PROSTITUTION NARRATIVES: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade
by Caroline Norma and Melinda Tankard Reist (eds)
Spinifex Press, North Geelong
Paperback: 200 pages
Reviewed by Gabrielle Walsh
Prostitution Narratives offers sincere, personal stories of women who are survivors of prostitution. The individual testimonies are based on the lived experiences of women who have worked as prostitutes and later exited the so-called industry.
The book shines light into a dark place – legal and illegal brothels, street prostitution, escort services and massage parlours are but part of it. The women’s testimonies there are common threads in the overall narrative.
One such thread evident is that women experience assault and violence across the industry in all its manifestations. “I would be left with bruises all over my body from the rough sex, men always wanted to imitate hard-core porn, acting out the sexual violence they were feeding on.” (p45)
Many of the women mentioned a distinct loss of agency and basic human rights. “Upon entering prostitution it is immediately clear that there is no such thing as respect for human rights or physical boundaries as soon as a client buys power over you.” (p137)
Some of the women admit that they were driven into prostitution through financial need but point to the downside. “The money was good, but the price I paid was more than money could justify.” (p112)
Drugs are commonplace in the prostitution industry. Some girls as young as 14 start drinking and by 15 they have moved on to illegal drugs. “The only way you can really last in brothels is to do drugs,” is one poignant comment. (p39)
Porn is a major part of the fabric of the prostitution industry. Porn plays constantly throughout the brothels and men seeking women for paid sex are consumers of porn. “Prostitution is funnelled and channelled through modern technology.” (p24) “A lot of men wanted re-enactments straight from pornography. It was hard to get booked unless you agree to re-enact porn.” (p36)
Early sexual abuse was common in the lives of many of these women. This includes stories of the grooming of young girls for sexual exploitation. Paedophiles would seek out young-looking girls in the brothels. “The younger I looked, the more desirable I would be to punters and the more money I would make.” (p142)
An important point in the narrative is that the prostitution so-called industry offers no exit strategy to the women. All that is offered is the public face of prostitution as a worthwhile job with no way of being assisted to leave the industry. “They supplied lawyers, health checks, lube, condoms and dams but nothing to help me get out.” (p47)
One of the women gives voice to the feeling of being trapped in a place with no exit: “There needs to be more support for women in the industry to leave and get specialised counselling.” (p49) Another recognises in a roundabout way the damage working in the sex industry does to the women when she talks about “healing”: “Yes, healing and recovery is possible, but return to a pre-exploitation state is not.” (p137)
Several stories tell of women who have exited prostitution and have subsequently embraced political activism. Part of their activism includes promoting what is known as the Nordic model: a legislative model that fines the men seeking to pay for sex, rather than punishing the women who supply it.
Several countries have already adopted this model or a version of it, and there are activists in Australia campaigning for such a change in the law here, as they believe that it provides better protection for the women in the industry.
This book stands as a testament to human frailty, including that of the men who use prostitutes, as they seem to believe the ideology that is pushed as the public face of the industry. Many women are damaged psychologically, emotionally and physically from working in the industry. The book provides a path of truth for men who need to develop an awareness of the deceit in which this “industry” is wrapped.
Each story stands on its merits and deserves a respectful read. I recommend the book as an important touchstone to reality for an industry that deserves closer scrutiny if women are to be protected from violence and abuse, much of which happens before they enter this industry and which sets them psychologically and emotionally on the path into the industry. Then, once they are there, they fall foul of the violence and abuse within the industry, fuelled as it is by porn.
Prostitution Narratives shines a light on a place that is, in actuality, all dark side (there is no light side) and that should be exposed for the harm it perpetuates.