By Rae Story, survivor of prostitution
The curtains had been drawn for most of several month. The dishes – painted with old grease and piled up – were modestly half covered with a small towel. The bin bag bulged in the corner with a gut full of a quarter eaten pizzas and picked at tubs of stir fried vegetables. Food ordered due to a perfunctory sense of having to get on with daily rituals.
I locked everybody out, slowly, over time. By the end, my only daily visitor was the post man, who I imagined trying to peer at me through the slot in my door, as he slipped angry, red topped bills on to my welcome mat.
Every once in a while I would turn on my phone and the little messages would buzz through like a petulant alarm clock. Hay sexy. Do you see new guys? You free? You got that red negligee from your photos? You do look sexy in your photos. The wife is going to a have a manicure, I can slip out. You free? Babe…? Delete, delete, delete.
But I needed the money, the rent hadn’t been paid. But whenever I did let one of them in – with their little leather wallets, and their muddy shoes, and their seasoned demands – when they grabbed at me or shoved their salty tongues down my gullet, I’d feel that surge of nausea. That trickle of bile and spit bubbling up through my throat. My gut clenching and contracting in anguished spirit; as if it knew way before I did, that I needed to get away.
So instead I switched off the lights and gazed, in a watery haze, at the TV. Stared, like a dog observing a moth, flapping hopelessly around to find a crack in the wall. And sometimes I would take my eyes out to squint against the summer sun, and carry them to the supermarket to load up on more beer, and hope that one of those little messengers didn’t see me. Not floating down the busy street, glossy, flat and resplendent, like the images planted on the internet, but a heft of bloating, slumped inside a tightening dress, with eye bags blackened and drooping to the floor. What if they saw me? The secret would’ve been out. Look, I’m not a blow up sex doll, shiny like your black tie shoes!
I tried deep breathing, relaxing my ribcage, peppermint lozenges, ginger tea. I tried imagining them metaphysically jettisoning away from me, even as they groped around inside my body. Blankly, casually, emptily. So they would be just a black dot on my horizon, not brushed up close and heaving sour breathe on to my collar.
But it was no use. The bills kept coming and I kept not answering the phone.
Nobody really prepares you for this, when you enter into prostitution. They tell you about burn out, vaguely, dismissively. But not the details. If it happens you just need time off, they’d say. And so you would, at first, take just a few days. Then a few weeks. Then months. Then you’d realise that you were not just suffering from a transient inertia, but headed towards all out atrophy. I saw it many times over the years in prostitution; women becoming depressed, anxious, hallucinatory. Suicidal, even.
Like me, some of us end up homeless, if we left the brothel we live in, or the pimp ‘boyfriend’ or we simply lost our homes when we stop making the rent. Prostitution, if it is anything, is a choice between homelessness and having men we don’t like, do things we hate, to bodies we don’t know how to love.
For this reason, those in prostitution have a tendency to boomerang in and out of it, like the jaded wives of an unfaithful or cruel husband. We pack our bags, we leave in a triumphant storm. But we find few options available to us. The benefits system is bureaucratic and inhumane. We have little or no work experience and subsequently we find it hard to get a job. We are saddled with anxiety and low self esteem and are fearful of new people, new places, new ways of doing things.
Dejectedly, we head back to the very places that caused our malaise. We may try and put a fresh spin on it, dress it up in our own creative propaganda. It wasn’t that bad. We could do it differently this time. At least it would put a roof over our heads. I still now, amidst daily trials to re-integrate into society – to find paid work and a stable home – think to myself “… would it be so terrible if I went back?”
This is what the Rights Not Rescue campaigns fail to understand; support services should not just be for women who have left prostitution, they are for women who fear having to return to prostitution.
Support services that would offer temporary accommodation, help in applying for crisis loans or disability benefits, counselling, advocacy and advice. But few such services exist and the ones that do are scattered and have limited scope due to the paucity of funding. Unlike in France, where the government has ring fenced a pot of money for such exit services, there is no such funding in the UK, and the domestic violence refuges that exist are themselves facing funding cuts and closures. Part of the movement towards to Nordic Model is in recognising that women often struggle to leave prostitution, and are forced by circumstance to return to it again and again, against their wishes. And it is the only model, that prioritises this kind of funding, for this kind of support.
Some of the current services for women seeking to exit prostitution in the UK
Beyond The Streets – A call back service offering advice and general guidance to those who feel trapped in prostitution.
Free phone: 0800 1337870
Anawim – A support service for women in prostitution, as well as women with drug addiction issues, offering courses, activities and practical support with food and clothing.
Bridge – A facility for women in both indoor and street prostitution, offering a drop in centre, needle exchange, advice and support, including mental health support and general health care.
Phone: 01274 723 863
One25 – A centre for women involved in street based prostitution, offering van out reach, a drop in centre and case work support.
The Spring of Hope – A night shelter and support service for women fleeing prostitution and domestic violence.
Ruhama – A support service assisting with crisis accommodation, case work, counselling and other practical support for women in prostitution.
Routes Out – Part of Community Safety Glasgow, Routes Out provides support for those wanting to exit prostitution.
Phone: 0141 276 0737
The LEA Project (London Exiting Advocacy) – Works with women in prostitution anywhere in London, providing a non-judgmental service, giving advocacy and support in exiting.
Phone: 020 7683 1270 Email: email@example.com
Door of Hope – A support, mentor and advocacy organisation that offers night time outreach to street based prostitutes as a well as day time support and befriending.
Phone: 0845 0044231
StreetLight – A project offering outreach to outdoor prostitutes in the Gatwick area, as well as daytime support and advocacy with other drug, housing and counselling services.
St Mungos – A project offering emergency housing support to vulnerable and homeless women, including those trying to escape prostitution.
Women @ The Well – A women-only drop-in centre in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected by or at risk of being affected by prostitution.
The Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunities Project (SWWOP) – Provides intensive support to vulnerable women involved in street prostitution.
Phone: 0114 253 6899