Friday, 15 June 2012

Behind Closed Doors: Living in an Abusive Relationship


Behind closed doors, there’s an epidemic. 1 in 4 women will be affected by it. UK police receive one call about it every minute, an estimated 1,300 calls a day or over 570,000 a year, though less than 40% of cases are reported. No other crime has a rate of repeat victimisation so high(1). I am talking, of course, of domestic violence.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone.

Imagine for one moment that it’s you that it’s happening to. You dealing with the carnage.

Until you look back, you don’t even identify it as domestic violence: that’s something that happens to other people, right? You don’t use words like ‘abuser’ or ‘beaten’ or ‘raped’. That sounds so serious! You use minimizing language, always. And you’re so confused: tired and scared and confused. Hell, the confusion! He’s so attentive to start with, so thoughtful to start with, you don’t even notice things, or at least nothing to put a finger on until it’s got Bad, by which time it’s too late. Then it gets Worse, and the language ends: you have no point of reference; you stop speaking.

It begins with the odd comment about what you’re wearing. A few snidey remarks about your friends. Then: jealousy. Full on. He says you’re flirting with other men and though God knows that’s the last thing on your mind, you feel confused. You don’t meet your friends to save the arguments so there’s no one about to question his behavior, to get an opinion from, to back you up. You think - maybe I am flirty though I don’t mean to be.

I’ll try harder.

There’s been a gradual chip, chip, chipping at your self esteem. You were always a little unsure of yourself and now that’s become a yawning chasm of lost-ness. He tells you he loves you but he criticizes you, he gets angry, he gets so angry these days but he says it’s your fault and maybe it is. The things he seemed to like about you to start with, your rebelliousness, your intelligence, now seem to annoy him. You drink more to help with the feelings. Sometimes when he’s shouting it doesn’t feel like you’re really there at all.

Then it gets physical.

This is when people will tell you you should have left. People are full of helpful advice like that after the fact. I’m sorry, did I say advice? I meant judgment. He tells you it’s your fault and these people, the people you used to think would help you, hospital staff, they say the same thing. Look at her going back to him! He told you people couldn’t be trusted and you know what, he’s right. At your lowest point people have exempted him and blamed you.

You feel like scum.

You feel like you’re going crazy, and you know the drink’s a problem, the drugs are a problem. Together with the self harm they were things that helped you to feel in control even if only a little, to make it a little less painful, the self inflicted damage a means to ease the suffering in your head. He tells you you’re fucking lucky to have him, and you believe him. You look crazy but he doesn’t, you sport the bruises from the last beating and end up hiding at home, ashamed to be seen, afraid to be judged. He goes where he likes when he likes, he sees other women, and he’ll tell you all about that and how much better they are than you when he gets home.

You’re afraid you’ll be sectioned.

He used to be so sorry and upset when he hit you, but it wears off. His anger fades quicker than the bruises but can be triggered in an instant. You feel yourself splitting, mind and body separating out during the beatings, during the violence.

You are so, so lonely. And scared. Everything that’s close to you is broken and destroyed, and at some point you realize you’ve lost even yourself.  You see it in the eyes, in your eyes: an emptiness that speaks of exhaustion and pain and fear and hurt almost above and beyond human endurance. You’re here in body but it’s less clear how present you really are in any meaningful sense.

Things are happening that you didn’t know went on. Sex-wise he’s opened your eyes to a whole load of stuff. Did I say it gets confusing? It gets a little confused. He’ll be nice then he’ll be nasty, taunting you for being frigid, for not doing what ‘real women’ do. He shows you magazines and dvds to teach you how it’s done, and you’re scared to say no. You used to say no, but the rows and the violence mean you don’t say too much these days, and it doesn’t stop him anyway. Anything you say can tick him off and make his fist itch. 

It’s painful and degrading but it'll get worse.

He breaks your boundaries one by one. He wants anal sex. He wants to use toys. He wants to take pictures. There are certain points where lines are crossed and power shifts to him. You both know it though it’s unspoken. After the pictures he has it in his power to humiliate you publicly.

Now he brings in other people.

These ‘friends’ of his, his dealer plus entourage, he wants you to ‘look after’ them, and you’ve learned what that means. Outsiders will say if it was that bad you would have left, but it’s not that simple. Just because you’re still here doesn’t mean you want to be. If you could walk away, you would, but the last time you tried that, you got caught and by the time he’d finished with you, you weren’t walking anywhere anytime soon. He tells you he’ll finish the job off if it ever happens again. He doesn’t let you leave the house. He has the money and the car keys. You have a serious addiction and you’re in trauma. You have PTSD and it makes you easy to manipulate. Sometimes you can’t move, sometimes you can’t speak, sometimes it’s like he’s shouting at you but there’s actually no one there.

