This is my draught for my talk on Radio Four.
Well, you know from that introduction that I’m a football fan, and I’m also a fan of Radio 4 which has been a friend to me most of my life. The Archers was always in my room, and for me the joy of stories and plays to disappear into. Radio 4 gave me a sense of order – with the news at 1, 6, and 10.
It gave me some sense of stability and a sense of a future without terror. I have held onto Radio 4 as a comfort blanket because I lived in a world of chaos, a world where pain and hate was my norm, a world that I could never fully understand. I would cling to the sound of voices on the radio trying to find a world where there could be love, where there could be hope. I wanted a future where I could belong – where I could escape from the reality that was the hell I was living in – that is the world of prostitution.
To fully understand the reality of prostitution is to know it must never be described as sex work or understood as a matter of labour, or thought that the prostituted have chosen it freely just like any other kind of work. To call it “the oldest profession” is to turn a blind eye to the fact that prostitution is a human rights issue, that it is an extreme form of torture, that it is a matter of slavery.
To be prostituted is to be made sub-human. So I’m putting to you tonight that prostitution must be abolished. Our society should not tolerate it, just as we strive to rid the world of slavery.
I will speak about my experiences, always knowing and remembering that all that happened to me as an individual was common practice in all aspects of prostitution. The torturing of the prostituted has existed for at least 3000 years, and is inside almost all cultures and in all continents.
I speak out as someone who managed to leave prostitution after fourteen years. I am one of the lucky ones. Prostituted women and girls have a high rate of mortality before the age of 27 – whether this is through suicide, ill health or murder. It is estimated that prostituted women are at least 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women of a similar age or background. I speak with the ghosts of the prostituted women and girls who were unable to leave deep in my heart. They are my inspiration.
For me the only way to truly explain the reality of prostitution is to place yourself into the room. It’s not saying imagine that being prostituted may be happening to your daughter, to your wife, to a work colleague, or to your best friend. All too often this can be used as an excuse to say we must not judge another person’s life or choices. No, I want you to place your body and mind into the middle of indoors prostitution be that in private flats, rooms above pubs, the backrooms of clubs or hotel rooms – these are places that are firmly out of sight.
I entered the world of prostitution when I was 14, from a home that was filled with books in an affluent market town in Southern England. I was the average age of the majority that enter prostitution in Western countries, which is 12 to 15 years old. I had previously been abused both sexually and mentally at home since I was six years old.
When I entered prostitution, I thought I knew what I was doing, I believed that I had chosen to be a prostitute when I went to a club with another girl. I was so naive, while at the same time I was too old for my years.
To understand prostitution is to know that damaged innocence, to see beneath the veneer of hardness, see through the detachment and self-destruction. It is to see with the eyes of the prostituted woman or girl who wants the world to stop for her, and for someone to reach out and say she is worth a great deal.
I want you to imagine back to being 14. Is it not a time of self-discovery, a time of making mistakes, a time on the edge of some kind of future, a time of first love? It should not be a time to be thrown into the living hell that is prostitution.
Let me explain my first night of prostitution from the eyes of my 14-year-old self. Let me explain that I entered prostitution from a place of anger, a place of wanting to be rejected for being the bad girl that I felt I was. I entered prostitution thinking I could make the rules, that I would leave if it got too difficult. I was so naive.
In one night, I had my humanity stolen. In one night, I saw believing in hope was pointless. In that first night I became the ideal prostitute. In that night, I learnt to have no expression, learnt to show no resistance. I learnt that I was merely goods and that all my humanity would be trashed. In one night, I became nobody. In that first night, I was raped by more punters than my mind can remember. I was raped, singly or by groups of punters, for around six hours. I was being seasoned into prostitution. I was being tested to see how I would respond to torture.
I had learnt through my past sexual abuse, not to cry when in terror. I had learnt from my past sexual abuse, to be as still as possible when pain was inside every cell of my body.
