks. And he gave me elbow length fingerless gloves to wear when the self harm (cutting) on my arms was bad. Sometimes he had me cover up the bruises from the beatings, and he'd help, dabbing makeup on, there were plenty of them and often out of my reach. Other times, though, they'd leave the bruises, because in a particular market, that sells.

The other mental health issues women in porn and prostitution so often suffer with are also hidden. Many women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children. Many have low self esteem, and are in abusive relationships as adults. Many or most have borderline personality disorder. If women have mental health issues, and inadequate mental health services to access, and there's stigma involved in accessing them, to what extent do we have choice?

And so we come back to our starting point, that animals are better legally protected than women. That will continue to be the case until we get rid of the stigma around mental health issues, addiction, and violence against women. It will be the case so long as women who enter the sex industry, and those who support it and buy into it, believe the lies spun them by the moneymakers, that it is fun, just another job, an easy way to make money. And it will be the case until we are prepared to admit that gender inequalities still continue to exist, albeit hidden away by the clever use of language by the sex industry, who speak so glibly of choice. Until we acknowledge the lack of choice which forces so many women into the sex industry, until we stop dismissing the voices of women who have survived and who are speaking out their truth, that this industry damages women and treats them as less than animals, future generations of women will continue to find themselves trapped there. We will, quite literally, have sold them out.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Just a Job?

It's just a job
like any other
they said

And - boom!
that lie
chopped her down

They laughed
as they hurt her
they came as she

They wouldn't listen
when she said
No! please stop.
I'm scared.

They told her
she liked it
they fucked
with her head

They told her
that's where she
belonged -
on a bed

Her bruises
stayed hidden
Her dignity

They caught her
and made her pay
when she fled

She lived terror
and pain
a life spent
in dread
She died lonely
That's where
'just a job' led.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Paint Me a Picture

When you look at me, what do you see?
The pornographer paints you a picture:
My breasts, bare for your delight
My legs, spread wide to show I'm willing
My vagina, held open for your pleasure
My anus, lubed and ready
My mouth, painted red, lips parted slightly,
Just waiting, all waiting,
To be fulfilled, to serve you,
To serve your cock.

Do you think you see the whole me?
(And I don't mean in the close ups)
Or do you just see the 'holes' in me?
He shows you my insides - the physical
But he doesn't want you to see my real insides:
That's hidden
Painted out.

Let me paint you another picture.

I am a human being
Who had hopes and dreams
With family, a history,
Who feels and thinks and eats and sleeps
and shits
Like any other.

Maybe you don't know me
But you can't afford to stay detached.
If I were your sister
or your mother
Would you treat me the same?
Could you treat me the same?
How would you feel knowing
other men made money from me
Made judgments on me
Put a price on me?
That other men buy my body
and wank over me
Perhaps that man in the street
Or that one?

I live with that every day.

Let me paint you a picture
A snapshot of my world
A day in my life

Beneath the heavy makeup
Are dark circles around my eyes.
I don't sleep well at night
Knowing what lies ahead -
Another day undressing
and posing and pouting
and acting like I like this
want this
am this
On my hands and knees
As these men instruct me
Direct me
Push me
To ever more explicit, painful things.

Self respect
Long gone

The drink and drugs
The desperate need for cash
For a fix
Which traps me there
My self loathing
and the man who fuels it
Who beat me
and raped me
and sold me
and sold that picture of myself
to me:
A nothing
A set of holes
A stupid bitch
Who belongs here
and deserves nothing more
than your laughter
your contempt
your body fluids

Unpalatable truths
have no place in the picture
you choose to see.

They are my picture
My reason for being here
Always present
But concealed from you so easily
With your complicity
Beneath the makeup
Beneath the smile.

I see you, laughing at me
or commenting on my body
and wanking over me
There trapped in my two dimensional existence
You with your talk of rights and choices!
But do you see me?
Will you see me?
I will you to see me
The whole picture
And buy into his picture
The pornographer's picture
no more.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Abso-fuckin-lutely Unbelievable

I was just driving in my car, listening to radio 4, when they started a debate about to what extent is a woman to blame if she has been raped.