Choices? Clear thinking? I might have said it before but it gets confused.

Memories are fractured and best forgotten. You can’t take tomorrow for granted. The mind is resilient, the body resilient, until it isn’t. Fainting. Chest pains, wrist pains, leg pains, abdo pains, heavy bleeding, sickness, gashes, bruises, eyes so swollen you can’t see for a while, will never see as well out of after. The vision returns, but it’s not the same. Head injuries. The drugs and drink help the forgetting, the head injuries help the forgetting. You don’t half bleed a lot from your head. You take care of the body as best you can, you lie awake some nights scared to sleep in case you don’t wake up, looking at the belt draped on the end of the bed, a dark reminder.

If he lets you eat, you eat. If you keep these men happy, maybe he won’t hit you. Maybe not tonight anyway. You hurt all the time, from the beatings, from the fucking. Words like ‘pimping’ won’t come into your vocabulary until much later, and even then they’re hard to say – too real, too painful. Instead you think in colours and numbers, in rhymes and letters. Anything not to let the reality in. You need safety, everybody needs safety, but no place is safe. You tell yourself: I’m not really here, it’s not really me, it’s just a body but I’m not that, I’m someplace else.

You develop different headspaces.

Time passes and then, miracle of miracles, you manage to escape.

A happy ending? Not quite, not yet. If you were looking for a movie ending, riding off into the sunset, you'd be disappointed.

This is just the beginning. You try to fit in, to act ‘normal’ but you don’t know how. Your recent experiences have geared you to survival rather than living, have left you with massive trauma that confuses everything, the past seems more real than the present at times with the PTSD, stuff triggers it all the time and you feel disorientated and lost. The loneliness continues, even in company. You begin piecing stuff together, trying to figure: what the fuck happened here? You’re scared to talk about it, afraid of more judgment, knowing from past experience that people will take it more as a reflection of you and your character than a reflection of him.

The pain and the realization of what went before, what you couldn’t let yourself know, it catches you up. Denial kept you alive and it’s fucking hard to give it up, especially now you’re off the drink and drugs. You get nightmares and flashbacks, wake up soaked in sweat, you throw up, you cry sometimes but more often you don’t. You have scars, you don’t trust, your body upsets you, constant reminder that it is of where you've been, of what they did. You start to see how it could have been, how it should have been, and the stark, painful contrast of how it actually was.

Feelings and images burned into your body and mind, replaying.

You’ve seen stuff you didn’t want to see, that no one should ever have to see, experienced stuff that makes vocabulary seem redundant, and you realize that scary as it is to talk about it, you’re gonna have to find someone, try and do it somehow, because it’s too much on your own. You can’t do it on your own anymore. Images you’ve tried to bury and forget forcing their way out. They make you sick, the words make you sick and the prospect of trusting someone with stuff so close to you that sometimes it feels as if it is you makes you sick. But what are the options?

That was me. That was how it was, how it is, for me. It was me but it could have been you. It’s an epidemic. 1 in 4 women will be affected by domestic violence. The stories vary but the themes are the same. Being raped, being pimped, pornography can happen to anyone. Don’t see this issue as something that doesn’t concern you because it does. My ignorance was bliss until suddenly it wasn’t. We’re all in this together. The abuser needs to be made visible. Blame shouldn’t fall on an already traumatised victim. Women shouldn’t be living in fear of being abused, whether that be inside or outside the home. Every time we blame a victim of domestic violence, we exonerate her abuser. Every time we shine the light of judgment on her, we let him continue to live in the shadows.

On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner (2). People are dying and it needs to stop. And people are surviving and dealing with judgment and willful misunderstanding on a daily basis. That needs to change too.

It was me but it could have been you.


(1) See www.womensaid.org.uk for statistics
(2)  (Povey, (ed.), 2005; Home Office, 1999; Department of Health, 2005.)
Also thanks to Rebecca Mott for ending my writing block!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dealing With The Darkness


I’m knackered. Beyond that. Multiply that up 100 times and then you’re starting to get there. Knackered to the power of 100. I can’t sleep. Those brief moments I do fall into unconsciousness I’m beset by nightmares of the worst variety. When I awaken there’s no respite, no relief, no ‘oh well it was just a bad dream’ because it wasn’t. These nightmares revolve around actual life events.

My mind and my body are completely out of sync. When the body’s exhausted, the head’s racing. When I’m detached and my mind’s set at empty, resting out there on the ether, the body’s locked in, fully functioning and awake. One rests and the other works, or else they both race together, driven by an insane energy. Their periods of rest have ceased to coincide.

