Extract I’ve left prostitution behind me, but I worry how my history will impact on my child

From a textbook dysfunctional home life, educational disadvantage and adolescent homelessness, Rachel Moran was primed for life as a prostitute. Here she tells her story about the losses prostitution can bring and how those you love can be tarred with shame by association.

THE OVERRIDING FEELING when reflecting on the experience of prostitution is simply this: loss. Loss of innocence, loss of time, of opportunity, credibility, respectability, and the spiritually ruinous loss of connectedness to the self. I could go on and on, but the primary element is always loss.

The battle continues forever against the loss of self-worth. There is no magical shift back to your former self on the day you leave prostitution. You do begin the task of reclaiming what is left of your former self, as I have said; but how much is really left? And how qualified are you now, permanently altered as you are, to identify it?

What is left of me?

I cannot identify all that is left of me after the mental and emotional carnage of prostitution, but I do know that this book, this dissection of the prostitution experience, comes from a place inside me that rejects prostitution on a very deep level, both for myself and for other women; and so I know that whatever it was that drove me to write it is something that prostitution did not manage to destroy. How much is really left I do not know, but this much is left, enough to make this effort, and I am glad of that.

The general assessment is that prostitution involves a very private loss, which of course it does, but I do not know how well people consider the numerous other losses it disseminates. This is understandable to me as I doubt I would ever have had cause to consider them much had I not been prostituted myself.

Because the business of prostitution creates and is then carried out in a highly depersonalised environment, the focus of the commodification has no option but to begin to accept the depersonalisation of her own self. Loss connects all the negativities in prostitution. It is both the dominant ingredient and the binding agent; it makes up the basic flavour and brings together all the other components of this recipe.

‘Once a whore always a whore’

The losses to the prostituted individual are limitless. They are limitless not only because they are innumerable but also because there is no cap, no ceiling, no time-frame limit on when they will cease intruding into a woman’s life. There also are no socially accepted boundaries which a woman can erect between prostitution and herself. The common saying: ‘Once a whore always a whore’ makes reference to this. A woman may be a former prostitute of several years, like myself, who worries about the impact of her history on her child, or she may be a former prostitute decades older than me who worries about the teasing and bullying of her grandchildren.

The losses here are of safety and security, dignity, reputation and social status. They are old losses and hold no surprises, but they are horrible losses to see projected onto our loved ones. It is both heart-wrenching and nauseating to see those we love tarred with shame by association here.

There is another loss I hesitated to include here; it is the loss of humanity. I hesitated to include it because I do not believe I was ever less than human in my life, but I certainly know I was treated as if I were. In prostitution, men dehumanise women and women dehumanise themselves in order to be able to perform the acts men require of them. This does not mean that women are made less than human; it means that they are treated as such and operate in an environment in which they must not only accept such treatment from others, but actively seek it and learn to deliver it to themselves.

I lost my humanity

And yes, there is loss here: it is the loss of the belief in and the experience of your own humanity. And what is the loss of anything if not the loss of connectedness to it? In that sense, I lost my humanity. I lost my humanity in that I lost touch with it. While I never quite forgot about it, I pretended, because I was paid to pretend, that it was of no consequence. There are areas of life where it is necessary to buy into certain untruths.

My environment told me my humanity didn’t matter, and I needed to believe that. Why? —Because it is easier to detach from an irrelevance. There is also the loss I’ve mentioned to prostituted women as a group. Sadly, and in a sense paradoxically, one of the biggest losses to prostituted women as a group is derived from the fact that they are a group. It is in the fact that they must acknowledge and accept that they are collectively removed from the rest of society, and behave as such, and comfort each other in the knowing of it.

For my own sake, I believe I was lucky to have the company of other prostituted women. They understood me. They didn’t judge me. We couldn’t judge each other; but our very connection as a group solidified our separation from the rest of society. Yes, certainly we would have been worse off had we been removed from society individually, but, in a physical sense at least, we were not, and our coming together as a group was a natural convergence.

Wariness of passersby

There were positives and negatives in this, and of the negatives, the principal ones were defined by loss. We shared a collective lack of social standing and a dearth of respect from the world. We understood this, intensely, painfully. This was particularly obvious to me during my street-walking years. Besides the men who’d come there to seek us out, I don’t think any member of the public ever walked by us without a wary glance and a quickening of the step. Had any of them any idea what a normal casual ‘Good evening girls’, would have meant, I wonder?

To be excluded as part of a group may not sound as horrendous as being excluded as an individual, and if those two methods of exclusion worked independently of each other it would be true that it is not, but the truth for all those who are excluded as part of a group is that they are excluded as individuals also. They are debarred and expelled on both counts. This is not only true of prostitutes; it is true of the members of all socially excluded groups.

Prostitution clearly promotes the depersonalisation of sex, which can never be good news for women – any women. Prostitution has a ripple effect. It creates the illusory view in the minds of men that women are not human beings as men are, but simply the walking carrier of a product, and that they serve one principal function, whether or not they are paid for it, which is to be used as vessels for the sexual release of men.

Women as objects

They are effortlessly and imperceptibly relegated from the realms of the human. They are not people on a par with their male counterparts. Prostitution obscures women’s humanity from society generally, but it also causes women specifically to lose sensitivity to their own humanity by way of tolerating the prostitution of others of their gender. When women tolerate prostitution they are actually tolerating the dehumanisation of their own gender in a broader and more encompassing sense. Countries with male-majority governments are implementing the legalisation of prostitution with frightening rapidity throughout the western world. Where is the female revolt towards all this?

There is no widespread female revolt because female sexuality has so long been viewed as a commodity that woman have begun to believe in the necessity of a separate class of women to provide it. If a woman tolerates this treatment of her fellow women, if she accepts it under the banner of ‘liberalism’ or anything else, then she must also accept that she herself is only removed from prostitution by lack of the circumstances necessary to place her there.

The acceptance of prostitution

The acceptance of prostitution makes all women potential prostitutes in the public view since there are only two requirements for a woman to work in a brothel: one is that circumstance has placed her so (and who knows when that can happen, to any of us?) and the other is that she has a vagina, and all women are born meeting at least one of these requirements.

It bears repeating: if the commodification of women is to be accepted then all women fall under that potential remit. If a woman accepts prostitution in society, then she accepts this personal indenture, whether she knows it or not; and yes, that is a loss.`

Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution by Rachel Moran is published by Gill & Macmillan and is out now, priced at €16.99.

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