It really upset me and I had to drive straight home to ground myself. The whole point about rape is that it is against the woman's wishes. Whether she's had one drink no drink or twenty drinks, it's still the same. If a woman says no, she means it, full stop.

How pathetic! How hurtful to every woman who has ever been raped, ever been sexually assaulted, to remove the blame from the man who penetrated her, touched her, and lay it straight on the woman he has hurt! I'm still crying, still shaking, from hearing this. It makes me want to vomit - my whole body responds.

And the worst thing is that a survey shows most women think the woman has some responsibility.

What message are we giving to the next generation of young men if we say, well, she was dressed a certain way, she smiled at him a certain way or she drank a certain number of drinks so it was ok for him to rape her? What are we doing to ourselves? When women condemn women for being raped, where has the rape victim to go?

And where is the perpetrator in all of this? Strangely absent. The man who did this to her. She has been hurt once by the rape, and now this. It's all her fault. Her 'no' didn't mean anything to him, and it doesn't mean anything now.

It doesn't matter if he was drinking - he is still responsible. If he had bludgeoned someone to death after a few drinks and claimed drunkenness, would we say, ah, there there, let's just forget it, he couldn't help it? And disregard the victim, and maybe blame them for being around a man who was clearly drunk and out of control?

Being raped is a sort of death. It's a loss. Of confidence in yourself, in men, in being protected by the law. A loss of dignity and respect. And the physical pain too. Life is never the same after rape. Your body never feels quite so much yours.

It makes me sad, too, when I think about what it really means we believe about men and about women as a society if we place the blame for rape on the woman. Implicit in that statement is the idea that men are somehow less than: they are animal, ruled by their sexual urges, powerless in the face of their desire, not capable of responsibility. And that women do this to themselves, hurt themselves, and are responsible ultimately not just for themselves but for men's treatment of them too.

I do not believe that. I believe that both men and women are responsible for their actions, and the effect they have on others, and that to deny that is to deny their humanity.

But now, sitting at home alone I wish I'd heard one voice on the radio that had spoken up for me, the woman who was raped.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Lonely in Company

I find myself silent, often, in therapy. It's as if I'm still gagged. Silent then, and silent now. Show no emotion. Some behaviours are hard to break. Watching the therapist, who I like, who I trust, in as far as I trust anyone, I feel like screaming. Such torment and frustration! He's only a few feet away but it might as well be a million miles.

How to reach out across that distance, to bridge it, with words, to paint a picture of pain and suffering, to say the unsayable, here in this bland middle class setting with its table and box of tissues for clients to dab their eyes with, with this kindly middle class man. I feel like I'm pure darkness, pure evil, a toxic entity polluting this place, this man's mind. If some of the images, the memories, of what was done to me torment me and make me feel repulsed by myself, what will he think, this man with his textbooks and his stable life and stable job and clean and tidy appearance.

His kindness touches me, his presence soothes me, knowing that he won't hit me or touch me or shout at me. I know it's just his job, all part of the deal, for him, I'm just another client. But it means so much more to me than that. A man who doesn't want anything from me, is there to listen, encourages me to talk, speaks softly to me. I don't want to lose that feeling of companionship, can't bear to think that he might see my damage and my darkness and leave me.
I've been alone for so long I don't want to lose this. And so I sit silent and will him to see into my mind, to understand, to see my pain and fear, to know and understand and accept me as I am, because I can't say this stuff.

Loneliness in company. Together but apart.

Living in Limbo

There comes a point when the feelings are so intense, the pain so raw, that words cease to do them justice. You grope about for the vocabulary but there is none. Nothing you say could approximate to how you feel, to what they do to you. People fail you, and language fails you too.

And who's listening anyway? Who's gonna help? You feel invisible. When you go to A&E (and you should go more, but he won't let you - scared they'll find out) and they talk over you, as you lie in the bed - 'drunk enough to knock out a horse', 'clearly alcoholic', 'look at the state they get themselves into', and disregard you and your pain, you lose your humanity. You become 'she', 'her', 'just another drunk', unworthy even of a name. You're already hurting, but still they hurt you, hurt on hurt. You can't take much more of this.

This woman in the bed has feelings you know.