I’m dealing with some really heavy shit in therapy. This is the stuff I’d not planned on telling anybody – myself included. I’d put it in the deepest, darkest, furthest corner of my mind with a great big fuck off ‘DANGER’ sign lest I forget. The mind, like a flight recorder, took it in – took it all in – the beatings, the violence, the pimping, the rapes. My boundaries broken one by one, humiliated, treated like an animal, savaged and increasingly savage. Of course, I did my best to minimize, to forget about it, to deny it, just to survive. I didn’t allow words like ‘rape’ or ‘pimping’ in my vocabulary. The drink and drugs helped and the head injuries too.

But this stuff, these memories, fractured as they are, would simply not be obliterated. Nor will they now, despite my best efforts. That’s 5 years of trying to ignore them, 5 years unable to face them. I’ve been in therapy for maybe six months now and you know what, it takes time. I find trust incredibly, painfully difficult. When people have used and abused you, done things you didn’t even know it was possible to do to another human being without them dying – and then brought you back so they could do it again – it’s hard to have faith in people. When the hand that soothed you was also the hand that hit you, it becomes confused. Safer, surely, to trust no one.

It’s massive that I’m beginning to even try and talk about this stuff.

In terms of sheer volume, this ain’t going to be quick. But things move on as they do and voila! I’ve hit the really heavy shit now. Talking through the other stuff, painful and difficult in itself, I could feel it all around the edges of my consciousness, a foreboding darkness with little darts of movement, closing in. The occasional snapshot of something, like a subliminal message in a movie – there one second but gone so quick you’re not even sure it happened at all. A lingering feeling of deep unease, an inability to concentrate, head and body starting to pull in different directions. Unnamed and unacknowledged as it has been, this stuff has a slippery, nightmare quality. Struggling to look at it directly in my waking moments, small wonder it should be invading my sleep, such as it is.

This is stuff I couldn’t say aloud – even alone - couldn’t bear to think about. I’d do the psychic equivalent of going ‘lalala not listening’ yet it remained, patiently, waiting for a moment of stillness, of quiet, to re-emerge. Bedtime is an ideal spot, hence the insomnia. I don’t want to name it, or even acknowledge it. Too real, too painful, too scary. But it is there and it is real, whether I talk about it or not. It happened. Speaking about it is the only way. When I walled this stuff in and turned my back on it I didn’t realize I’d walled myself in with it, turned my back on myself. It has remained, a threat to my recovery, an unhealed wound thinly covered over.

Head and body are mashed with it all. When I’m sat opposite the therapist I can see him, see his reactions, and I trust him. It feels safe. Comparatively. Afterwards, at home, it’s not so clear. The trust thing kicks in – my ex taught me well not to trust by both his words and his actions. I face the horror of the reality of what I have managed to say and the fear of the rest of it – all the other stuff that I haven’t said. How am I to say it? I can’t. I must! And on. No rest! When I talk, I feel as if I’ve said too much. I oscillate between this feeling, this certainty, and knowing that I haven’t said enough. I feel this massive pressure, this crushing weight of all the horror and degradation just lining up to be spoken, to be heard. My body hurts with PTSD – leg pains! Abdo pains! Wrist pains! Jaw pains! Pains, pains everywhere, and my head hurts too, full as it is with images, feelings, thoughts, emotions. The feelings are so intense, how I felt when that stuff was being done to me, how I still feel, that words seem inadequate. I grope for vocabulary but there is none. And yet words are all I have.

The emotions take me right back. Like being sucked into a vortex, I leave this body and time behind, revisiting. It’s like I’m haunting myself. The body responds to what the mind’s telling it is happening – it hurts, freezes, sweats, shakes, becomes nauseous, becomes faint. I become lost, split between two places, not fully in either.

But one thing I do know – no matter how painful and scary looking at this stuff is, it is necessary. There are no other options. It’s move forward and deal with it with help as best I can or sink with it. Sink or swim. It’s rough and it’s going to be a whole lot rougher before we’re done but I got in some little practice at surviving. My ex set out to break me and break me he did, but he could not determine the lines along which I broke. For in with the fear and the pain and the weakness there grew a cast iron will to survive. Terrified as I feel with this stuff, he has yet to beat me. Survival is itself a form of defiance. I will pull through this, somehow I will pull through it. What better ‘fuck you’ could I hope for?

Monday, 21 May 2012

On Total Denial: What it Means to Live in a Rape Culture


It’s hit the news recently about the conviction of 9 men for grooming and pimping underage girls. As ever, there’s been an outcry. But in truth, we live in a rape culture. These shocked protestations are as predictable and pointless as those in America whenever someone gets gunned down in their house or school. I mean, the link’s obvious, for chrissakes – you live in a gun culture where the ‘rights’ of the individual to own lethal weapons precede the rights of the community and children not to be shot dead. Compare the number of gunshot deaths in any non gun-toting nation and you can’t fail to make a connection. But nothing changes. The pro-gun lobby is too powerful, their money more persuasive than any amount of coherent thinking and informed argument, more valued than the lives of innocents. The media reacts with outrage and then today’s newspapers become tomorrow’s rubbish, all forgotten, business as usual.

