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samedi 20 janvier 2007

The Whole Truth Must be Told : Sylviane’s testimony on her experience of prostitution

par Sylviane

Écrits d'Élaine Audet

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This text was addressed by the author to Sisyphe and Netfemmes in response to a debate that took place on the feminist list Netfemmes, in late 2003 and early 2004. Obviously the author used a pseudonym.

I have read your exchanges on prostitution for some weeks and it has been good for me to reflect where one stands in our fucked up world. I don’t think you are telling all the truth and before you tell me to shut up because I’ve never "been there", let me introduce myself. I am a former prostitute. I started at age 13, initiated by my 20 year old boyfriend who needed the money for his dope and his school fees. During two years, I was his cash cow if the expression is not too shocking for this distinguished site... Actually, I started before that if we consider the end of elementary school where the guys forced us to give them blowjobs not to be "taxed" in another way. You know what “taxing" is, they take your coat, your books or your money or something else. It has always existed but we called it by another name. In my case and that of some other girls, it was sexual "services" that we were demanded to provide for them to leave us alone. Services, ha ! ha ! Don’t make me laugh.

At 15, my friend let me go, he didn’t need me anymore, he had found another girl and I was too deep into drugs. He spent more to support me than what I was earning for him. I tried alone to have a go at it on the streets and there I found the street workers, guys and girls. You know, those that break their backs to defend the rights of prostituted women against the fucking society but who don’t move a finger themselves to help them. They offered me their services, ha ! ha ! ha ! services again, my own syringes and condoms so that I don’t get AIDS and hepatitis C or A, and God knows what else. They never asked me if I wanted to stop, they only keep you company, because they say they are not moralists. They told me that I could talk to them because they didn’t pass any judgement. That’s the problem, everybody says they don’t pass judgement or they accuse others of judging too much and, actually, there is not many people who use their own judgement. That is where the insanities I have read come from : that prostitution is almost a social service, that women have the right to give sex to men and men have the right to have it, it is a personal choice, sexuality is taboo and prostitution is liberation. Unbelievable. There are people who take it too far. For starters, tell me why don’t you do it yourself if prostitution is so good ?

So continuing with my story, one of the street workers replaced my boyfriend because I needed cocaine. He would provide it if I did for him a number of "clients" a day, and he would protect me. I was hooked on cocaine and besides I needed attention from someone who took care of me a bit. Don’t panic, the street worker served himself too, I was at his disposal. One day he told me of a pimp who was recruiting girls my age. I couldn’t continue on my own, he told me, I had to be "protected" and he could no longer do it. I would be better among the “livestock”- excuse my language again - of a prostitution boss who would know how to make me gain quick money. I needed money to buy drugs when the street worker also dropped me, I accepted the pimp’s "protection". A fat smoking pig who took me for himself and forced me to do all sort of filthy things.

It wasn’t long before he set his conditions : I had to buy my drug from him, I had to pay an amount per day for my room, I had to pay also for his protection and a percentage of the money I earned from the clients. I was left with very little. It was for my own good, for my protection. Because of the protection I had had more punches from the pimp than from clients, a gang of well off unemployed men who did not know any other form of amusement. There were university professors and judges worse than the small workers from the corner. I did not have too many small workers, maybe they don’t have money to squander or they have other forms of entertainment. I spent 5 years in this nightmare, the pimp sent me to Vancouver, to Ontario, to James Bay, all around Canada. There were talks of sending me somewhere else, I would not be there to write to you about it, if I had been sent to his network in Asia or in Europe. Maybe you know that this people exchange women as if they were selling goods.

