An interview with Crystal – a survivor of prostitution.
How did you become involved in prostitution?
I became involved in prostitution in my early 20’s, courtesy of my then ‘boyfriend’: I now use the word pimp. The abuse progressed from verbal to physical and sexual – and then other people became involved. It’s easy to look from the outside and say I should have got out, but at the time I was lost and hurt and incredibly confused. He was nasty – but then he was nice. I became isolated from my friends and lacked an outside perspective or someone to back me up. He told me that what he did to me was my fault – and as my self-esteem was chipped away, bit by bit, I started to believe him. He used magazines and videos to desensitise me, to show me how it was done.
When I escaped my ‘boyfriend’, I was a mess and in the grip of addiction. I felt like I belonged on my hands and knees, servicing men. I couldn’t ‘do’ normal, was desperate for money to fund my habit, so I went back. I worked as an escort and in a brothel.
What was the daily experience of being in prostitution like?
In prostitution, the abnormal becomes normal. Giving a blow job became as normal as having a cup of tea had been in my previous life. My body always hurt, from the constant rough sex. I’d get jaw ache from blow job after blow job. Group stuff was especially harrowing. I often threw up at the anticipation and couldn’t have done it sober.
Prostitution isn’t glamorous and fun. It’s not like a one night stand where you have a choice of partner. You can’t say no. It’s scents and tastes and body fluids, pretending to enjoy (or at least endure) stuff you don’t want to do – stuff that hurts, stuff that’s degrading, more than the usual fuck and suck. It’s gritty and dirty – inserting sponges so you can still have sex during a period, wiping off cum and then lubing up for the next guy.
I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I got flashbacks and nightmares, when I could sleep. I started splitting in my head – instead of ‘me’ it became ‘we’, a collective of different personas and head spaces. Things got fragmented. I blacked out with the drink and drugs, I lost time. I felt utterly isolated – I learned the lesson well that you can’t trust anyone.
How and why did you decide to exit the prostitution trade?
I was lucky to get out at all. I believe that had I stayed with my pimp, he would have killed me. Violence was severe and a constant threat. He controlled every aspect of my life. After an unsuccessful attempt to leave, for which I was severely punished, I got lucky.
When it came to getting out the second time round, when I prostituted myself, it was simply that I couldn’t take another day of it. The drink had stopped working for me, my chemical addiction was out of control. The PTSD was pretty full on. I was waking drenched with sweat from nightmares every night and too scared to put the light off.
My GP wouldn’t help, so I borrowed money from a friend to go to rehab. I have been clean since. The addiction and the prostitution went together – I sold myself to fund my habit. And I couldn’t do it sober. It was a vicious cycle.
How does your experience of the prostitution trade affect your life now?
I still have PTSD, still get triggered in to flashbacks by so many things, and it’s over five years since I got out. I still get nightmares. I don’t trust people. Prostitution changed everything for me. My whole world view collapsed. I had been quite naive before I met my ex. I still feel like I don’t fit, being told day after day that you’re a slut and a whore just asking for it gets into your head.
I lost a part of my self through prostitution, and that will never come back. I still split, still dissociate, still struggle to accept my body after all that it came to represent to me. It’s easier for me to say ‘it’s not really me, it’s just a body’ and pretend that what happened to it doesn’t bother me.
Why do you want to see the Sex Buyer Law introduced in the UK?
There was no help for me when I tried to exit prostitution. Everything I’ve done to try and heal has been an uphill struggle. I have to pay for therapy. I had to borrow money for rehab. There really is no one to help you when you’re a prostitute, trying to get out. This law is so important. It will provide exiting services for women who want to leave and send a clear message to pimps and human traffickers that the UK is no longer a lucrative market.
The Sex Buyer Law would mean that the law stands alongside women like me, rather than against us. It would put the spotlight on the john, making him legally responsible for his actions. It would change attitudes towards prostitution, recognising it as violence against women.
What’s your view of current public attitudes towards prostitution?
One of the hardest things for me are common attitudes towards prostitution. Attitudes like:
“Prostitution is the oldest profession”:- This may or may not be the case but it doesn’t make it right. Prostitution is abuse.
“Prostitution prevents rapes”:- Why don’t we place responsibility for rape with the rapist, prosecute him, rather than creating a sub-class of women to sexually service would- be rapists. Gee, thanks for that!
“Prostitution is inevitable”:- The laws we have exist to protect people – we penalise murderers for example, rather than saying ‘there will always be murders’ and turning a blind eye.
“A woman should have the right to prostitute herself”:- 9 out of 10 women in prostitution want to get out. The law has to protect these women. Even if one argues that a tiny minority of women freely choose it and make good money, the law exists to protect the vulnerable. You can’t ignore that 90%.
“Prostitution is empowering, a woman taking control of her sexuality”:- The language the sex industry uses around prostitution is a white-wash. The words ’empowering’ and ‘liberating’ have no place here. As a prostitute you’re a set of holes, there solely for the pleasure of the buyer. He wants his moneys-worth! It’s about power, yes – but not the power of the prostitute. It’s about men’s power over vulnerable women and girls. It’s being penetrated by stranger after stranger.
“Prostitution should be legalised to make it safe”:- You can’t make prostitution safe. A clean room, a nice bedspread… being bought for sex is inherently damaging. The hate and the violence are a part of the transaction – if the john’s respected you, they wouldn’t be treating you as a collection of holes.
“Prostitution is just ‘work'”:- What other work involves being orally, vaginally and anally penetrated by stranger after stranger? Prostitution isn’t something theoretical – it’s gritty and dirty, it’s men pulling off their condoms when they’re behind you, wanting to cum in your mouth, pushing fingers and dildos inside you. I’ve heard it said that other jobs can be unpleasant, for example, cleaning public toilets. But they’re not comparable. Prostitution is hard physically and mentally. That’s why 68% of women experience PTSD in the range for combat veterans. Prostitution is personal. At the end of the day, if you wouldn’t be happy with your sister, your mother, your daughter being treated this way, why argue in favour of other women being abused?
Interview with Crystal
- Read Crystal’s article for the Independent.