We have the same thing going on here, but with the selling of women. We live in a misogynist culture, one in which women are bought and sold every day in pornography, in strip clubs, and it’s legal. The rights of the individual (male) consumer trumping the rights of women everywhere to be treated as equals, as human beings with thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, not a piece of meat, a set of holes to be bought, wanked over and discarded. That in such a culture some people will be hurt is a given. Every woman knows that in this culture she is viewed primarily as a commodity, there for the pleasure and profit of others. Hell, with tv ads and programmes, womens’ magazines, movies and radio blasting out this message she could hardly miss it, or help internalizing it at least to some degree. What woman hasn’t looked in the mirror and judged herself  imperfect against the prescribed form of beauty and sexiness sold us all day long? Everywhere you look – women for sale! But again, the sex industry lobby is powerful and has endless money at its disposal. So it continues, the link between the worldview it promotes and the abuse of women and children ignored. (see www.antipornography.org for the connection between the viewing of porn and attitudes towards rape).

What makes us think that in such a culture, where girls are indoctrinated into viewing themselves as sex objects at an ever younger age, where the sex industry has adopted the empowering language of feminism, where it has become the norm to see the sale of women for sex as a good thing, we will be able to enforce arbitrary lines of age and consent? In a culture which sells ‘Barely Legal’ magazines and dvds in which ‘models’ who look underage are introduced to sex by much older men in a manner directly mirroring those of child abuse, should we be surprised when young girls are abused?

Whatever we consume, be that food, tv, books or pornography, shapes us. It has an affect. Yet with pornography, we grasp fiercely onto the lie that this is not in fact the case. Like the gun lobbyists in the US after the next murder case, we call it an anomaly when something like this child pimping ring is exposed. We label the perpetrators ‘freaks’ and ‘other’  because we’re too damn comfortable to join up the dots, to make the connection.

If the girls who were abused had been 18, there would have been no outrage. The case would not have made the papers – unless, of course, it was in the ads section, under ‘personal services’. Does a vulnerable 17 year old suddenly become invulnerable at the turn of a birthday? The percentage of women in prostitution who have backgrounds of sexual abuse or grew up in care, who wound up in prostitution before they were 18*, attests that this recent case is not an aberration. But when they turn 18 we suddenly cease to have consciences and instead reach for the excuse – she chose it. She chose to be in porn, in prostitution (though we call it 'sex work' now- so much less distasteful!). In fact, we’ll even defend her right to be abused in the sex industry and feel like the big shot, protecting free speech.  One of the 15 years olds was raped by up to 20 men a day. This is an experience, sadly, shared by many women trapped in the sex industry, seeing john after john.

It is estimated that 3 million women are currently being trafficked worldwide in the sex trade (see Demand video at www.antipornography.org). Are we outraged, lobbying our politicians, saying ‘this can’t go on!’, demanding change? No! Instead we sit at home clicking away on our computers, wanking over women being degraded in pornography, telling ourselves she likes it, she’s smiling, she chose it, she’s well paid. When you click on an image on the internet there is simply no way of knowing whether the woman is pimped, is there through economic desperation, has been coerced. There should be a public outcry! Human slavery continues in this very day and age, in this very country, in the very town in which you live.

The question is, do we care? The same people who were in uproar about the pimping of these girls were outraged by the government’s suggestion of a possible ‘opt in’ for internet pornography, something which would protect children from exposure to pornography at a formative time in their lives, the normalization of extreme penetration and aggression which are becoming ever more mainstream. Consider this: the average age of exposure to pornography is 11. 90 percent of 8-16 years olds have viewed pornography online (TopTen Reviews: Internet Pornography Statistics). The largest consumer group of internet pornography is the 12 – 17 year old age group (www.internetfilterreview.com).