Apart from drugs, I started drinking because I could not look at myself in the mirror because of what I was doing with myself. You must wonder how I managed to get out of this. One day, my mother committed suicide and it was a shock. My father, an important businessman, had not wanted to know anything about me for a long time. I was all by myself to deal with this ordeal... On time I had an overdose (I went too far) and someone found me lying unconscious on the street and took me to the CLSC instead of taking me to the police. I wasn’t capable to decide anything by myself so they installed me in a house where a social worker visited me on a regular basis. It was one of those few guys who did not try to take advantage of the situation. Sometimes, it was a female social worker and sometimes both as they worked as a team. I also must tell you that they didn’t try to sweeten the truth, they spoke plainly to me. They told me, you are 20, you are capable of walking out of this living hell. There was no philosophy about the "sexual work" being a work like any other, no kind words to flatter me and major rationalizations for me not to think that they were passing judgment. It was just the straightforward truth. We can help you but only if you want. It is your life not ours. You are in a destructive process but if you wish to carry on, it is your decision. However, you are not going to live long if you carry on like this. If you want to walk out, we are going to help you. You don’t have to decide right now, we are going to come back and then you let us know. But don’t try to deceive us with the so called liberation through prostitution ; we have heard that before, you are not the first one we have seen.

I was in this transition place during months as I was completely fucked up. To cut a long story short, I was in a detox program and I relapsed. I was saved and I returned, coming and going several times. The social workers were patient and not at all surprised by the relapses and the returns. One day I was well enough to ask what I could consider doing with my future. They told me that I could choose, if I wanted to find a job, they would put me in contact with the Employment Centers and they would find one for me, or if I wanted to study. Either one or the other scared the hell away from me, but I ended up studying. I was way behind, I caught up, I also had to drag along the consequences of my years of drugs, alcohol, battering, repetitive sex. It wears you out. However, I eventually walked out, one day I knew there was a point of no return ; it was when in a class I confronted a professor who was an old client.... In order to try to hide his discomfort, he was aggressive with me and tried to set the class against me. I didn’t say anything, I did not say he had been a client and finally, it was the class who was against him and asked him what was wrong with him.

You speak of prostitution as if it were like any other work. Prostitution is not a job at all, it is a form of slavery and it is very difficult to escape it. Prostitution, a free choice. What a lie. I am not saying that there aren’t some, a very small minority, who decide to try it and do it freely, without sinking under drugs or alcohol like the majority. And tell me what freedom has a teenager of 13 who is looking for love, recognition from the other sex, most of all when her father has always despised her, and who is in the hands of these people who only think of money and sex. And the vast majority of adult prostitutes started when they were children. You try to beat about the bush with all sorts of edifying reasons that will justify prostitution but you are not being honest. You talk of sexual liberation, sexuality and so on... Tell the truth then : you do it for the money and because you were driven by others or like me, you wanted to defy your familial or social environment without knowing what will come next. The vast majority of prostituted women that I have met weren’t happy about their situation but did not know how to walk out because of the drugs and the debts that follow. When we spoke between us, I never heard anyone say that this was an enviable profession. There were some who were afraid that their little sisters would follow their steps.

I have made progress, today, about 40, my studies have led me to seek researches on prostituted women, on women trafficking, children’s exploitation. I don’t know who you represent here but you talk on behalf of a very small number because most of the prostituted women, the vast majority, do not see prostitution as a profession. They feel sad and despised. Not only because of the social prejudices, but because of the clients and the pimps that make them feel they are merchandise in their hands. Sometimes also, because of those who claim to want their well being but who work to keep them in their situation. You compare this with the work in a factory, marriage, etc. Rubbish. In a factory you are free to leave, in a marriage too, there is divorce but in prostitution, very often you are not free because your life belongs to others or they hold you because of the drugs or under threats of physical violence.

Those who claim that it is a personal choice, please tell me why you want all of society to endorse your personal choice and the proposal to see it as an acceptable profession. Hell, I don’t agree with you. I have a 12 year old daughter and I don’t want anyone to propose her prostitution or the satisfaction of men’s sexual needs as one of her career choices. I have a 9 year old son and I don’t want either that he thinks it is normal that a man considers women as sexual servants or that he believes he could become rich faster if he becomes pimp instead of a mechanic or an engineer. If you were honest, you would see that in the countries that have legalized prostitution nothing has changed regarding the situation of prostituted women, in certain cases, it has worsened. When prostitution is recognized as a service just like any other, they can no longer refuse and they are again slaves. Your patter that praises the advantages of prostitution is just a lie ; you are the hypocrites and moralists, because you want to impose new rules or laws on all of the society, as if you held the absolute truth on the subject. I have read : let prostituted women speak. Which ones and how many ? Only those who think like you do ? I don’t see the evolution in requesting that we legalize this kind of slavery. There are means to offer services for prostituted women that include services to leave prostitution even if you never mention them among the services ; there are means to stop treating them like criminals without telling us that prostitution is an ordinary profession.

