Sara Smiles: My Story in the World of Paid Rape.
Sara Smiles started in prostitution in New Zealand in 1988 when she was a homeless 14-year old. She eventually escaped in 2010 when she was in her late thirties. She therefore experienced life in the sex trade in New Zealand both before and after it was fully decriminalised in 2003. […]
I was asked a question “What was my life like growing up?”
The first words to exit my mouth were crap, crap, crap!
I was born in Athens, Greece. My birth mother immigrated to New Zealand soon after I was born, but she didn’t want me. I was adopted by my now white parents from Paraparaumu Hospital when I was just six weeks old. I don’t know why my birth mum didn’t want to keep me or the circumstances that led me to be adopted. All I know is that my birth mother was Greek, and my birth father was Maori.
I grew up in Palmerston North on the North Island of New Zealand. My life is a bit of a blur, but I remember when I was four, I became very ill. I had contracted measles, and this put me into hospital where I ended up in a coma from encephalitis. I died while I was in the coma but obviously, they bought me back to life. Sadly, though I had suffered disabilities as an outcome and my parents were told I would never walk again because of the damage that had occurred.
However, I was a fighter even back then, and just before my fifth birthday I started to walk, but not perfectly. The doctors still thought I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, but I proved them wrong – although I still suffer some pain in my back, and I grew up with club feet.
My adoptive parents split up when I was nearly six years old. My mum moved in with a violent man who would beat me every chance he got. I was sexually abused by my adoptive dad from seven. He was also extremely emotionally abusive. He would tell me I was useless, worthless, that I was nothing. I began believing what he told me, and soon I would be telling myself the same things.
My dad couldn’t handle me, and he sent me to a boarding school for emotionally disturbed children. I was there for about a year before I moved in with my mum again. I was walking to the shops one day when I was raped. I ended up pregnant. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I had a baby boy; he was adopted out.
After this my life just got worse. I was in and out of juvenile detention centres and foster care systems. I felt so low, like scum. I hated myself, my life. I felt worthless, useless. I would think about how I could just end it.
When I was 14, I had had enough, and I ran away. I hitchhiked and a truckie picked me up. He took me all the way to Auckland. I thought this would be the start of a new life. The truckie dropped me off in the city centre. I was so terrified as the realisation hit me that I had nowhere to sleep. I stayed in a park and slept on the bench. All I had was my backpack for a pillow and my jumper to keep me warm. I ate out of bins and I washed myself as best I could in the public toilets.
I would read the papers left by people during the day and saw an ad for Girls Wanted. I used a public phone box; I had no change but back in the day on those old phones you could tap a number in… they called it tapping.
The lady who answered the phone seemed really nice and I went to meet her the same day. She was lovely when I met her. She told me I would make a lot of money. That they would look after me. So that night I started.
I remember I got six jobs that night but by the end of my shift I was bleeding. I was hurt, but I had a lot of money. I got a room at the YMCA. I was finally off the street but now also living a nightmare.
By the second week the johns just got worse and more abusive towards me. I was their property for the time they had paid for. I was attacked in every hole they could get their penis into and if I didn’t want to, I was beaten. I went to the parlour owner, but they told me, “Its their time, their money, get over it!”
I had to use a sea sponge up my vagina to stop the bleeding. Each time I was fucked, it was so painful. I was told I had to wear cocktail dresses and heels, and I had to buy them myself. They were so expensive but if I didn’t wear them, I would be fined. My feet would hurt because of my clubbed feet and would be covered in blisters every morning when I took my shoes off.
They would take all the money when the johns came in – all inclusives they called them. They would tell me it was for my protection: at the end of the shift as long as I had made the bed properly, worn the dresses, shoes and garter belts with stockings, and hadn’t pissed the johns off, I would get my money. But if I was fined for not doing what they asked, I would leave with nothing.
I was not allowed to turn any john away or turn any john down. The johns were gross. I felt like crap. My vagina hurt and I was still made to work even when I was bleeding, even when I had my period. I felt like my life sucked even more than when I was home, and most of the time I just wanted to end it all. End my life. I was beaten and made to feel like crap.