You know you're on your own. And you blame yourself already, hate yourself already, for the drink and the drugs. You're trying to survive, just trying to survive, and you know these things are problems in themselves, you're not stupid, though they treat you like you are, but you're scared and lost and lonely there are no choices. The people who are meant to help you, the 'professionals', judge you and look at you like you're a piece of shit, which is what he told you anyway. When opening your mouth risks disbelief, or his fist, you stop talking. You hurt enough: you don't need anymore.

Feelings, events, people, all jumble in your head, a wordless, hopeless, non-narrative you'd rather not remember. You feel you are losing touch with reality. The blackouts come thick and fast, a product of the drink and drugs and head injuries he gives you. You're scared you're going mad. You can't bring yourself to think about your future. What have you to hope for, to aim for, to pray for, when you're so utterly broken, so completely fragmented. Even your body's not your own. It feels numb to everything but pain. You try to detach, to get away from the physical trauma, but there's no safety or peace even in your head. You feel consumed by him, by them. Their hands possess your body, and their words possess your mind.

They tell you you belong here. You begin to believe it. When the people who might help you, who you were taught to trust before you found yourself here, when you belonged, were accepted, fitted in, in society, look through you, you have no place left to go. Escape feels impossible. Where do you go? Who can you trust? Where now do you belong?

Since I've got out, I find myself still lost, still scared, still hurting. There is no place I can call home. I don't feel I fit with most regular people, with their regular lives, their regular families, their regular behaviours. With their uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of how I as a woman have been treated by society, am treated by society. It's like they see me but they don't see me, they see what they want and throw the rest away. With their comfortable assertion that prostitution should be legalised, that it is empowering for women to 'choose' sex work, that gender inequality is a thing of the past, that there's plenty of help out there for battered women, if they would only choose to take it. They speak confidently of addiction, of alcoholism, as a lifestyle choice, nothing more, a poor one at that, a sign of weak character and selfishness and poor morals. I feel suffocated, dismissed by them and their beliefs. It's like they're talking a different language than me. They are.

Their words are painful to me, ill informed, detached from reality, cloaked in a language strangely out of context given the nature of the sex industry. Meaningless, but widely accepted. Sanitised to the point of abstraction. Edited to the point of vacuousness. Such language suggests it would be prudish to see the women bought and sold in pornography and prostitution as anything more than an expression of free speech and liberalism. And see, she's smiling, so she must like it! And men will be men...

Looking at a naked woman in pornography, with objects in her vagina and rectum, defenders of the sex industry speak not of women at all, but instead they speak the language of rights and free speech and choices. So much cleaner, so much less distressing. So much more socially acceptable. After all, who wouldn't be in favour of rights, free speech and choices? Taken out of context, these words are accepted to have positive connotations. Our society promotes them. The question we need to be asking is, do these words belong in the context of the sex industry and its practices?

The sex industry and our mainstream culture which accepts it looks straight through the women it uses. They looked right through me, look right through me. Looking at a real life woman before them, naked, with genitals exposed, proponents of porn are oddly blind. They see only what they want. Her body's value to them relies on their ability to project their desires and beliefs onto her, and so use her without blame or responsibility. She remains an object of fantasy to them because they do not see, will not see, the reality. Safely at the pornographer's end of the camera, 'users' of pornography remain at a sanitised distance from body fluids, bruises, feelings, reality. They fail to connect with the woman at the other end of the camera, holding herself open, posing, inserting dildos or other objects for the gratification of men she does not know, to make money for someone else. With their language of 'free speech' and 'empowerment' and 'choice', these so called 'liberals' are in fact anything but. Free speech is not so free when it seeks to silence the debate, to mute the voices of the women who have lived out the reality of the consumer's fantasy.

Her humanity, her feelings, get in the way. The pornographer doesn't want you to worry about her - that's why she's been told to smile. Not as easy to get off to if you saw what it cost her, is it?

Perhaps if 'users' of pornography had to face the human cost, if those women were not mute, they would have to take responsibility, to get active. They might have to dare to speak out and risk the wrath of an industry with billions of dollars behind it, and top lawyers behind it, a whole circus of people who have so much to lose if it became unacceptable to trade in real live women. Not that the sex industry would or could ever quite phrase it like that. The sex industry aims to mute language which draws attention to what it actually does - uses women's bodies, with particular focus on the genitals and their penetration - to make vast sums of money, not for the benefit of the women, but for those higher up the chain. This lie retains its power by avoiding such vocabulary at all costs.

