Sunday, 31 January 2010

How does this happen?

Should I have seen this coming, got out before it got so bad? He hits me and he tells me it's my fault. I shouldn't provoke him. He rapes me and it's my fault. I dress like a slut. The doctor who stitches the gash where he glassed me looks at me with disgust as he says, 'you're going back to him?'. My fault again. People, neighbours, colleagues look away when I have black eyes, have bruises. I see looks exchanged, hear the whispers. How can she? No kindness, just judgment. And help? Only on their terms, if that.

And I think looking back, now I'm out: how does this happen? How can it be that here in the 21st century, in a time when we speak of equality, of choices, of opportunities, that a woman who is hurt by a man can be hurt again, shamed again, dismissed again by everyone around her, by the people who could help? If we are to apportion blame, how on earth did it get twisted to be her fault?

Battered women, prostituted women, are not stupid. We are hurt, yes, but not stupid. To get through, to survive day by day, hour by hour, in such a sub-life we observe and we learn - fast. Reaching out for help is dangerous. So when we dare, screwing every ounce of courage in our hands only to be slapped down and judged, we learn our lesson. You are not acceptable. Words become futile so we stop talking. People ignore us so we become invisible. We have been hurt by the people we hoped would help.

He is acceptable. He has no bruises, does not bleed, bears no mark of the shame of that life. While we pay twice over, once in the pain and the degradation of the beating, of the rape, of the insults, and then again as society demands, he does not pay a thing. In fact, he earns. Money from selling our bodies, money from the pictures and the tapes. He is rewarded by a society blind to the reality, which turns its back on the human cost, on women, a society which defends pornography as free speech and prostitution as a woman's choice. He is free to go where he will and mix as an equal.

How does this happen?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Language Games

When it comes to prostitution, we wrap it up pretty. We use language to distance ourselves from the reality of the situation. The language of the sex industry, of those in favour of legalising prostitution, minimises the pain of being a prostitute, of selling your body. It facilitates. With the language of 'work', 'jobs', 'clients', we can look straight through the pain and suffering of the women and teenagers who are caught there.

A friend of mine had to debate whether prostitution should be legalised as part of her college course. She was the only one who argued against it. The rest of the group spoke of safety and choice and a woman's right to 'work'. They didn't look at it as a personal issue. Yet what is prostitution if not personal? As a prostitute, I tried to distance myself from what was happening to my body - I used a different name, and tried to numb out with alcohol and drugs and a conscious effort. It never works.

The truth is, in prostitution, men gave me money to use my body. They told me sometimes repulsive, sometimes frightening, things that they wanted to do to me. And that I'd like it. I was told he wanted to fuck my arse until it bled and then stick it up my cunt. That he wanted to tie me up all helpless and watch other men rape me and abuse me til he came.

The fact that he used my 'working' name didn't matter. He was looking at me when he said it, touching me when he said it, hurting me when he said it. My body, my vagina, my rectum, are not distant, abstract concepts. They are real, they are a part of me, a living breathing, feeling woman. When they tear, it hurts me. When they bruise, it hurts me. When I was fucked again and again, hard, to fulfil the fantasy of the punters, it was reality for me.

The language of the sex industry, so widely accepted and used in debates across the country by people who have never experienced prostitution, and are comfortable in knowing they likely never will, is a whitewash. No other 'job' leaves women traumatised, with PTSD, a suicide rate far above the average. (see Demand Change website for Home Office statistics). Using that language kills the debate and silences the reality of women's suffering.

Freedom of speech talk from the so-called liberals is BS. I've never 'worked' with a woman who was free to tell the truth. To live as a prostitute, to survive, you have to construct a careful network of lies, even to yourself. It's known as denial. How else can you pick yourself up in the morning still sore from the day before (joke: 'still walking like John Wayne') and get back out there?

It is the antithesis of glamour. The reality is bodily fluids and smells and KY jelly and femfresh wipes and sponges in your vagina to be able to 'work' during your period. And pain from lots of sex and sore nipples cos they're pretty rough with you, men trying to pull a fast one and stick it up your arse if you're not looking and take their condoms off. Offering more if you let them in sans condom.

It hurts me when people who know nothing of the reality of prostitution throw their support behind the sex industry driven call to legalise it. I wouldn't legalise prostitution for the same reason I wouldn't legalise heroin: it destroys a human being, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The reality behind the fantasy

I find it utterly bizarre when people speak about pornography as 'harmless fantasy'. Porno isn't cartoons or drawings (in the main) - it's photographs and videos of real women, who have hopes and dreams and feel pain and humiliation like any other human being. Where's the fantasy for them?

