The following is a personal testimony from ‘Amy’, who formerly worked as an escort in Ireland before coming into contact with prostitution support network Ruhama. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.
I BEGAN ESCORTING officially when I was 20, although technically it began when I was a teenager but I didn’t really know that was actually what it was. When I was 16 I had met a man in his thirties that paid me to do things for him and his friends but never said it was prostitution or anything. He had me totally in his control, psychologically, so that I would do anything for him and be extremely worried and anxious about not making him happy. This went on for a few years. When I finally got rid of him, I began escorting on my own.
I could say this was a choice, it was, a freely made one. However considering the background of rape and sexual abuse that lasted about three years, looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was and how I was emotionally not stable enough to be making that kind of ‘choice’. I thought being a prostitute would help me regain my sexual power over men. I never had any control and I thought this was the answer, and a way to ‘get back’ at the man who raped me and the other man who manipulated me into being his plaything, basically. Also because of these experiences I had put all of myself worth into my sexuality and how I looked and judged myself on how much I attracted men.
Without this experience there is absolutely no way that I would’ve become involved in the sex industry.
When I started escorting on my own, it felt okay at the beginning; I liked the feeling of being in ‘control’ of the men, and ‘using’ them for their money, but I soon started realising that my plan to be in control had backfired, that actually the men were in control and had the power, and they weren’t afraid to show me that they were the ones in charge. I felt disgusting after most times I met with a punter. They pressured me into doing things I didn’t want to do by promising me more money. They used language that both made me want to please them and disgusted me at the same time.
‘The punters could see through me’
You could say that I could’ve stopped at any moment. That is true, but I didn’t have the emotional tools to be able to stop. My past had the biggest hold on me and I hadn’t even started processing it. At that stage I still didn’t think of it as abusive behaviour.
For me, I needed the attention of men to make me feel more ‘okay’, I needed to feel wanted in that kind of way, I needed the constant (but short lived) ego boost that it gave me. I was in a vicious circle of having a rock bottom self esteem and hating what I was doing, but needing the attention at the same time to make me feel better. I had an extremely skewed view of myself. I attempted suicide twice.
I got sucked into the online world of escorting and felt like what I was doing was normal. This went on, and off, for about four years or so.
I was pretty shy, but pretending to be super confident and I think the punters could see through that most of the time. Now, looking back, the scariest thing is the punters and how they treated me and talked to me. I am disgusted to think back to the 40 something year old men would happy pressure me into doing things, knowing that I was only 21, knowing in their hearts that it isn’t normal or healthy to buy sex.
I was pretty naive and the guys all just think that you’ve been doing it for ages and you’re ‘used to it’. They have no idea how dangerous and scary the escorting world is, they are all deluded by the few ‘happy hookers’ that talk on the websites all the time, they think these girls are the only type of girls that exist.
That men will write ‘reviews’ of their time having sex with a girl is the most disturbing part of the whole thing, apart from the fact that they are punters in the first place of course. That it is apparently normal on the website to tick girls off in relation to the way they have sex is insane. The men write things like ‘she was a bit mechanical’, and ‘she wanted me in and out as fast as possible’ and they give her a bad review because she wasn’t ‘into it’. Did they ever stop to ask themselves why she wasn’t into it? That maybe she didn’t want to be there? Instead of asking the girl if she is okay and why isn’t she happy, they run home to their precious internet to tell all the other punters about the terribly trauma of visiting a prostitute who hates her job. It’s so sad. It’s just a bunch of pathetic men showing off to each other online. If you tell a lie that others want to believe then they’re going to use that and delude themselves and each other. This is what all punters and the escorts that use the websites do. Everyone is lying to each other and it’s easier to believe the lies than question what they are doing. When you tell punters about the reality, they get suddenly very defensive and don’t want to talk to you anymore.
‘To this man I wasn’t even a human’
Finally I had a punter that verged on behaving in an illegal way and it was the reality check I needed to stop properly. It was the worst I’ve ever been treated, but I’m glad it happened, because there were no lies I could tell myself about that encounter, there was no way to justify it, so I had to admit honestly to myself that the reality of the situation. To this man I wasn’t even a human. I wasn’t just ‘unlucky’, being treated like that was a daily threat and most of the punters treated me in a similar way.
On the website I used to advertise on, the punters were often giving out about ‘Ruhama’, I had never heard of it before. I went on the Ruhama website and sent an email, within hours I got a phone call back and a couple of days later a phone call from a case worker to arrange to meet. I felt such relief to meet with her and talk to someone that truly understood my experience that I was nearly crying the entire time.
Now I’m avoiding any relationships with men, it’s been a year and a half since I stopped but I’m not emotionally able to have any kind of a relationship. I don’t trust men. I worry that all new men I meet have visited prostitutes, or are okay with the idea of prostitution. I have great male friends, and I’m so thankful for having them, but when it comes to sexual relationships, I still use sex to get what I want (ie, love) and I still am not secure enough at all to be on equal terms with a man. I’ll always think there’s a catch to his affection.
I read somewhere that two thirds of prostitutes have pasts of abuse, emotional abuse, incest or rape. How could an industry that mostly attracts that kind of damaged person be socially acceptable?
Women and men will never be equal as long as prostitution exists, it shouldn’t be acceptable to buy women for sex, not if we care about each other, and not if we care about what we want our society to be like.
Column: Do we have the right to buy or sell sex? The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland on why criminalising people who pay for sex is not always helpful>