Woman gives testimony to the Irish Examiner; “The harsh realities of ‘being raped for a living’”
The following is an article which appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Wednesday, February 15, 2012
A former Dublin prostitute speaks about her seven years working in the Irish sex trade and argues against the idea that legalisation can make the work any safer
FOLLOWING the latest revelations about Ireland’s booming prostitution rackets, a former Dublin prostitute has written a stark account of her seven year ordeal in the industry which began when she was just 15.
At that young age, circumstances no child should ever experience forced her to sell her body to elderly men, who would openly be aroused by abusing a child. Before she managed to extricate herself from a life in which she says she was “raped for a living”, she admits she even contemplated suicide…
“The nation is finally beginning to take a look at the intrinsic harm of prostitution. I welcome this because it is a harm I have understood since I was a 15-year-old prostitute, being used by up to 10 men a day. The one thing that linked those men together, besides their urges to pay to abuse my young body, was that they all knew just how young I was. They all knew because I told them, and I told them because it had the near-universal effect of causing them to become very aroused.
“When a man is very aroused in street prostitution that is a good thing, because it means he’ll climax quickly and the whole ordeal will be over fairly fast. I learned that on my very first day while sitting in the car of an elderly man who repeated over and over the thing that was causing him such sexual joy: ‘Oh, you’re very young — aren’t you? Aren’t you?’
“That is the true, sleazy and debased face of prostitution — the face that pro-prostitution lobby groups hysterically deny and attempt to conceal. Well, they cannot conceal it from me. I spent too long looking at it, too long being abused by it, and too long trying to recover from the soul-level injury it left behind.
“Many of the girls I worked alongside were not much older than I was, and one was only 13-years-old — and there was no shortage of grown men paying to abuse her. Most of the older women had been working since they were our age or younger, and many of them had histories of sexual abuse that predated their prostitution lives. When a person looks at a 30- or 40-something prostitute what they forget is that they are looking, in most cases, at a woman who has been inured to bodily invasion since she was a prepubescent child.
“I didn’t just work outdoors. When the Sexual Offences Act of 1993 came into force it drove me and many others indoors, where we had even less autonomy over the conditions of our own lives. In the brothels and the ‘escort’ agencies, we had to endure the same things we did on the streets, but we had to endure them for longer, and with no screening process as to who would pay to abuse us.
“You might wonder, ‘if you were a prostitute, what did it matter who it was?’ That is an innocent question, and it is deserving of an answer. It mattered because, far from being unaware of the abusive nature of prostitution, a lot of men were not only aware of it but actively got off on it. The misogyny from a lot of men was so potent and so deliberate it could cause nothing but trauma. And we, as the prostituted class that we were, could do nothing to protect ourselves other than try to avoid its most potent manifestations. This had been at least somewhat possible on the streets, where we could do our best to discern whether or not a man had hatred and the desire to hurt us seeping out of every pore. It was not at all possible once we’d gotten run indoors, and the immediate effect was a rapid escalation in violence and murder.
“Irish prostitution has been mainly conducted indoors since then, and nothing about this ugliness has abated because it’s been concealed from the public view. In fact the opposite has been true. We were abused more thoroughly, not less, with the only difference being that now there was the secrecy of closed doors to conceal it.
“There is no doubt that many of these men had daughters older than I was, yet the abuse they unleashed on me was devastating, violent, humiliating and degrading. It was paid sexual abuse. It was ritualistic, and I experienced it in every area of prostitution.
“Do not for a moment think that the men paying to abuse here are not ‘ordinary men’. I could not count the number of wedding rings and babies car seats I encountered. The men who pay to debase and degrade women and girls in prostitution are the same men who play out the pretence of being happily married family men. I wonder sometimes at the amount of women who would be shocked, not only to know their husbands are visiting prostitutes, but also to know the depth of their own husbands’ contempt and misogynistic hatred of women.
“Under Irish law, the abusive nature of prostitution has been allowed to flourish unhindered and it is a living hell for the women struggling to survive within it. It is primarily for the sake of these women, but also for all of us who want to live in a gender-equal society, that I am gladdened to see the Irish Government finally pledge to tackle this issue.
“I only hope that they go the right way about it, which is to criminalise the purchase of sex, because nothing will change for prostituted women and girls until the commercialisation of female bodies is dealt the hammer-blow it so richly deserves.
“To those who would say legalisation would make prostitution safer: I think the same thing any former prostitute I’ve ever spoken to thinks, which is that you may as well legalise rape and battery to try to make them safer. You cannot legislate away the dehumanising, degrading trauma of prostitution, and if you try to, you are accepting a separate class of women should exist who have no access to the human rights everyone else takes for granted.”
The following testimonies are from women in prostitution interviewed by the research team on the report Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: the Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland, 2009 (available here).
You can also download Case Studies.
In the first agency, I worked for eight months. There were two girls in each apartment and you were available 24/7 to clients. Whether you were sleeping or cooking dinner, it did not matter; you had to answer the phone. The men were told they could do anything and if you refused they complained and you were fined €400.