I am one of those women. Okay, so I'm one of the lucky ones - I got out in more or less one piece. But my experiences of being used as pornography, as entertainment, have left deep scars. The thing is, with modern technology as it is, when a photo is taken, or a video made, there is no end to it. The humiliation and abuse of the woman, of me, can be endlessly replicated, endlessly sold, endlessly 'used' (I love the way society changes language round this stuff to sanitise it... read instead 'wanked over'). These images can survive long after our bodies and minds have been broken by being dehumanised and degraded.

In the context of violence, I had no choice and no voice. If I refused, or struggled or was 'awkward', I was beaten. I lost touch with reality. They treated me like an animal, and I became one to survive. Sometimes I'd initiate sex to avoid violence, and that hurt me, it filled me with feelings of shame, that I'd colluded with them. Often, I'd go along with things, awful, painful, sordid things, to avoid something worse. When you have to beg to use the toilet, to get some water, to get some booze, because you've been locked in your bedroom, you lose any last shred of self respect. Dignity went out the window long ago. Cut off from other people, you lose touch with reality, with right and wrong. And when the hand that hits you is also the hand that picks you up, and feeds you, you get confused. You don't know what to think anymore.

Nothing can prepare you for this. No words describe it. It is being utterly lost, and the only thing you can tell yourself is 'it's not really real, this can't really be happening to me' and detach as best you can from your body, try to zone out. Everything becomes disjointed, fragmented. When you can't remember what happened to you (blackout) and can't see a future for yourself, life becomes a series of snapshots, of jumbled thoughts and feelings and images and scents. Getting out becomes even more of an impossibility.

I still dissociate a lot - a strange feeling, like being a voyeur in my own life. In the past, I fragmented myself in a desperate attempt at self preservation. The drugs and alcohol were a part of that. I didn't know how to deal with what was happening to me, or how to process it. Now, I still can find myself numbing out and detaching when emotions run too high. But a slow and painful part of getting sober for me is an attempt to integrate these different parts of myself, the different personas. They even have names. An attempt to accept what an isolated, terrified, woman, had to do to survive. The feelings I've had as these memories have returned, and as I've tried to face them, are raw. Painful beyond words.

The thing I find hardest is the way that society normalises so many of the practices that have hurt me. It is an accepted 'right' that people be able to use pornography. Where are the rights of the women used to make that 'harmless fantasy'? The camera doesn't always show the coercion, the fear, the threat of violence, the addiction... all of these are hidden away to allow light entertainment. And where are the rights of the women who are made to act out these 'fantasies' by their partner, who are told that 'she's smiling so she likes it, and so must you' (or else be called a prude, a 'frigid cow' or less of a woman. Who wants to know the reality?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Moving on? On honesty and truth.

I was reading through the journal I kept when I was in rehab last night, and I couldn't help but smile. Every fellow 'inmate' I met I viewed with a suspicion and hostility surely Stalin would be proud of. My comments on my fellows were less than complimentary... and on reflection, entirely projection. By the time I came to leave I had nothing but love and respect for these people. We had laughed together and cried together and been vulnerable with one another, and when the words ran out we had offered all that we had to one another - hugs, ciggies, just our company.

The people I went through rehab with knew more about me, knew more about my life, than anyone had ever known before. In my using, everything had been hidden, I had been lost in a sea of secrecy and lies. I lied to cover up shame, I lied to avoid a truth I couldn't face, I lied with the justification of protecting others, I lied to support another lie... and sometimes I just lied. On my knees with addiction, there in rehab I finally got honest, and hurt, shame, and fear came tumbling out.

And now, 2 and a half yrs later, outside in the real world?

I still struggle with the concept of honesty, of being open and honest with people. I still tend to think: why would I let anybody really know me, let anyone really near me? I still tell little bits to different people - safer, surely, than putting all my eggs in one basket. They say knowledge is power and I'm not about to hand anyone power over me, thank you very much. My default position will always be one of profound mistrust of others, which somedays I make a conscious and monumental effort to overcome. That's working my programme, baby! Somedays, though, when I'm hurting and scared, I don't manage that so well. I can find myself isolating, find my words falling away. But I guess I need to learn not to be too hard on myself for that. When I look at my past I understand how I learned to mistrust, and how it kept me safe.