Combine this information with the following analysis of bestselling porn.  R. Wosnitzer and A.J. Bridges, in ‘Aggression and Sexual Behaviour in Best-Selling Pornography: A Content Analysis Update’, a paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA, 2007 reported that:
- 89.1% of scenes contained aggressive acts, with the average containing 11.52 acts of verbal or physical aggression (physical being the most common, featuring in 88.2% of all scenes)
- 94.4% of all aggression in films was directed towards women
- women in porn are shown to enjoy or not mind being abused:95.2% of victims responded with either neutral or pleasurable expressions

We have created a rape culture, a truly toxic environment.  Pornography is not only legal, it has become mainstream. We have naturalized the unnatural. TV programmes from Friends to According To Jim to The Big Bang Theory joke about pornography, and it is accepted without question that the male characters ‘use’ it. The women are presented as having no problem with it – in fact, they share the male viewpoint, even going to a strip club (Friends)and objectifying the strippers with the men. The message that programmes such as these, which are watched by children, give, is that it is part of being a man to buy women for sex, whether that be indirectly, through pornography, or in a strip club or elsewhere. This is normal and healthy and a demonstration of masculinity. Women learn that it is the done thing to ‘be cool’ about this objectification of women. If they don’t want to be labeled ‘jealous’ or ‘prudes’ they need to adopt a casual attitude towards the selling of other women, even if this leaves them with feelings of conflict.

Pornography promotes certain views about men and women. It promotes the view that women want to be fucked – it is their nature. If they say no they mean yes, even if they say it hurts or it looks like it hurts they still say they like it. In pornography, women get hurt and they ask for more. They are called names, spat at, choked, airtighted, slapped and they enjoy it. They smile and say that they enjoyed it. Only in pornography does a human being ask someone to hurt her.

In this toxic environment, we should be more surprised if pimping young girls wasn’t going on.

Of course, whether or not anything will change remains to be seen. That is up to us, you and I. Will we continue to defend woman-hating practices for fear of seeming prudish or illiberal? Or will we take a stand and say it is not acceptable to inflict suffering and treat women as subhuman for a quick and easy orgasm and a laugh? The sex industry has at its disposal more finances than the gun lobby and many more people who have a stake in its survival – porn is our right! It’s harmless! Yeah right, harmless. Stop yanking your plank and face facts. A gun toting nation leads to gun crime. A porn obsessed nation leads to sex crime. Condemning the consequences of something you support is hypocrisy plain and simple. It’s time to get honest with ourselves. What do we value most highly: pleasure and profit or human beings? Protest all you want, the only effective solution is to take personal responsibility for our actions and their impact on others and stop porn culture.

* see www.object.org.uk for statistics

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Damaged Lives: The Hidden Cost of Pornography


There’s going to be a whole army of women out there who have had the experience of having their heads flushed down toilets as entertainment, being strangled as entertainment, being double penetrated and throat fucked ‘til they throw up as entertainment. These are women who found themselves caught up in something beyond their control, the sex industry, where the person who’s meant to be on their side, their ‘agent’ (best case scenario – or pimp), pushes and pushes and pushes them to ever more painful and degrading acts in the pursuit of money. Hard to see a human being when you have dollar signs in your eyes. These are vulnerable women, often women with histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, psychological abuse, with mental health problems, financial problems. These are the women who just can’t say no, but not in the sexy way the industry would have you think. More of a Hobson’s choice situation.

Welcome to hell on earth. Lost already, you become increasingly split: detached from yourself, from what is happening to your body, from the verbal abuse directed at and over you, in which you’re made to take part - call yourself names, beg to be hurt. Alone, with no one to turn to for help, reliant on the very people who abuse you, who make money off your abuse. You become a shell: there but not there, enduring, just enduring, unable to comprehend, to compute, the horror of what is being done to you for the profit and pleasure of others. Out of your depth.

When you are hurt, people laugh or hurt you more. You stop showing that it hurts. Naked already, with cameras focused on your most intimate areas, on capturing their abuse, you become numb: this is what you do, what you are here for. They will do what they will do and it’s best not to think about it. You have to change the goalposts to survive. What was once humiliating and unthinkable is now an everyday occurrence. Unavoidable. It becomes: as long as I don’t show that I’m hurting, that they’re getting to me, give them that satisfaction. Your boundaries are broken one by one: they fuck you in the arse, subject you to double penetrations, to fisting, to speculums, to urinating and spitting and slapping and choking… Endless abuse, endless pain, endless degradation.

Total destruction.

The only thing left is your denial and your determination that they will not see how much they hurt you. Feigning supreme indifference, even enjoyment, you pretend you have some measure of control because to recognize your powerlessness is to open the gates to insanity and in all likelihood suicide.

As ever more aggressive, ever more debasing porn becomes more mainstream, the number of women who have had these experiences, who have been sold, abused and profited from, who have been tortured, grows. Everyday it grows. If they are lucky enough to get out, to get clean and sober (yeah, most women in porn have substance abuse issues – wouldn’t you drink or use to get through?), where have they to turn?

Most people nowadays if they are told that a woman has been in porn, would say ‘cool’. Cool!!! Knowing as she does the reality – wiping down after 8 sweating pigs have cum in her face, limping to the shower after being anally and vaginally penetrated for hours at a time with cocks and objects, bruised and bleeding, what was said to her and what she was made to say, the coercion, the ever present threat of violence, the powerlessness – this metrosexual, abstract notion of cool is from another planet. She has never been less understood. Hell, even the pornographers, even the cameramen, even her pimp or agent acknowledge that this stuff isn’t good on the body, is a test of endurance rather than a pleasure trip.