The sex industry seeks to control not just the voices of the women in it, but the very language of the discussion, and the vast majority of the media. Strangely, these people object to words which conjure up with any sort of accuracy the reality for the women involved. The reality's a little less palatable. It's not as easy to speak blithely of free speech and empowerment if you could hear the voice of the woman who just had unprotected sex with 8 different men describe the pain from the prolonged sex, how she snorted coke at every break to try to numb out, how difficult it was for her to try and smile for the camera and moan for the camera like she liked it, to say to them 'fuck me harder' when all she wanted was for it to be over cos the pain was unbearable and she thought she might vomit and she just wanted to grab the money and go shower and get drunk to forget.

The sex industry paints a picture of itself as a benevolent figure in a fight against women being chained to marriage and monogamy and subject to sexual control. They present themselves as the good guys, the modernists, the open minded ones. Against all the evidence, they want to be seen as women's liberators, not their exploiters. Society buys into that lie in as much as it accepts that language. The industry's use of language spins a lie which draws on fear: people's fear to seem prudish; people's fear to seem old fashioned; people's fear that they might be seen as backward, anti-women's rights, controlling or frigid. It's rarely said that you can object to women being hurt in pornography and prostitution, to being objectified and sold, but not be a traditionalist, a conservative. It is not in the sex industry's interest to allow that there might be a middle ground. Or that real empowerment of women might be found in something other than their getting naked to get men off.

They play a clever game, and they wage war on those who speak out. They seek to put their money making off limits, to make questioning the effects of the sex industry forbidden. How ironic that an industry that destroys women's lives should adopt a language of women's rights, of feminism and empowerment! How all pervasive has this lie become that a woman like me who has experienced the hell of prostitution, of being used in pornography, first hand is scared to speak out, is told to deny her truth, has found normally kind, non-judgmental people unable to hear her story? Faced with the appalling reality of what it means for women to be sold and destroyed one picture at a time, one punter at a time, people fall back into babbling about choice and freedom. How can it be that the woman becomes unacceptable, her story unacceptable, while the industry is untouchable?

The sex industry's choice and careful control of language is what keeps us where we are. It avoids explicit language to engage with wider society in its battle to remain where it has managed to place itself: in the mainstream. Many people who advocate the 'right' of adults to 'use' pornography, or argue in favour of the legalisation of prostitution, are embarrassed by the use of sexually explicit words to describe the sexually explicit films and magazines they defend. Such language is frowned upon as seedy and unsuitable, unnecessary.

But why is it ok to wank over a picture of a naked woman being penetrated but not ok to speak of her vagina, her anus, to speak of her reality, to say it as it is? To ask why she might be there, how she feels about it, what it means to her. If she has other options. How have we let an industry which deals in selling living, breathing, feeling, warm blooded human bodies as objects, to be used for our gratification, and then discarded in favour of the next body, control us so thoroughly, brainwash us so completely that we may only speak in abstract terms of fantasy, free speech, choices, and never the humanity of the women who we are staring in the face? How is it that the statistics showing that an overwhelming percentage of women used in pornography and prostitution were sexually abused as children or adults or have mental health problems and want out of it desperately have been so hushed up? (See Object: Demand Change website for recent statistics). In this language of rights, where are the rights of the women being used? What happened to the responsibilities that go hand in hand with rights? And in a context of abuse, of addiction, of poverty, of violence, of mental health difficulties, how meaningful is it to speak of choices?