When I was beaten and raped, sold and tortured and treated like an animal, I lost my ability to talk. It was like becoming mute: speaking made no difference so I didn't speak anymore. When I went out with black eyes and people looked right through me, I felt invisible. When they scolded me at hospital for 'going back to him' when I was terrified and asked for help, I stopped asking. And now I'm clean and sober and still these words are hard, so hard, for me to say:

Please can you help me.
I'm scared.
I'm lonely.
I was raped.
I was sold.
I was abused.

I know I have to talk about this stuff, to reach out and trust someone and open up about it, and if I don't, I'm not going to make it. Sometimes I feel I'll never be over it, never be ok around men, never leave the nightmares and the flashbacks and the replays. It's f****** tough. My ability to gloss over stuff, to appear very together and sorted and confident and articulate, works against me here. I'm none of those things when it comes to this stuff. And as more memories come back to me as I stay sober, I can feel the pressure building inside. It's hard to leave the past in the past when it confronts you at every opportunity. It is with me every day. Constantly reliving experiences of prostitution and abuse would test the strongest person and I defy any of the glib therapists I have thus far encountered and not opened up to to do better.

I'm just trying to make my way through.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Harmless Fun

When you laugh
at a porno movie
or sneer over a woman
in a porno magazine
You laugh and sneer at me,
at my pain
at my exposure and nakedness
at my humiliation.

You laugh and sneer without knowing
who I am
where I come from
how I ended up here.

Maybe I'm smiling.
You don't see that I have to
don't see the man holding the camera
ordering me to do all sorts
or else
and I know what that means.

You weren't there to see me vomit before it started:
the camera wasn't rolling then
a toxic mixture of fear
and alcohol
tumbling from my mouth
and they had other uses for my mouth later.

You don't feel the sickening pain
of soft membranes
forced open
and fucked
and fucked
and fucked
by one man then another
and object after object
my tearing, my bruising
all hidden from your eyes.

You didn't sit with me when it was finished
and see me cry
and cry
endless waves of despairing
that it had come to this
that I had come to this
the self loathing
the drugs and alcohol that trapped me there
and Him.

You weren't beside me when he beat me
and battered me
and made me
and then picked me up and stroked my hair
and told me sorry
maybe things could be different
if only I would change.

A smile can hide a thousand secrets.
Money can buy a thousand lies.

When you buy her
you buy me
and you pay him.
Knowing what you're paying into -
now maybe that's not so funny

On Passivity

When you hit her, you hurt me,
because I feel her pain;
her suffering diminishes me.

When you buy her and use her,
you buy and use me;
because in lessening her value
you lessen my value too.

When you make her disposable,
you make me disposable;
dehumanising her
dehumanises me.


Look around.

We are all connected.
We are all human.
Whatever is allowed to be done to one
is permitted to be done to another.
Inactivity is collusion,
and political in itself.

Speaking as a Woman

Speaking as a woman
who drank and drugged
on happiness
on fear
to numb out every feeling
and emotion

Speaking as a woman
who became fragmented
so broken
and lost
she couldn't even answer
to her own name

Speaking as a woman
who sold herself
was sold
body and soul
to feed a hatred and addiction
beyond her control

Speaking as a woman
I say - enough.
No more.
I am a woman
and worthy of better things.

This Addict's Journey

I am 30 years old, an addict and an alcoholic, in recovery. My story differs little in many respects from those of countless others I have heard in the rooms of the 12 Step Programme I work. I count myself lucky to be here, and in a fit state to write. Recovery has in many ways changed my life beyond recognition.

However, the one thing I still struggle with is my experience of prostitution: of being a battered partner, a fuck doll, treated as less than human. I suffer with PTSD and get triggered, flashbacks and frequent intrusive thoughts.

It makes me sick when the media and sex industry talk about choices and freedom: these words have no place in my experience or the experiences of the other women I came across when I was 'working' and since, in recovery. The language of choice is meaningless in a context of violence, addiction, and mental health problems.

I am writing this blog to give some voice to the reality of prostitution. When I was in the middle of it, I had to say that I liked it, that it was fun, because that's what the johns want to hear. Or say nothing, to avoid a beating. The real me was effectively mute. I write for that part of me who cried herself to sleep every night that I had come to this, for the me that vomited before and sometimes after, full of fear and shame. And I write for the women still out there, who may never get the chance to be heard.