Hers is a great loneliness, separated as she is from the majority who believe that pornography is harmless fun, that women in it are empowered, choose it from a variety of meaningful options, enjoy it. 'Paid to get laid? Awesome!'. Her friends may hold this view, her neighbours may hold this view, her therapist may hold this view. Protective of their ‘right’ to wank over other women in similar circumstances, unwilling to hear the truth, theirs is a language far removed from the sordid realities, an abstract language of free speech and liberation. To many of the people who surround her, porn is just a concept, one with a very pleasing result, easily cleaned up with a tissue. These people, people who defend porn, project their dark desires onto her, conveniently forgetting that the reason for her being there is their demand for such images rather than her desire to engage in such acts. She wanted it! After all, she said so didn’t she, and she smiled?

A growing number of women who have been subjected to extreme physical, sexual, psychological torture. They are traumatised, they are used in ever more extreme ways for the amusement of the purchaser, unless they are lucky enough to exit, until they are too broken to be of further use. Anyone who objects to the use of the word 'torture' here might do well to look it up, and to compare some of increasingly common porn practices such as gagging, spitting, verbal abuse, slapping, and 'swirlies' to name but a few.

The pornographer doesn’t care about her.
The men fucking her don’t care about her.
The pimps and agents don’t care about her.
The guy at home with his cock in his hand doesn’t care about her. Her life is unimaginable to him, her humanity invisible to him, her hopes and dreams destroyed for him, all for a cheap and easy laugh and an orgasm.

She has quite simply no place left to go, her body battered from fucking after fucking without condom or care, her head mashed with thousands of fragmented images, sounds, scents, words, reminders of horror and pain and degradation beyond words. She has nightmares, flashbacks, PTSD. She continues to get sick, as she did when she was in it. Suicide becomes an option* Her humanity has been disregarded by every person in her life who sold her, who fucked her, who pressured her, who paid the men who did this to her and then calmly laid the blame at her feet.

We need to understand what it means to be a woman on a website called ‘Elastic Assholes’, to have people joke that ‘she might just be wearing a diaper by the time we’re finished’. To feel or to try to empathise what is is actually like to be choked so you can’t breathe, to be facefucked so viciously you throw up, to have water in your eyes and nose and mouth when you’ve been fucked every which way possible and they’re flushing your head down the toilet, the final insult. What it is like to be violently abused and traumatised, and to know that images of that abuse are being sold and generating money for the men who hurt you.

I am a survivor of prostitution – of pornography – of torture. Just. It’s been touch and go and recovery isn’t a piece of cake either. Being abused for entertainment is inhumane.

To remain desensitized is to be inhuman. If we’re not part of the solution, taking a stand against pornography, taking action, we’re part of the problem. Together we can be stronger and make a difference. We need to look past the picture the pornographer has painted for us of the women he uses.  She is not other, in some way different. There is not a subspecies of woman who wish to be abused in such a way. If it would hurt you to have two cocks in your arse, it will hurt her. Let go of the bullshit line of dismissal ‘whatever floats your boat’ and imagine yourself in her shoes for one moment. Would you like it? Would you be happy having that done to you? Would you be happy if she were your daughter or your sister or your mother? She says she likes it in the movies, maybe even asks them to hurt her because she has to, but if you look into her eyes, if you dare, you’ll see the very real fear and pain, you’ll see the truth.

Stop funding a system that destroys women. Stop porn.

* The suicide rate and death from drug and alcohol abuse in the industry is significantly above average, see www.antipornography.org

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Face of Oppression


We live in a culture that oppresses women. Many women have internalized that oppression. It is sold us every day on tv and in womens magazines, in social interractions, in common views and myths about gender differences and rape, in the mainstreaming of pornography. We are told how to look, how to dress, how to please our men. We have filled our breasts with silicone, turned our bodies orange, starved ourselves, learned what is expected of us in the bedroom (everything) and waxed our bikini lines to nothing to be what we’re told men want us to be. We now say we do it to make ourselves feel good. We are taught we’re not good enough as we are, we change ourselves and sexually objectify ourselves to be accepted and we say that say we choose it. It makes us feel good: we’ve done what we’re told that we ought to.

Does saying that we choose this make us powerful or powerless? Where do we get our norms and ideals? If the sex industry tells us that when a woman looks a certain way, acts a certain way - always sexually available - and ‘uses’ her sexuality by selling herself, that this is the height of women’s liberation and empowerment, does that make it true? Or have we been conned by a change of goalposts and a change of language?

