A Piece of Me by Andrea Heinz
Time heals all wounds. Time does little for scars. They permanently stick to you as a vivid reminder of your vulnerability and the time you faced some form of harm. I carry over 4300 emotional scars with me every day from each man I sold my body to during seven years of prostitution.
When I was finally emancipated from sexual exploitation, I had spent over a quarter of my life as an escort, brothel worker and, later, a madam. I am not the extreme story you hear of where a woman is abducted, transported to a random location, beaten, and then trafficked into the sex trade. I am the woman you would walk down the street next to and envisage was probably a college student or someone working a ‘square job’. The fake smile I put on each morning will never alert you to who and what I really was, or that my real world was filled with sadness, abuse and loneliness.
I had the textbook middle-class upbringing with a healthy and happy home life. For so long the only undesirable thing I could really recall happening to me was that a boy at my daycare would make me touch his penis during nap time. I was three. A worker there also physically and emotionally abused me. Eventually it was discovered and I underwent counseling for a bit, and was seemingly ‘healed’. Immediately after, though, I became very aware of sex and violence, like my childhood innocence had ended right there. I dressed very provocatively once I reached about age nine or ten, began experimenting with chemical drugs at 13, and I lost my virginity just after my fourteenth birthday to an older guy who pressured me until I finally gave in. From 16 I spent three years dating a crack dealer who was emotionally harmful through tactics of belittling and controlling me. He then cheated on me, gave me chlamydia, and eventually began physically abusing me. When I was 20 I met a seemingly nice guy who worked hard and seemed to have his life in order. He eventually became a coke addict and ran me $10,000 into debt through bank fraud on our joint account. By age 22 the financial abuse I experienced in these relationships left me tens of thousands of dollars in debt, despite having spent the previous two years as a single woman working five part-time jobs and averaging 96 hours a week attempting to pay debt off while still meeting daily needs. I did not have the necessary experience or education to secure a solid career with reliable pay. One evening my monthly bills were soon due, I had no gas in my vehicle, I had maxed out my credit cards and had no food in my fridge. In nothing more than an act of utter brokenness and despair I contacted a brothel and enquired about employment.
The madam was extremely cruel and demanding. It didn’t matter whether or not I felt comfortable enough to have a session with a client, if he wanted a session with me I was required to service him. I still remember the first john I saw. He forced himself on me. I earned $220 and paid $40 to the house. I had sex with three men immediately after that and can still recall the feeling at the end of the night. I felt traumatized and violated beyond words. I also felt elated about having $720 cash in my hand. I cried that night, but went back the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.
I never forget a face, ever. I hate that now I am out of prostitution I see all their faces. I see them out in the community, sometimes while with my loved ones. I always thought my ‘gift’ would protect me in the sex trade: that I would recognize the violent johns from their mugshots in the ‘Wall of Shame’ maintained by police, but my ability to remember a face did nothing to stop johns abusing me. I have experienced horrific, disgusting, and traumatizing things that no person should ever endure. I have had men force sexual acts upon me, and run out of the room without paying (and I still had to pay $40 to the house). I have been violently sodomised, choked, photographed and filmed having sex without my knowledge or consent, and been used so hard by some men that my genitals and anus were left torn and bleeding. I have had men become so infatuated and obsessed they have contacted me hundreds of times a day, followed me home, and randomly showed up banging on my door in the middle of the night. I have been raped numerous times without condoms. Some johns tried to disguise that they were removing the condom while others wouldn’t even bother.
In my first few months at the brothel there was a girl working with me who looked out for me and protected me from intimidation and exclusion by the other girls. She was my mentor and friend. A few years ago she was violently murdered and her body dumped in a farmer’s field. He discovered her skull while walking his property line one day. I think about her every day.
I eventually worked my way into a ‘mistress’ role where I specialized in domination. I felt I would not need to have intercourse as often, and it seemed safer and more detached. Yet, even as a dominatrix, the horrifying acts continued. Men would ask me to urinate in bottles for them to chug back or to shit in their mouths or bake them muffins from my fecal matter for them to eat in front of me. One man offered me $10,000 to have sex with his dog on film. Another was so brazen he asked me to role-play his nine-year-old sister who he used to molest as a teenager.
I became popular. Apparently acting was my forte. Every client thought he was my favorite and that I loved my job, and was empowered and happy. I sold the same lie over and over that I loved to have sex for a living. I had to, because I thought that if I told the truth I would have no clients.
Now I know differently, because I don’t think any john has any part of him that genuinely cares for prostituted individuals or their wellbeing. The phony pleasantries are only for obtaining sex and for the administration of their power and control. At my peak, I was having sex with upwards of 13 men a day and over the years I earned over $1.2 million. I had ‘made it’ in the eyes of others. I was booked for weeks in advance, travelled abroad with ‘important people’, pursued post-secondary education and was an owner of a comfortable starter home (as a single woman under 30). Still, they found me: the men who could make all that ‘success’ irrelevant once they entered me again. The ones that were overweight, hairy, middle-aged, unhygienic, and dripping sweat into my eyes as they drove themselves into me, calling me a dirty whore, a bitch, or a slut. The ones who would short me $20 just for the fact there was nothing I could do about it. Those were the johns I could not shake. Not only did they take a piece of me, they replaced it with a piece of them that I carry forever. I was numb and depressed every single morning while doing my hair and makeup, fantasizing about when and how I would end my own life.