To be prostituted is to be fully controlled by a punter, without the messy interference of his guilt or him taking any responsibility for his violence. To be prostituted is to have no language of your own, only a language that is controlled and formed by sex trade profiteers and punters. It is a world where a punter has full permission to be as sadistic as he can imagine – without outside interference or any sense that he is a criminal.
To know the heart of what it is to be prostituted is to know a place of deadness and heightened detachment. Be inside a body that has been raped over and over and over – not in the tens, but raped in the hundreds or thousands of times. Be inside a body that can no longer know pain. Be inside a mind that can no longer compute the terror. Know you are raped so often that you have no words left. For the majority of the prostituted mental, physical and sexual torture is their norm.
I know the word torture is mainly reserved for political prisoners, that it’s only considered real when it’s done by a state. But to truly understand the reality of prostitution, we must use the language of torture. It’s made invisible because all violence done by punters is made to disappear. It cannot be known as violence when it is named as adult entertainment or just men having fun. But we must see with a clear eye that methods of torture used by the state resembled the treatment of the prostituted. I describe these events for they are common in the world of prostitution.
Recently there was an outrage that American soldiers had been using water-boarding as a form of torture. This triggered stressful memories for me, for I was often tortured with the use of water. It was not rare for me to have my head held down in a bath or a toilet as a punter would rape me from behind.
I still have major issues with a sense of drowning. I still feel pain from all those rapes. I still have major issues with choking – even though it has been over 20 years since I was in that situation. I was tortured with strangulation. I was tortured by punters preventing me from sleeping. I was tortured in so many ways that my mind has learnt to block it out. To survive prostitution is to know that every cell in your body has been tortured, and to learn to give out the veneer that it has had little effect on you. There is no platform to express what has been done to the prostituted.
You may wonder why I was in prostitution for so long, if it was as full of horror as I have said. But to be prostituted, is to enter prostitution with little or no self-respect. This can be for multiple reasons, or me it was previous sexual and mental abuse. To enter prostitution is to come from a dark place, a place where you have lost hope or the ability to care about your own safety. So the violence and hate of prostitution becomes the only world where you think you can fit in. It is a world that slowly traps you and lies that it is the only place that will care for you. It is as if the world of prostitution becomes your family.
As I became embedded in the world of prostitution, I became lost to the outside world. I could not even understand that I was a prostitute. Punters would provide me with food. Often punters would give me gifts rather than money. Many of the prostituted are given drugs until they become addicted or to ease the physical pain. That is part of trapping the prostituted.
I am asking you to try and place your body inside the tortured body of a prostitute. Know if you try to resist, the punter may just laugh at you, or become more violent. Tell me how would you cope in that situation, or would you just be trying to remember to keep breathing? Would you not survive by acting dead? Would you not survive by learning to not care about your physical welfare? Would you not survive by becoming hard, by performing the Happy Hooker? Would you not survive by forgetting that you have a future, or that hope can exist?
I can speak out now for I can never forget the deadness of living inside prostitution. I now campaign for the full abolition of prostitution, for I want no more generations to know that hell. I see the Nordic Approach – which is the criminalisation of the demand and supply of prostitution, while decriminalising the prostituted, with full access to holistic and long-term care to enable the prostituted to leave. This is the first step to abolition.
In the UK it’s illegal to pimp or to buy a prostitute who has been coerced – this is a long way from the legal changes we need. We need a culture change to educate people that prostitution is a destruction of human rights, and to build a society that will fight for abolition. By criminalising the demand and supply, we would build a society that sends out the signal to the prostituted that they were never to blame for the violence that was done to them. They were living inside an environment where all access to free choice was stolen from them. It would be a sign that our society is beginning to view the prostituted as fully human deserving of all human rights.
I will end by saying that the safer that I am, the less I need Radio 4 as a comfort blanket. I will always hold Radio 4 deep inside my heart, for in many it helped to save my life.