‘Siobhan’ sent us this #MeToo account of her experiences in the legal sex trade in New Zealand and Australia through our Share Your Story page. This provides a space for women to tell their stories in their own words.
I did prostitution from the age of 18 to 30, in both New Zealand and Australia.
I grew up in a middle class family, but my father was a misogynist with anger issues, which he took out on me (his only daughter), with verbal putdowns and sporadic physical violence, interspersed between months of ignoring me or grunting in response to my attempts at conversation with him. My mother turned a blind eye, and instead told the extended family that I was a “difficult, problem child,” which they all believed.
At the age of 17 I applied for a welfare benefit which meant I could move out of the family home to get away from the toxicity and abuse, as I felt it was causing the erosion of my self-esteem that I would find impossible to overcome.
At the time I felt leaving the toxic family home was something I had to do to have a healthy future. But in hindsight I believe I never would have been involved with prostitution if I had stayed in my family home, despite the toxicity of that environment. This is something I think about and regret daily, though I ’m trying to forgive myself for my choice, as I was only 17 and didn’t know better.
So I moved out of home at age 17, and although I was in my final year of high school, I kept going, and graduated with good marks. I soon got a part-time job at a local charity shop, sorting through items that had been donated.
My mother made it known to me that my uncle (who had once absolutely adored me, but had subsequently bought into the idea I was a delinquent) was disappointed that I was working in such a lowly job in a charity shop instead of doing something better with my life. My uncle’s rejection of me and his belief that I was a loser devastated me, and convinced me I was a worthless person.
At age 18, I was on my lunch break at the charity shop reading the local newspaper, when I saw an ad that said “Girls! Girls! Girls! Make CASH!” I must have realised it was some type of sex work, but I don’t think I really knew what it would entail.
I called the number. The woman on the other end of the line said, “Are you pretty?” I said no. She said, “Well, do boys like you?” I said yes. My interview at the brothel was the first time I had worn high heels.
I remember being excited and thrilled by the wad of cash in my wallet at the end of my first shift – mainly because I could buy food to binge-eat anytime and anywhere. Food had become the thing I used to numb away all the bad feelings of my childhood and now here I was, with all the money in the world to buy all the food I wanted!! It was exhilarating.
I became addicted to the ‘ease’ with which the money was gained. Although I don’t have any really traumatic memories from those early years – but looking back I see clearly I was exploited: A client older than my father who convinced me that all the girls gave him oral without a condom (so I did it); the $800 worth of ‘fines’ I accrued at the brothel (for reasons unknown) and was required to pay before I left (and I did!); the middle-aged man who worked as a driver to the escorts, taking me back to his flat, keeping me there for hours and having sex with me on what I though was an outcall, but he never paid me.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I came to hate the work. I would cry on my way into the brothel, but by then I felt trapped in the work and felt I had to make something of my life with the money before I could quit, to make it all worthwhile.
I enrolled in a university degree and remember telling myself, “You’ve done it this long, what’s another two years?” Looking back I don’t know why I didn’t just cut my losses and quit, even if it meant not going to university. It’s hard to explain. But I found it very difficult to exit prostitution.
The worst thing for me without a doubt was the psychological ‘games’ the punters played. It wasn’t enough for them to use my body for their sexual gratification, but it was important for them (even necessary for their enjoyment) that they tried their hardest to make sure I knew I was worthless because I was a prostitute.
At the same time their penis or fingers were inside of my vagina they would say things like: “Do you actually enjoy this work?!” “What are you DOING with your life!?” “Do your parents know what you’re doing” “Why don’t you just get a (real) job!!!”
I always used to find it insane that they were benefiting from my choice to do prostitution but simultaneously telling me I was a scumbag for doing prostitution.
Over the years these conversations completely wore me down, and memories of many of them are still something I ruminate on to this day. One such memory is of a man in his 60s who (after using my body to achieve his orgasm), cupped my face in his hands and told me that I needed to find a man for marriage in the next couple of years, because “it is the best thing for [your] life.”
When I took offence to this (recognising the cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy he was exhibiting, and that he felt so comfortable expressing this opinion to me while I lay naked beside him), he exclaimed with a surprised chuckle “What?! I’m only speaking the truth!” When he expected to have sex with me a second time after this little “pep talk”, I refused, and he complained to management.
