Rebecca sent this #MeToo story about her journey through lap dancing and into prostitution via our Share your story page.
“You simply cannot forget years and years of swallowing down your consent, of swallowing down what is, at best, disgust, irritation and boredom during sex and, at worst, anger, humiliation and terror.”
I am a 29 year old white, middle class female who now works in academia. I worked in the sex industry from the age of 17 to 21. I started in lap dancing clubs and then moved on to both agency based and brothel prostitution (although I will say that prostitution does take place in lap dancing clubs in my experience). At the time I was working I probably would have said that I saw prostitution as my ‘informed choice’. I focused on the benefits (e.g. meeting new people, money, glamour, excitement, not having to work a regular job, etc.) and was not aware of the slow, insidious, accumulative effects it was having on me. Nor had I really examined the reason why I had even reached the decision that this was a viable or, seemingly, appealing option for me in the first place (hint – I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, something that will, without a doubt, make you feel that your body is both worthless and, paradoxically, the only object through which you can gain worth and approval.)
This is what angers me about this ‘sex-work’ debate. People rarely think about why middle class, well educated women (‘happy hookers’??), enter into prostitution to begin with. Childhood sexual abuse does not discriminate against class and it has been shown to have occurred in exponentially disproportionate rates in women working in the sex industry, women from all backgrounds, working at all levels of this industry. This is not a fact that is questioned, however, and, instead, these women are held up as shining examples of the successes of both prostitution and, ironically, female ‘empowerment’. In my opinion, however, the statistics on women in the ‘sex industry’ who have survived childhood sexual abuse are enough to build policy upon.
This brings me on to the second point which annoys me in relation to this debate, the effects of it. Nobody speaks to these ‘happy hookers’ after they have left prostitution, this is when the effects of it catch up with you. You simply cannot forget years and years of swallowing down your consent, of swallowing down what is, at best, disgust, irritation and boredom during sex and, at worst, anger, humiliation and terror. After you have lived through that, it is fundamentally impossible to have anything near a happy, healthy and ‘normal’ life. By this I mean, a life where you can, at a very basic level, trust and connect to others, men in particular, and, alongside this, feel OK about your own body, humanity and worth. These things, will be constant everyday battles.
Since leaving prostitution I have struggled with chronic depression, flashbacks, anorexia and self-harm. I have not been off psychiatric medication or out of therapy. I have never been able to enjoy sex or be in a loving relationship. The ‘sex-industry’, by which I mean the legally sanctioned rape, humiliation, devaluation and degradation of women, has robbed me of all these things.
I was ‘lucky’ in that I was able to leave and that I did leave when I did. I was unlucky in that, what woke me up to the urgency of needing to leave was a customer choking me until I passed out, doing god knows what to me and then leaving me lying alone and unconscious on his kitchen floor for god knows how long.
I do not believe that by decriminalising this violent and horrific patriarchal institution that we make women safer. Measure by measure, to criminalise this industry, not only will we make potential sex workers, current sex workers and ex-sex workers safer (physically and, perhaps most importantly, psychologically) but, in addition to this, we make all women safer, safer from the absolute tyranny which is men’s blind belief in their entitlement to dehumanise women and to purchase consent, whether that be financially or through one of the multiple other, interconnected, yet equally legitimated means through which women’s ability to say no is held to ransom under the patriarchy.
Share your story
If you’ve been in the sex trade, or have been affected by it in other less direct ways, and would like to share your story, we’d love to hear from you.