This is an edited transcript of Fiona Broadfoot’s speech in the morning session at the ‘Students for sale: Tools for resistance’ conference, held in London on 15 October 2022. The recording is on YouTube. Fiona’s speech starts at 7:05.
It is a privilege to be opening this absolutely crucial conference this morning. My name is Fiona Broadfoot. I’ve been in activism for many years and I’m the founder and CEO of the Build a Girl project. I work to support girls – to help them build a unique sense of self and to recover from sexual violence and abuse.
It’s pretty tough, because we dissociate from ourselves, we lose our identity. We have a working name and we shut down from anything that’s loving, cherishing and caring. I became quite hard-faced to cope with the relentless ten men a day. Ten was your average, but you might have 15 or 20, or five on a bad day. It’s a lot of men.
The grooming starts very young now. I work with girls that call themselves ‘hot’ at six, seven, eight, nine or ten years of age, because they are totally groomed by society to be sexual and ‘porn ready’ or rather ‘abuse ready’ – because it’s not sex.
I have a particular passion for working class kids. I work on estates in the UK, particularly in my city, but I’ve worked nationally and internationally as well. Kids who come from families that don’t work, don’t have an education, and are very poor and in poor health.
In the biggest estate I work on, the average life expectancy for women is about 40 and they are usually already grandmas by that age. It’s all hidden – it’s a hidden society – although it’s becoming more and more apparent with social media.
These girls, because of their postcodes alone, are written off. They’re written off from a very young age, so you’re constantly having to promote them and give them support to build their self-esteem so that they can fight this notion that to be a ‘sex worker’ is great. That it’s a great career and it’s an option that’s viable, sexy and wonderful.
Not on my watch – absolutely not on my watch.
One girl that I’m supporting is working really hard at school to be a barrister but she faces a lot of discrimination from teachers because of her class and her poverty.
Building girls up is a mammoth task. Girls tell me that on their way to school they are already wolf whistled and leered at by men on their way to work. Men getting their kicks out of girls in school uniforms.
In fact, that was the single biggest request from men who bought me. I was 15 when I entered the sex trade, but they still wanted to make me younger. They still wanted to treat me like I was a little girl and would often ask for your pubes to be shaved.
I don’t write my speeches. I never write my speeches because I get traumatised from writing, so this is just me. It’s never very orderly. It’s just me, with no academic qualifications whatsoever, but plenty in the school of hard knocks, that’s for sure.
I give these girls an opportunity to be better-educated, to have better options. And then they go to university and get sold the notion that ‘sex work’ is easy money. They won’t have parents giving them a bit of a top-up every month, they won’t have anybody to turn to when they’re struggling to feed themselves, because we don’t support further education and we don’t offer free further education for our girls and young women.
They are absolutely the ones that are going to be groomed straight down that road – they’ve already been prepped because they’ve been sexually abused. Society already has them ready for the men, for the demand, the invisible demand, that we never ever bother with.
I know other women are going to speak about the Nordic Model but we definitely need to get our heads around this demand from men.
We need to call out the ‘sex work is work’ brigade. We need to stop promoting this idea that men have the right of sexual access to women as and when they freaking want; women of whatever age they want, whatever size they want, whatever position they want.
We absolutely have to call this out! Especially while we objectify women and girls, and make them ready. In my city it’s £5 to do whatever they want to another human, to a vulnerable girl or woman. Five quid!
Those women are probably going to have to have 20 or 30 men a day, and like I said, I just can’t live my life and be part of and support that notion, not for one second, not for any girl – absolutely none.
I feel that a lot of the vulnerable young women in universities feel that that’s empowerment – but only for a very short, short time… I used to say that I was OK, that I wouldn’t work in an office for £2 an hour – I think that’s what the minimum wage was when I was in the life. I would tell everybody I’m fine, I’m okay, and then I would go home and scrub myself till I bled every night in the bath in boiling, boiling, boiling hot water, because no way is it ever OK. It’s never OK.
It’s never ever OK and I’m going to stop now and thanks for coming and call it out please, call it out everywhere, call it out.
Watch the recording
Here is the recording of the morning session of the “Students for sale: Tools for resistance” conference. Fiona Broadfoot’s brilliant contribution starts at 7:05.