I had trapped myself without even realizing it. I now had a large mortgage, tuition costs, and vehicle repayments. As simple as it might appear that I could have stopped at that point, I would have had to sell off all my acquisitions and obtain a government student loan. To me that was regression. What had I already sold my body thousands of times for? I felt I had to stick it out until my goals had been reached, which was mainly graduating from college. To the outside world it probably doesn’t matter whether you sell your body one time or a million times, you have already been stigmatized and labeled a ‘prostitute’. But I increasingly needed to soothe the harms of prostitution with material objects. In the moment, they seemed to affirm that what I was doing was working in my favor. I medicated with trips, shopping sprees and nights out drinking and dining in upper-end establishments. “Look at me, look what I have. This is success.” I couldn’t quit, and so I kept the armor on, put my head down and continued on.
With all my credit cards now cleared and with a small loan from family, I built a brothel of my own. I saw it as a means of escaping the control and direction of other madams and as a way to provide a safe and happy place for women to conduct their business. I tried to convince myself that my brothel would be different. I learned early that it was no different. I never made any money from the business. My heart couldn’t bear to fine the girls when they would fail to show for a shift, or charge them a room rental fee when they had been ‘dined and dashed’. I paid out of pocket for a full-time receptionist/security to assist the girls, a cost that I had to cover even if the brothel saw no clients that day. After a year I knew I had made a mistake. I saw a girl come out of a room crying because her client was in his 70s and had been “touching her like an incestual grandpa.” I could relate: the oldest man I had intercourse with was 93. I scrubbed myself to the point of being raw for days after that man because I kept getting his scent in my nose and thought it was still on my skin.
Now I was trapped with a four-year lease that would have entailed an $80,000 payout to the landlord should I walk away. I began to run the brothel less and focus more on travelling with affluent men abroad on work trips to offset the losses. One trip resulted in me receiving a ten-year ban on entering the US on charges of prostitution. I was travelling to Las Vegas with a doctor and another escort. I still cannot visit for five more years. After being denied at the border, the other escort later approached me to extort the (married) client for money due to the complications we endured. I refused, but when I did she exposed me as an escort on social media, harassed me for months, made repeated threats of physical violence, and did thousands of dollars of damage to my car outside my house one night while I slept. I began living my life not only looking over my shoulder, but also wondering who knew my ‘secret’. Add to that my constant reclusive tactics to avoid seeing johns in the community, I began to isolate myself. Suicide began to appear even more inviting.
Then it happened. He appeared: my husband. A successful, loving and caring man who had known me since the age of 14, someone who knew me before I was just a set of holes used by men for orgasms, who didn’t want anything from me and wasn’t looking to use me in any fashion. He had heard rumors of the direction my life had taken, but never judged me. He listened, he empathized, he understood and, most importantly, he accepted me and loved me. With an equal contributing partner and the eventual sale of my brothel to another escort, I turned my last trick on 19 December 2012. One week off seven years since the first. I graduated from college and, with his support, I now attend university and work part-time as an advocate for other women still involved in the sex trade. We married in 2013 and together brought the most beautiful little life into this world, our son. I live the fairy-tale life that all women dream of, regardless of whether or not they have a history of sexual exploitation.
I try to move beyond my past every day, but I struggle. I have vivid nightmares three or four times a week that wake me in a panic. I worry about my son one day finding out the truth. At least once a day I have an overwhelming feeling of dissociation followed by a squeezing restrictive sensation all over my body. My armor is now damaged and all the shame, guilt and fear I suppressed thousands of times is slowly coming to the surface. I remind myself, though, that the cracks are where the light shines in and that good can prevail in situations of darkness. Still, I feel as though I have so little of ‘me’ left because I spent so much of my life pretending to be someone else. I still feel like an escort on the inside years later, one that just hasn’t turned a trick in a while. The day I received my first legitimate paycheck I broke down sobbing because it was the first bit of money I’d earned in the previous seven years where I didn’t have to lay on my back and spread my legs. The feeling was overwhelming, but it was quickly followed by dismay at the dollar amount, and then by mental calculations that what I earned in two weeks could have been earned in four hours through prostitution. The real world doesn’t feel real. I feel at any moment it could all crumble and I will be back in a brothel with man after man lining up to further scar me.
Although my journey through prostitution ends with a seemingly happy outcome, it never really ever fully ends. Just recently the escort who harassed me sent a letter to my workplace trying to get me fired with false accusations that I traffic narcotics. Years after the event she is still targeting me. I still see johns at the grocery store, and they attempt to contact me through my email at work. I feel enraged when I see the continued exploitation of women and girls in the world, and our socio-economic marginalization. I hurt when I see my trauma flow to my husband who naturally absorbs it. I hurt when I see people viewing prostitution as a victimless activity and shouting loudly for its legalization. They forget the stark reality of what it does to an individual’s soul. It aches when people argue about ‘choice’ when virtually every sexual service provider only ‘decides’ to sell sex, at best, due to a lack of better options, or as a means of escaping violence at the hands of someone forcing them to submit to sexual exploitation. More than anything, I grieve at the reality that nothing seems to change. There will always be people placed in compromising circumstances who are desperate for a means of survival, and there will always be those who line up to exploit that vulnerability. Prostitution is the world’s scar that never vanishes.
Andrea Heinz now has three children and is a public speaker and scholar on the subject of sexual exploitation.
This piece first appeared in ‘Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade’ (edited by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist and published in 2016) and was reproduced here with the author’s permission on 12 March 2021.