In such an environment of oppression, is it fair to say, as do those who argue in favour of porn and prostitution, that individual women freely choose to engage in ‘sex work’? The word ‘choice’ implies an even playing field, a number of feasible options to be chosen from, freedom from financial, physical and mental constraints, the possibility to reverse a decision and quit at any time without repercussions. The statistics around porn and prostitution clearly indicate that this is not the case*. What the pro-sex industry lobby term ‘choice’ I call internalised oppression. That’s the very opposite.

       *  See:    www.object.org.uk
                      www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk
                      www.demandchange.org.uk
                      www.catwinternational.org

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Women In Debt: The Sex Industry Trap

According to the news the number of unemployed women is at its highest level for 25 years. The budget has hit women hard. At times like this, the misinformation women are being constantly sold about ‘sex work’ makes it seem like a tempting option, an easy way to quick money.

Women in Debt (www.womenindebt.co.uk) puts it like this:

‘How far would you go to avoid debt, or to pay off debts you’re struggling to cope with? Shockingly, the answer from some women is ‘all the way’. In summer last year, an American website hit the headlines for offering college students the opportunity to pay off their university debts by dating ‘sugar daddies’ – wealthy older men willing to pay large sums to ‘spend time’ with young ladies. And sadly, the practice now seems to have spread to the UK.

With rising living and rental costs and the introduction of university tuition fees, many female students have resorted to literally selling their bodies to solve their financial problems. From pole dancing and stripping in nightclubs to full-on prostitution, 10% of students now say they know someone who’s funding their time at university through the sex industry.’

Depressingly but rather predictably, the website then went on to say that ‘at least these women have a choice’. A choice? Is it a choice to be driven to sell your body by economic necessity? If there were other options available, would women really be ‘choosing’ this?

Ten years ago, 74% of women cited poverty as the primary motivator for entering prostitution (Melrose, 2002). And ten years ago, it was estimated that around 80,000 women were in prostitution in the UK (Kinnell 1999), both figures likely to have risen and to continue to rise given the economic climate. This should be of real concern, given the common ‘side effects’ of prostitution. 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment (Ramsey et al 1993). More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted (Home Office 2004b). The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a).*

The answer is not to ‘make prostitution safer’ or ‘make it legal’ as some would mistakenly argue. There is nothing safe about prostitution, indoors or outdoors. Put it in a pretty room with a nice bedspread and you still have a woman being fucked by stranger after stranger. Making it legal serves only to protect pimps and re-label them as ‘businessmen’. The physical and psychological damage experienced by women in prostitution doesn’t just go away because it’s indoors, or socially acceptable, or deemed to be ‘just another job’. Re-labelling instead makes the harms done to women in prostitution invisible: it takes away the language of reality. We replace the language of economic desperation with the language of choice, replace degradation and abuse with 'work'.

There is no other 'job' like prostitution, and I include in that bracket stripping, lapdancing and pornography as well as escorting, massage parlours and street corners. I know of no other ‘job’ where you are bought (or sold) and treated as a human slave, to be called names and penetrated for the sexual gratification of man after man, told to look like you enjoy it and say it turns you on, having to dissociate from your body simply to get through.

Problem is, for women who have watched ‘Diary of A Call Girl’ and read endless women’s magazines where ‘sex work’ is painted as being not just easy money but empowering and a bit of a thrill, there is a lack of information on which to base a well-informed decision (even supposing a woman is free to choose). As a society, we are grooming girls and women for 'sex work'. The media portrayal of ‘sex work’ has nothing to do with its realities. Every chat show graced by a smiling ‘porn star’, every magazine article or book promoting sex work as liberating and fun (often using the voices of women in sex work) is an advert, a money maker – we are being sold the idea of being sold! Why? Because the porn profiteers, the sex industry profiteers, the guys at the top (not the women used in it) want us to keep on buying it, to keep lining their pockets. The fact that they use the voices of women trapped in it is nothing more than a PR stunt. Since when were you free to bad mouth your employer, particularly when that employer has untold power at his disposal, and you were financially (if not physically or psychologically) dependent? Their voices, yes, but speaking the words given them, not their own, mouthpieces giving credence to an industry which will use them in every possible way - and then throw them away in favour of ‘fresh pussy’.

I have been exited for 5 years and I still struggle everyday with PTSD, with trust, with sleeping and eating and living a normal life. And I am not an aberration as the statistics show. Other exited women I have met tell the same story – the details vary but the ‘side effects’ don’t. Women get in the prostitution trap and accrue damage which serves to keep them there. Poverty is compounded by substance abuse and up to 95% of women in prostitution are problematic drug users, including around 78% heroin users and rising numbers of crack cocaine addicts (Home Office 2004a).* Not something you hear talked about a lot in all the pro-sex industry hot air being constantly churned out, but a reality. Prostitution hurts and drink and drugs help make it bearable, help numb you out, but keep you trapped there, strapped for cash.

