Liliam Altuntas

I know what it means to hide your past… a past full of mistakes.

Sometimes not even your family want to talk to you. Nobody wants to talk to someone who does drugs, who steals, who constantly tells lies, to hear about the person I was…

Today I can truly say who I am. I am a black woman, a foreigner, even though I don’t think the word ‘foreign’ makes sense, because we’re all made of the same stuff, we all have the same bodily functions. Being in prostitution has weighed heavily on me, being someone who went from one bed to another with different men, satisfying their fantasies…

For a long time, I was forced into it, and then I continued because I believed that I was destined to die alone, without knowing real love…

But then something happens inside you, you say to yourself, ‘Hold on… I’m still alive, I can try, I want to see if I can make it…’

It wasn’t easy to give up my bad habits and addictions. And then you have to keep running away from it, keep hiding the fact that you’ve been a prostitute.

Who would want to have anything to do with a woman who’s been with so many men, who’s done the awful things that I’ve done, that I’ve been forced to do since I was little?

It’s not easy to contend with society if you haven’t first battled within yourself…

You have to understand that you must not be afraid, it’s necessary to talk, you have to understand that you can win…

You arrived in this world and so you are winning… For example, my mother could have had an abortion instead of giving birth to me, but I am here…

I could be dead, and I’ve even attempted suicide on many occasions, I’ve thrown myself off the 7th floor, but I’m still here… There must be a reason.

How many men are there that love you in the beginning, but then when they find out the truth… Your story is too difficult for them, for their friends, for their families, and they abandon you… One after another.

Then even your own children abandon you because you had to hide the truth for so long and you’ve brought them up and educated them in the way society wanted, but then when you finally decide to speak up, they don’t accept it…

Because of that brutal past, all of those horrors, those mistakes, all of the things that you didn’t know how to cope with, you end up alone… I didn’t even know how to cope with love… But through all of this, I am now free, I can speak up, I can try again and learn and grow…

For a prostitute, even if it’s legal, there will never be respect. Look at how long black people have been fighting against racism… And fat people like me? People look at you and say ‘you eat too much. Why don’t you go on a diet?’. They think that if we look like this it must be because we want to, but then if we lose too much weight it’s our fault again… They don’t worry about whether you might have a problem with your health. It’s the same for gay people – if they’re happy, why should it be a problem for you? If you don’t like what you see, you can look the other way…

Many people think that legalising prostitution, as if it were a job like any other, would be enough to guarantee respect. No. We would just be numbers in a file to pay taxes, insurance… But we want respect, and we wouldn’t get it that way, because we would remain prostitutes forever. Schools won’t send students to do work experience in a brothel. It would just be legalised exploitation, for the government, for the council, we would continue to be exploited.

What we really want is to be free, to have opportunities, not to see the violence that we endure legalised and called ‘work’.

I would rather offer real job opportunities, the chance to study. I’d like to study, to learn, to have my high school diploma, to take a professional course, to develop my own skills into a career. Those skills that I didn’t know I had, and that I have slowly discovered as I’ve taken back control of my life…

Who would ever have thought that that little girl who lived on the street and fished food out of dustbins, would today make food and cakes for other people? Sometimes even I can’t believe it, when I finish and I look at the result and I say ‘Have I really made this?’.

It’s not easy to get here, but it all depends on us and the opportunities that we are given. I’m still fighting my personal battle and I’ve realised that only death will stop me.

Let’s not give up! Let’s keep dreaming! Because the more we dream, the more God gives us the strength to make it reality. I dreamed of this, to be heard and loved… truly loved… Maybe on this point I still have a way to go… Or maybe it already found me and I didn’t realise. Who knows…

I dreamt and I dream of having a house, without the fear that someone could kick me out.

There are many things from my past that I’d like to talk about, like the fact that I should have been braver… but then I think that everything that happened brought me to where I am today and so I tell myself that everything is as it should be. Sometimes there are sacrifices to be made and I thank God, my Candomblè religion and the Orishas that are alive, that I’m still here. And I still have so many dreams to achieve….


This article was originally published in Italian by Resistenza Femminista. The English translation was first published by Associazione Iroko and is reproduced here with permission, for which we are grateful.

Liliam Altuntas is a Brazilian woman, who now lives in Turin. She is a survivor – or, as she puts it, a warrior – of human trafficking and prostitution, an activist with Resistenza Femminista, and the protagonist of the book, ‘I girasoli di Liliam’ (‘Liliam’s Sunflowers’), by the psychologist, Teresa Giulia Canòne. Sadly, for the time being, the book is only available in Italian.

Liliam Altuntas