Other punters exhibited an almost obsessive desire to know whether or not I was a student, and needed to be reassured I was only doing the work temporarily, because it made them able to justify having sex with a woman they knew didn’t really want it.
Sometimes I would be honest with them and say “No, I don’t enjoy this work, I am doing it for money.” As if to offer them the opportunity to stop what they were doing, if it truly was of concern to them.
Unsurprisingly, not ONE of these punters, upon hearing this, or indeed seeing my face grimace whilst they roughly touched my vagina, didn’t end up putting his penis inside of me or achieving the orgasm he felt he was entitled to.
Because of this, I believe that for many punters, causing mental discomfort to the girl / woman they buy is necessary for them to truly enjoy the experience. This is in stark contrast to the widespread belief that punters are normal, respectful men just looking to satiate their biological desire for sex and no one is harmed in the process.
For me, these deliberate and conscious attempts by punters to mess with my head whilst using me in prostitution have affected me much, much more than the multitude of times I was physically and sexually assaulted in prostitution. I still ruminate about the veiled insults they made about my worth, my looks and my character, that occurred even as long as 10 years ago. I thought I had a low self-esteem at 17, but prostitution has absolutely destroyed it.
I wish I could say I finally exited, but all I have managed to do is get a job as a receptionist at a brothel. I have not quite yet finished the degree I started, deferring constantly due to depression.
I feel grateful that I no longer have to do prostitution, but I am very conflicted by my work as a receptionist. I am still privy to punters’ attitudes of entitlement, objectification of women, racism, and misogyny, and I am encouraged to brush it off (and feel I have to lest I lose my job, or worse, become the target of punter vengeance by daring to challenge them).
I thought I could begin to heal my trauma once I stopped doing prostitution, but as a receptionist I am still the target of harassment by punters, they still try to intimidate me or cause me discomfort (unwanted sexual comments about my body, talking in detail about their fetishes, using crass language intended to evoke discomfort, etc.).
I am convinced that men who pay for sex wish to cause mental discomfort to women in prostitution (including receptionists) just as much as they want sexual gratification.
I hate myself, because on paper it seems simple – just get another job and run far away from the industry. I don’t know why I can’t make myself do it.
I live (and work) in a country / city where this industry is legal. People think this means it is regulated, and therefore safe for both punters and workers. But this is an ideal, not the reality. The reality is the men who buy sex are most often not respectful, and if they rape or assault they do not face consequences (which I believe is why they feel able to rape a prostitute in the first place).
I believe that legalised prostitution simply strengthens and emboldens misogynistic attitudes and actions in the men of that society.
Because it’s a legal industry and there’s no threat of arrest, these men feel free and safe walking into the brothel and delight in dismissing, mocking and laughing in the faces of the women working there. Or worse. They book a session and they rape or assault the worker.
The response of punters to the worker setting boundaries is almost always incredulity or fury. Because of the confidence they feel due to it being a legal industry, these men see paying for sex as a service or product like any other, and often truly believe a boundary of “No, I don ’t consent to that being done to my body” is tantamount to bad customer service, and indeed “theft” of their money.
Despite entitlement and disrespect for the worker’s boundaries, these punters still get a tick on their loyalty card for the session in which they raped the worker, they are warmly waved to by reception after the session in which they raped the worker. “Thanks Peter! See you next time!”
They are most always welcomed back next time, even though everyone knows that they removed the condom without consent last time they were there.
These men return to their wives and children, to their jobs, to their positions of power and influence, to their social circles.
How can we deny that their opportunity and freedom to objectify and assault without consequence is likely to infiltrate their other relationships, the way they see other human beings, and the way they choose to behave in the world in which we live???
Human rights of workers are not enforced in legalised prostitution (despite what the pro-sex work community desperately wants you to believe). If they were, the majority of buyers would eventually be banned from venues, the police would be called constantly.
Legalised prostitution is not progressive, and it hurts everyone in the society in which it exists.
I hope we will eventually see the Nordic Model in New Zealand and Australia, so sex buyers finally face consequences for their choice to display and willingly act on their misogyny, entitlement and lack of empathy.
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 anonymously, please see our Share Your Story page.