The second agency was cheaper and different one. There were about 10 girls in the apartment. You worked from 7pm to 5am, mostly after 2am. It was quicker, more normal sex and the men were younger but you could see up to 10 men a night.
In one agency, there were rich, older men. They wanted sex without condoms… everything that was not just normal sex… these men were crazy… one guy was a teacher. You had to dress up in a school uniform, no make-up… shave pubic hair and he would spank you and you would hit him. It was awful. We would walk up and down and men would come and choose which girl they want.
I feel like nothing. I feel dirty. I feel confused and upset all the time. I want to get out of this work. I want a normal life. I am tired of all the lies… lies, lies, lies to everyone, to my family, my friends in Brazil. How could I go back? What would I say I had been doing? I do not want to lie but how can I tell the truth. I have lived inside this world, this universe and the normal world outside is lost to me. I feel I have no future. Without Isobel [her lesbian partner], I would feel I did not exist as a person.
The buyer pays €400, €180 for me and €220 for the agency. They withhold €500 per week for rent. Also, to start with the agency, I had to pay the agency a €500 fee.
The way the money works is you put all the money from the clients in an envelope and it is collected every couple of days. It is all done on the street. A car pulls up with a woman or a man and you hand them in the list of clients and all the money. The agency lodges money into a bank account. We get paid two weeks later, always in arrears minus the rent and fines. The women lose out when they leave without notice.
I have real problems forming relationships after this experience. I am very concerned regarding the future.
In Limerick, I have been intimidated with a gun… I have also had a guy hold a knife to my throat after paying for sex. He took money and went.
It felt like a prison, no time for lunch and I was on call 24/7. I saw between five and seven men a day, with occasionally a day off – but never a Saturday or a Sunday. There was no choice about which men you saw and some men wanted sex without condoms. If you refused to have anal sex you had to pay a penalty or the ‘security’ men would beat you up.
I always worry before I go in. But ok so far. I have a taxi outside. One guy in a text message last week said: ‘If you are not good looking, I will shut the door in your face’. I was nervous and made sure I had a regular taxi man.
I work mostly in Dublin but also go to Galway and Limerick. The agency books rooms. The big hotels all know but they close their eyes. Men are constantly looking for sex without condoms, including anal sex, which I do not do… Men want more and more things… not just normal sex. I have to move around… I do not stay in any one place for too long as they will get to know by the reviews that you will not do these things.
Clients come to the apartment, but I prefer callouts to hotels or their apartment/house as it creates a bad energy in my bedroom. I cannot sleep.
What is wrong with men these days… half of them want anal sex and awful things… I do not want these… it is disgusting… but most girls will do all of these and men expect it.
When the bell rings, I go to the door downstairs and, if I get a bad feeling, I say that my boyfriend has just arrived. With an agency, you have no idea who is coming into the room. In callouts, I use a regular taxi man and he waits for me. He will come in if I am longer than the time I said.
Men want to believe that you are enjoying it. You have to pretend that they are fantastic.
Sometimes I cannot smile… I hate the work I am doing.
My family do not know. I tell my mother that I work for a security firm. Sometimes I feel that she suspects but she does not ask. They would disown me… I feel awful, but the children now have opportunities. Mammy is not always saying no, now she can say yes to what they need.
Just after I started this, I met a really nice man. Then I thought I cannot go out with him and lie… I could not do that to him. Maybe if I had met him before, I would not have done this, but it is too late.
I am the perfect wife and mother at home. I avoid working in the area where I live. I do the kids’ homework and am always home for them at bedtime. The worst thing is living the torture of a hidden, secret life. Having this dark secret inside. I was out in a restaurant one night with my family and met one of my clients with his family. It was awful. But I thought they have as much to lose if it was disclosed.
I have a life and family at home. Ireland is only about work. I take the odd day off, a Sunday, and have dinner out but then I think that is one day longer here and in this work I do not want to be in.
This is not a normal life or a job. If I did not have children, I would not have done this. I do not think about myself. My son is in college and my daughter is at school. I want to be sure my daughter will never have to do this. I so miss home but will keep working until all the loans will be paid off. My sister divorced and her husband gave her nothing. She has two small children and no money so I stayed in the work and built a house for my mother and sister. My sister takes care of all the children and I support them all. No one knows what I do.
I am very lonely here at times. I really want to go home. I have no home here as I work in the apartment I live in. I am paying for a small house in a village and hope to finish paying it off in two years.
I am practically numbed because of this job… you don’t feel very good about yourself.
Nadia has a strange guy phoning and texting all the time. He says:
‘You are a slut. I will cut your throat.’
She has recorded the calls and reported it to the gardaí. Her apartment is a ground floor one so it makes her very nervous.
A new thing is some pimps are pretending to be punters and then try to make you work for them. They say they have lots of apartments and to come and make lots of money. They have threatened to call my landlord and make trouble for me. I refused but I’m nervous that they know where I live.
Some want you to do cocaine with them. I am completely wrecked for days afterwards.
I thought a lot about this before I did it. I knew I was crossing a line and had to shut down my emotions to survive… I have to just shut down and do it.