One of the owners tried to rape me, and when I told his wife I was thrown out. I left and ended up on K Road.
I started standing on the street with the other girls. No pimp, just us. I was treated worse there than in the parlour. The johns would break the condom on purpose, and it wasn’t long before I was pregnant again. I was 15.
Not long after I fell pregnant, I was raped with a gun drawn to my head, and was thrown out of a moving car. I went into stripping after this. This was no better. I was constantly abused by punters and the managers. I turned to alcohol and drugs to help me switch off.
But the money was not enough to cover the expenses of clothes, shoes, drugs and alcohol, so I went back to the streets as well.
I was on Fort Street drunk when I fell into the gutter. It was raining, and it was cold. I couldn’t move. I had the worst pains in my stomach. Everyone just kept walking by staring. I don’t remember much except the police showed up and were trying to take me away.
It was then I met Ally-Marie. She was going back to the parlour after being called to another one. She stopped, knelt and asked if I was OK. I was bleeding into the gutter. I felt ashamed, scared. I hated myself. I wanted my life to be over right there. I remember the police saying she is fine, we are taking her. But Ally-Marie said no, and she took me with her, cleaned me up and took me under her wing. That night I miscarried.
I stayed with Ally-Marie and started in the parlour where she was. I was a stripper and a woman in the trade. The place was rough, the johns were the worst I had encountered. They literally raped me all the time. Made me do things I didn’t want to do – some things I hadn’t even heard of. I was made to feel like crap, like dirt all the time.
My drinking got worse, as did the drugs – they became all I could do to survive. I was black and blue most of the time. Makeup didn’t cover it, but no one cared. I swear the johns just got off on it. I was always sad, crying. I was miserable. When I tried to sleep, every time I closed my eyes all I could see and feel were the men on top of me raping me, over and over and over again.
I could never escape it. It was always there. I eventually ended up at a strip bar back on K Road. I was there for years. The men there were pigs. They would put their fingers up me, grab my arse till it hurt, grab my tits like they wanted to rip them off. If I didn’t let them touch me, they would call me useless, worthless, bitch. I would still work the street; porn was a regular occurrence and for extra money I would let the men from the adult stores film me.
I left New Zealand in 2000 and flew to Australia. My sister Ally-Marie had gone there to start a new life and wanted the same for me. But it wasn’t easy, and I kept going back to New Zealand, back to the street and what I knew, where I knew I could make money. As weird as it sounds, normal life made me feel trapped, the streets made me feel free.
I left my girls in Australia to get back to New Zealand. My heart was sad, but I needed to get back to what I knew. The streets won over my daughters, that’s the hold it has.
New Zealand had changed and not for the better. It was worse, johns were more violent, I was too scared to go to the police. Once I did and they looked at me like I was filth. I felt more ashamed, I shared the streets with kids which made me think of my own and I left New Zealand in 2010 for the last time and returned to Australia.
When I got back to Australia, I left my children with their foster mum. They were happy, and they hadn’t seen me for a long time. It was the hardest thing I had to do.
My life still haunts me to this day. I still drink to forget, but no drugs. I have flashbacks all the time. I still feel worthless, shame for what I have done,
I was nearly married once, but he always threw what I had done back in my face. It’s hard for me to write this but I don’t want anyone else going through this or worse.
Where I am now, I am doing much better. I still have days where I feel down but I look at my 14-year-old son and I am grateful I am finally out of the game. I have written this now to hopefully heal, as the sex trade has done a lot of damage to me physically and emotionally.
I can’t hold down a relationship and feel like no one could love me anyway.
Every day I feel like I am being punished for what I have done
I wish I had had a better upbringing, and that I had had support. Maybe I would never have gone there. When I was there, I wish there had been help to get me out, but all there was, was women giving me a tissue and telling me to take a break and that I was probably just burnt out.
I want to see women and children get help. Prostitution is not a life and not work. Definitely not work. Paid rape most definitely.
This page published 9 March 2020.