Prostitution: stories of survival
A review of Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist (Spinifex, 2016).
Prostitution involves engaging in sexual acts in exchange for money. Women are seen as disposable commodities, objects who can be bought and used in any way by the buyer. There is no loving intimacy, no respect and no commitment to a real relationship based on mutual love and affection, so this dreadful trade continues to damage women.
Explaining the book Prostitution Narratives, co-editor Melissa Tankard Reist, describes it as “a collection of 20 first person accounts by women from seven industrialized countries, who had left the sex industry. Their stories testified to violence, maltreatment, trauma, abuse, and ongoing suffering, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), disassociation, depression and anxiety. We gathered these stories to counter the myths of prostitution – that it is a job like any other, and no different – probably better – than flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant. The intensely personal account exposed a multi-billion-dollar sexual exploitation industry built on the backs of the bodies of real women and girls”.1
Co-editor of Prostitution Narratives2, Dr Caroline Norma adds “there now exists a mountain of empirical research, not only from feminist social scientists, but also from psychologists, clinicians, nurses, anthropologists and economists, of the harms of prostitution for women. These harms include post-traumatic stress disorder, genital and other physical injuries, pregnancy, depression and anxiety, and social isolation”.3
What evidence do these women provide? Linda shares that “I was a very good liar and able to act like I enjoyed sex, even though 99% of the sex was disgusting to me; sex with unattractive, cruel, joyless and married men”. Jade testifies that “I had night after night of paedophile types – clients who would ask me to role play as a child or would say really perverse things to me about children”. She adds “I was given a lot of drugs …
I would be left with bruises all over my body from rough sex, men always wanted to imitate hard core porn, acting out sexual violence they were feeding on”. For Annabelle, “working in the sex industry is hell on earth …”. Sadly, these accounts are not unusual for women in the sex industry.
A brief review of Prostitution Narratives notes that this book “refutes the lies and debunks the myths spread by the industry through the lived experiences of women who have survived prostitution. These disturbing stories give voice to formerly prostituted women who explain why they entered the sex trade. They bravely and courageously recount their intimate experiences of harm and humiliation at the hands of sex buyers, pimps and traffickers and reveal their escape and emergence as survivors”.4
Quoting long-time abolitionist, researcher and psychologist Melissa Farley, author/activist Carolyn Gage adds “There is an economic motive to hiding the violence in prostitution and trafficking … prostitution is sexual violence that results in massive economic profit for some of its perpetrators … Many governments protect commercial sex business because of monstrous profits”. Gage also provides evidence from Rachel Moran, a prostitution survivor, who writes “I lied to others about what prostitution was; I did not lie to myself … My deepest compassion is with the women who must mine deeply within themselves to uncover the subterfuge, go through the pain of examining its shapes and edges, and find a way to squarely look at things it [prostitution] was designed to conceal. In this process they must acknowledge the carnage of their own complicity”.5
Social science researcher Abigail Bray notes these stories require “a certain maturity of spirit to ‘hear’ what they have witnessed, what they are naming and expelling. Writing that creates paradigm shifts in social justice is often heart-breaking. To read this book is to let one’s heart be broken open to the reality of prostitution”.
Therefore, this book “aims to contribute to campaigns directed at stopping the sex industry as an enterprise that inflicts the trauma described by our contributors”. Bray concludes, “this solidarity, this unshakable integrity, dignity of purpose, and will to justice and healing will ultimately overcome the lies of the sexual abuse industry and their apologists”.6
Given the financial incentives in the sex trade, opposition to Prostitution Narratives has not been unexpected. Tankard Reist reports that pro-prostitution advocates have attacked the book and its contributors. She states, “confronting this powerful, protected industry which operates mostly with impunity is no easy task. In two decades of activism, I had never witnessed such a backlash against sex industry survivors and their support as took place when our new book was published”. 7 Abuse, vilification, threats, and intimidation from pro-prostitution forces were directed at the survivors who spoke up about the abuse they had suffered in the sex industry. This even extended to pressuring one survivor to come back into the prostitution business; something that she would never ever consider. Prostitution Narratives also addresses “Ten Myths about Prostitution, Trafficking and the Nordic Model” by debunking false ideas promoted by the sex industry.
Try to imagine how you would feel if your mother, wife, daughter, or granddaughter were prostituted. You would be horrified. No women should be used by men and we should all speak up for these damaged women and insist that our politicians protect those who suffer. We should also express great admiration for those women who spoke up and told the truth about this despicable business. Their stories are heartbreaking and their bravery is exceptional. Let’s ensure that their testimonies do not go unnoticed.
- Norma, C & Tankard Reist, M (eds), (2016), Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, North Melbourne, Spinifex.
- https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/standing -up-for-sex-workers-is-standing-up-for -pimps-20120618-20k84.html