The ways in which the sex trade robs the women exploited by it of their bodily autonomy has been well documented. Except, perhaps, for one.
In the weeks after Roe v Wade was overturned in America, the call for a woman’s right to choose is on most feminist’s lips.
But what about those of us who didn’t get to choose?
My biggest trauma from my time in the sex industry wasn’t any of the punters I was forced to see, or beatings from my abusive partner, or even the violent rapes, although all these were bad enough.
It was the abortion that I never wanted to have.
I was trying my hardest not to get pregnant, mainly because I knew if I did, I would never get away from my abusive partner, who at this point had trafficked me into the porn industry. I was eight years into what would be a decade in and out of being exploited in the sex trade, and probably at my lowest.
But as we all know, contraception isn’t fool-proof; and so there I was, pregnant.
And, completely unexpectedly given my circumstances, I wanted the baby. I started hiding money and desperately looking for ways to get away.
At first, he wasn’t too unhappy. You see, a woman’s pregnant body is quite the fetish for some punters and porn viewers, and so he immediately saw a new market for my changing body.
When I refused, he beat me. I still refused. I don’t know what it was about that particular act that was so much worse than the other sexual fetishes I’d had to pander to at that point, but something inside me finally snapped.
And then he insisted on an abortion. I refused again, and the beatings continued. I appeared on webcam with bruises and punters seemed to like it more. He deliberately targeted my stomach with his violence, or sexually assaulted me with objects, to try and induce a miscarriage.
I gave in when he started threatening vulnerable family members. The day he drove me to the clinic and waited outside is seared into my mind. I walked in like a zombie and no-one asked questions in spite of the still visible bruises and his brooding presence outside. I saw adverts for women’s refuges in the toilets but was too scared to speak up. He said he’d find me if I ran. I believed him.
That abortion is the single most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through, because I didn’t have a choice. And I believe this is an issue we need to be talking about, because this is an epidemic within the sexual exploitation industry.
We know that domestic violence worsens during pregnancy, and that withheld contraception and forced pregnancies happen and are used to further control and abuse women. But it works the other way around as well, and if that partner also happens to be a pimp, then the likelihood of forced or coerced abortion is high, with many survivors reporting multiple instances of this, including as minors.
In one study 52.9% of sex trafficking survivors reported being subjected to coerced abortion. In the general population, a recent BBC commissioned poll in the UK showed 15% of women had been subject to coerced or forced abortion. While this is high enough, the shockingly high percentages among sexual exploitation survivors shows how these two abuses are intrinsically entwined.
Reproductive abuse in all its manifestations is frighteningly common in violent relationships due to the level of control it gives the abuser, and is a direct attack on women’s bodily autonomy. Within trafficking there is another layer to this – profit. When women’s bodies are traded for cash, the pregnant body becomes just another product. One to be fetishized to make money, or destroyed if it is making a loss.
Pro-choice feminists have understandably focused on women’s access to safe, legal abortion, but this should not come at the cost of losing sight of those suffering at the hands of abusive partners or pimps. In the eagerness to do away with gatekeeping, safeguarding must not fall by the wayside along with it.
For women and girls at the mercy of pimps, punters and traffickers, ‘my body, my choice’ seems like an impossible dream.
Forced abortion is violence against women.
So is the sex trade.
Too often, they go hand in hand.
Also by this author
- ‘I’m paying you not to say no.’
- As a sex trade survivor, I believe the Nordic Model framework is the way forward, rather than the New Zealand model
Note from Nordic Model Now!
We are grateful to Rebecca for sharing her harrowing story. It very clearly illustrates the desperate need for better joined-up service provision for women – including refuges, crisis accommodation, and high-quality specialist support to enable women to safely escape pimps and to find viable alternatives and routes out of the sex trade. This is one of the key things we campaign for as part of the Nordic Model approach to prostitution.
Her testimony also illustrates that women don’t just need safe, legal abortion services – but also abortion services that are sensitive and responsive to the reality of women’s lives – which too often involve being on the receiving end of male violence and coercion, and of sexual exploitation, pimping and human trafficking.