I think that feminism works for the liberation and equality of women, and it is not in prostitution that we are going to find them. I can’t say that I have seen many feminists help prostituted women to try getting out of it, many have the impression that there are more feminists who try to keep them where they are by making them believe that this is the best profession in the world. The groups that represent "sex workers", do they help them to walk out or do they feel satisfied just by requesting the legalization of prostitution ? I wonder who is behind the intense propaganda to change the law so as to make prostitution more acceptable. There must be huge financial interests at stake considering all of the arguments to justify the existence of prostitution and there must be important people pulling some strings somewhere.

Maybe you have seen me without knowing it on the corridors of a university when I was earning my high school diploma or maybe somewhere else. That is the living proof that one can walk out but not in making believe that prostitution is a beautiful profession, trying thus to enhance our image of ourselves, and not in campaigning to legalize violence. There are some who recall the deaths of prostituted women in the West and they give the impression of saying that the feminists who are against legalization are to blame. It is ludicrous. If prostitution were legal, it would not put an end to violence against prostituted women. Marriage is a legal institution and there is still violence, rape, etc., within marriage. There are less people who help prostituted women to walk out than people talking through their elbows about the so called benefits of prostitution. And that is a real problem. Sylviane.

Marie, who has been prostituted during 9 years, has replied to Sylviane, January 9th, 2004.

Thank you for your sincerity, Sylviane. I wrote a couple of days ago that my questions are regarding the freedom of choice precisely. I was also prostituted for 9 years. And what angers me is that often it is often prostituted women who are in favor of legalizing prostitution that we hear most, because the others are often very scared, too ashamed, to tell the truth about how it works. If, once, I believed that it was a profession like any other, I figure that it was probably to help me swallow the pill and make that more acceptable before my own eyes. It was not very long ago when I talked about it. After I walked out, I never talked about it again, not even to those closest to me because I was ashamed. If it was a profession just like any other, it seems that I would have made another choice. I did not have a pimp but I rented rooms per hour where the drug was always available and where there was always a certain protection ...anyway. My friends did not think either that it was a profession just like any other and they did everything to walk out. Unfortunately, not everyone did it and one of them is dead. Without falling into an outrageous guilt and judging what we did as a "so called choice", and in this sense I would use another word than morality, I think more and more that it wasn’t a choice of prostituting oneself but, and that if I had had a real choice, it isn’t certain what I would have done with my life. But, like you, the need for attention, love and tenderness, the firm conviction that only this environment could take me as I was, understand me, love me and, later on, the need for drug to "freeze" everything, all of that led me easily to do everything they wanted me to do.

I did not suffer the violence of a pimp, but I had to submit myself to all sorts of abjections to get the drugs, for a little bit of love. And then the violence, it was the clients who let me have it. And so, to deny the power the clients have, to deny the violence towards prostituted women, to tell stories that prostitution is preventing men from raping and similar balderdash, those are just stories meant to make us swallow a bitter pill, and, in fact, I wonder more and more if, despite ourselves, we’ve gotten involved in the game of promoting prostitution, to the great pleasure of clients, pimps and pushers, mostly men. Just in the same way as women who promote excision in certain countries of Africa. Men don’t even have to do it anymore. And as I said in another message, if it really was such a grand experience, wouldn’t there be more men in this job ? It took me nearly 15 years to come out of my silence and to finally realize that I lived in a world of violence and that I suffered a type of slavery, thinking that the only thing I could give, and excuse me for being a bit vulgar, was my ass ! Marie.

Translated for Sisyphe by Yolanda Bello Olvera.

On Sisyphe in French, January 2004.

On Sisyphe in English, January 20, 2007.

See also :
"What about the Women who Want to Get Out of the Sex Trade ?", by Jennifer Allen, January 10, 2007.

"Decriminalize Prostituted Women, not Prostitution », by Élaine Audet et Micheline Carrier. You can add your voice to theirs.

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