The harsh realities of ‘being raped for a living’

A former Dublin prostitute speaks about her seven years working in the Irish sex trade and argues against the idea that legalisation can make the work any safer

FOLLOWING the latest revelations about Ireland’s booming prostitution rackets, a former Dublin prostitute has written a stark account of her seven year ordeal in the industry which began when she was just 15.

At that young age, circumstances no child should ever experience forced her to sell her body to elderly men, who would openly be aroused by abusing a child. Before she managed to extricate herself from a life in which she says she was “raped for a living”, she admits she even contemplated suicide...

“The nation is finally beginning to take a look at the intrinsic harm of prostitution. I welcome this because it is a harm I have understood since I was a 15-year-old prostitute, being used by up to 10 men a day. The one thing that linked those men together, besides their urges to pay to abuse my young body, was that they all knew just how young I was. They all knew because I told them, and I told them because it had the near-universal effect of causing them to become very aroused.

“When a man is very aroused in street prostitution that is a good thing, because it means he’ll climax quickly and the whole ordeal will be over fairly fast. I learned that on my very first day while sitting in the car of an elderly man who repeated over and over the thing that was causing him such sexual joy: ‘Oh, you’re very young — aren’t you? Aren’t you?’

“That is the true, sleazy and debased face of prostitution — the face that pro-prostitution lobby groups hysterically deny and attempt to conceal. Well, they cannot conceal it from me. I spent too long looking at it, too long being abused by it, and too long trying to recover from the soul-level injury it left behind.

“Many of the girls I worked alongside were not much older than I was, and one was only 13-years-old — and there was no shortage of grown men paying to abuse her. Most of the older women had been working since they were our age or younger, and many of them had histories of sexual abuse that predated their prostitution lives. When a person looks at a 30- or 40-something prostitute what they forget is that they are looking, in most cases, at a woman who has been inured to bodily invasion since she was a prepubescent child.

“I didn’t just work outdoors. When the Sexual Offences Act of 1993 came into force it drove me and many others indoors, where we had even less autonomy over the conditions of our own lives. In the brothels and the ‘escort’ agencies, we had to endure the same things we did on the streets, but we had to endure them for longer, and with no screening process as to who would pay to abuse us.

“You might wonder, ‘if you were a prostitute, what did it matter who it was?’ That is an innocent question, and it is deserving of an answer. It mattered because, far from being unaware of the abusive nature of prostitution, a lot of men were not only aware of it but actively got off on it. The misogyny from a lot of men was so potent and so deliberate it could cause nothing but trauma. And we, as the prostituted class that we were, could do nothing to protect ourselves other than try to avoid its most potent manifestations. This had been at least somewhat possible on the streets, where we could do our best to discern whether or not a man had hatred and the desire to hurt us seeping out of every pore. It was not at all possible once we’d gotten run indoors, and the immediate effect was a rapid escalation in violence and murder.

“Irish prostitution has been mainly conducted indoors since then, and nothing about this ugliness has abated because it’s been concealed from the public view. In fact the opposite has been true. We were abused more thoroughly, not less, with the only difference being that now there was the secrecy of closed doors to conceal it.

“There is no doubt that many of these men had daughters older than I was, yet the abuse they unleashed on me was devastating, violent, humiliating and degrading. It was paid sexual abuse. It was ritualistic, and I experienced it in every area of prostitution.

“Do not for a moment think that the men paying to abuse here are not ‘ordinary men’. I could not count the number of wedding rings and babies car seats I encountered. The men who pay to debase and degrade women and girls in prostitution are the same men who play out the pretence of being happily married family men. I wonder sometimes at the amount of women who would be shocked, not only to know their husbands are visiting prostitutes, but also to know the depth of their own husbands’ contempt and misogynistic hatred of women.

“Under Irish law, the abusive nature of prostitution has been allowed to flourish unhindered and it is a living hell for the women struggling to survive within it. It is primarily for the sake of these women, but also for all of us who want to live in a gender-equal society, that I am gladdened to see the Irish Government finally pledge to tackle this issue.

“I only hope that they go the right way about it, which is to criminalise the purchase of sex, because nothing will change for prostituted women and girls until the commercialisation of female bodies is dealt the hammer-blow it so richly deserves.

“To those who would say legalisation would make prostitution safer: I think the same thing any former prostitute I’ve ever spoken to thinks, which is that you may as well legalise rape and battery to try to make them safer. You cannot legislate away the dehumanising, degrading trauma of prostitution, and if you try to, you are accepting a separate class of women should exist who have no access to the human rights everyone else takes for granted.”

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