Getting the women who are caught up in all this, trapped, to speak out in defence of their degradation, of their being dehumanised and objectified and sold, is the cleverest and dirtiest trick the industry has come up with. Nothing can release society of it's responsibility to action, to change, like the voice of a woman who knows. A woman who speaks out in support of the sex industry's lie is paid handsomely, by a society that is grateful it need not look at itself or question its practices, and by the industry itself. The industry pays these women to denounce other women, women who dare to say I didn't like it, I didn't want it, being treated as an object hurt me, I don't think it promotes a healthy image of women, as extremists and prudes. A woman who speaks against that lie pays over and over again, firstly through the pain of being sold, then again by having her pain and her story dismissed. Dismiss the woman who speaks the truth, and you need never face that truth or own your part in it. The status quo is at risk, needs to be protected. The truth can't get in the way of that! It is a status quo which suits many, which makes money, in which women can be bought, wanked over, then put away neatly in a drawer til next time, or left in the brothel til next time, no thought for their humanity, their dignity, their feelings and emotions, what they go home to at night. Hearing the vastly publicised voices of a few women telling the sex industry's lie, society again rests easy, blameless.

When I fell back into prostitution after I crawled away from my ex to support my drug addiction, in despair because in my condition I couldn't get any other work, when I'd begged my GP for help to quit the substances and she'd refused, I found myself telling johns if they asked me that I chose it, that I liked it. It was what kept them coming back, and I needed them to come back because I needed the money. No choices. No free speech. They'd whisper revolting words into my ear, and then say 'and you'd like that, wouldn't you?' and I'd have to say yes. It felt like I had given away my last shred of self respect. I cried myself to sleep at night, I couldn't look myself in the eye in the mirror anymore. Being fingered and fucked and stared at and cum over and photographed and videoed and treated like an object for the entertainment of others was oddly unempowering.

The chasm between the 'acceptable', society and its sanitised, abstract views of women and sex 'work', between that world and my world, that reality and mine, seems vast, unbridgable, even now I am out, even now I am sober. They with their jobs and their houses, their strip clubs after work, just a bit of fun, a porno movie or mag just for a 'laugh', no big deal, going home to a warm house, a safe bed, sleeping sound, comfortably distanced. And me, simply surviving here, struggling to live with the feelings and memories, the scars, the nightmares, grateful that I haven't drunk or used just for today, that I haven't been beaten or sold today.

I'm no longer in that hell of prostitution. But I find myself in limbo, still fighting to survive, still at odds with omnipresent voice of the sex industry, still at odds with society, the survivor and bearer of a truth too uncomfortable for most to hear. It's time we call these language games for what they are and get honest with ourselves.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Progress not Perfection

In recovery circles, they have a saying: the good thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back and the bad thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back. These last few weeks I have to say I've found having my feelings to be tough. Someone I love very much is seriously ill, with a possibility of not coming through it. It's at times like this that I have to remind myself I am powerless over people, places and things.

When I was drinking and using I used to work really hard at fixing people. I wanted to be everything to the people in my life, I think because I wanted to be loved and needed, and making myself indispensible to people seemed a way to make people like me. I had no self esteem, and so I searched for approval in the eyes of others. If someone liked me, good (although even then I'd think, if they really knew me they'd think different). If not, all hell let loose: a confirmation it seemed to me that my worst fear was true, that people could see through me and know I'm a bad person. I clung to people for dear life.

Looking back at how lonely I was, and how desperate for love I was, I feel compassion for myself. And I feel sad. Now, in recovery, I can see myself more clearly. I see the patterns in my life, the character defects I have which have led me to fall into unhelpful behaviours and destructive relationships. Relationship is at the heart of the problem: I tend to have incredibly skewed relationships with everything in my life, from people to money to everyday objects which I can imbue with certain powers beyond the real. So I can start to think certain clothes lucky or unlucky, demand that any man in my life be a white knight and save me, get superstitious about rituals. Ritual was another big thing for me in my using. And the white knight thing...

I still am prone to these ways of thinking. I am an addict, and they are my default position. But I do these days think myself more worthwhile, and not set up others as gods in my life to be raged at and thrown away when they inevitably fail to save me from myself. Only I can save myself, with the help of others. And people won't help if I don't let them in, and tell them I'm hurting and scared. I find it so hard to admit that! But I am trying, nevertheless. At this time of upset and worry, I have mustered up the courage and honesty to reach out to my friends for support. And the grace to know that I can't save him, that I'm not God, that I can only do what I can and look after myself and hand the rest over. It's difficult, and I'm scared and I'm hurting, and I still often feel lonely, but it's progress.