No one is as much the object of myth, of fear of ridicule and of hatred as the prostitute. People talk about the ‘oldest profession’ (as if that excused woman hating!), ‘choice’, ‘liberation of sexuality’ but it’s just so much talk. Ask a woman in the industry if she enjoys it and she’ll tell you she does, because she has to. It is unsafe for her to do otherwise, the people who surround her (but out of sight) – her ‘manager’, her ‘madam’, her ‘pimp’ – will not let her say different. And to survive what happens to you, you live in denial anyway. You can’t acknowledge the damage, can’t acknowledge the danger until you’re out and safe, and even then it’s hard to face something so incredibly painful.

If you’re lucky enough to exit prostitution, and not become another statistic, someone else who died there, you have to face an unpalatable truth:

I was bought

Men, ugly men, fat men, smelly men, sadistic men, old men, young men, angry men, sleazy men touched me, whispered sick little fantasies in my ear and leered at me and fucked me and stared at me, had one over me

And it hurt

And I had to smile and say I loved it and please do all those sordid things you just said because, ah, baby, you make me cum

And that body was me

And that body is me

And that voice was mine but the words weren’t, they were lines given me, that I had to say in an attempt to stay safe, another dignity taken from me

And it doesn’t matter if I was using a working name because he was looking at me when he said it and touching me when he said it

And when he went away and laughed about it with his friends and looked at the pictures on his mobile it was me

Not too easy to come to terms with. You’re in for a lot of self-hatred and body issues and PTSD if not addiction problems. Being prostituted changes everything: the effects are long term and some irreversible. You can never look at the world quite the same way, look at people quite the same way because you know what they’re capable of. You know what men are capable of and you know there’s a whole army of people out there willing to defend to the hilt the ‘right’ of women to be treated just as you were because they do not understand, or will not understand, what it means for a woman to be bought and sold, an object to be wanked over and then walked away from.

The statistics remain for the most part hidden, the realities for the most part hidden, drowned out by the omnipresent background hum of the sex-industry. But I've found my voice. I had to say I liked it then but now I’m free to tell the truth. I am one of a growing number of voices of women who have been used and discarded by the sex industry who are joining forces and putting the truth out there because it’s vital that women know the realities of prostitution. And given the economic climate and its effect on women, it’s a matter of urgency. The doorway to quick and easy cash? More like the doorway to hell.

* for statistics see www.object.org.uk/the-prostitution-facts

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Lighting A Candle: The Battle for Words

To write, you must have energy above and beyond that necessary just to get through the day. I haven’t written for a while quite simply because I have lacked the energy. All the energy I possess has been channeled into surviving. Things are shifting and it’s painful, even if it’s good. Sometimes the pain is absolutely overwhelming – physical, mental, spiritual. I keep my head down and weather the storm. There are no quick fixes in recovery and boy, do I hate that! I do all the right things, but that doesn’t always mean I feel better – at least, not immediately. Opening up about my past seems to mean feeling worse in the short term.

When things have been really black I think, I can’t do this anymore. Too much, it’s too much. I feel raw and broken and scared and hurt and damaged, damaged beyond repair. And I’m exhausted from not sleeping, and my body hurts with PTSD and my mind’s full of technicolour images of the abuse, the scents, the sounds, the feelings. Enveloped with pain, frozen and mute with trauma, it chases through my mind: I simply can’t do this anymore.

But you know, what are the options? I contemplate suicide but I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to feel like this, to hurt like this. The survival instinct which brought me through the abuse and into recovery burns deep at the core of my being. So I put one foot in front of the other and do what I can to look after myself, to take care of myself, to pull through this, now as then.

Facing my past without drink and drugs to take the edge off, seeing my absolute powerlessness, experiencing fully the horror and pain and degradation that was my life is absolutely terrifying. I struggle to talk about what’s in my head: the realization of the brutality and humiliation to which I was subjected make the words stick in my mouth, make my lips seal together, form a dry sob in my throat. I’ve never felt more alone. But I do have help these days in the form of my therapist and my sponsor. I am doing the right things, trying to talk, trying to trust, trying to heal.

An old Chinese proverb says ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’. In taking care of myself as best I know, in keeping going, in riding it out, in being proactive in challenging the lies of the sex industry by telling my story, whether people choose to listen or not, that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking action, even if that action is painful and scary and feels woefully inadequate at times. Keep putting in the right actions, and no matter how slowly, things begin to change for the better. There's a long way to go, both in my personal recovery and in the larger scheme of things. But I'm in it for the long haul. It's the only way to be.