Finding my voice

Posted on July 21, 2013

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Some people may have already read this post by a sex worker explaining why being a victim of rape does not take away her ability to consent, it is worth repeating, since so many do not seem able to grasp this basic concept.

This post discusses in detail and quite graphically my first hand account of rape and sexual violence. I have decided, along with others that it is important sex workers reclaim these narratives from those who would use them against us. We have been silenced too long. 

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

3 But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.” Genesis 19

Rape as a weapon of war has a long history, but this is probably the first recorded instance of it. Lot belonged to a tribe who had battled for its land and existence, as outsiders he and his guests were seen as a threat and rape has often been used as a way to subjugate those who might otherwise realize their own power. It is worth pointing out here the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, it is the ill  treatment of guests which was seen as such a dreadful crime.

Lot does something which in modern eyes might seem outrageous, he offers the crowd his virgins daughters. This is one of those situations where the Bible, despite what Dawkins and his ilk might claim has an incredibly modern psychological understanding. The crowd refuse, they want to show their power, sex with the willingly offered daughters would not do this. Rape as a method of torture is something they understand.

The speech by William Hague today to the G8 recognized the fact rape is used as a weapon against children, women and men. In states where chastity is valued it has the added impact of pulling women away from their communities who ostracize them. There is a similar effect on men in communities where homosexuality is a crime, or condemned. Men are unable to report their attacks or even face prosecution themselves.

This is a vitally important issue, but it is not the only narrative surrounding rape, and there is a danger that in pushing it many survivors are excluded from having a voice. There are two claims made by many groups supporting victims of rape, that it is always devastating (a fate worse than death) and that it is always about power not sex.  The suggestion that all women (and in this case it is aimed at women) are scarred for life by rape in some unrecoverable way is not only disempowering and revictimising but can actually lead to women saying, well I am OK so it couldn’t have been rape.

After the interlude I shall be discussing my first hand experiences, first, some kittens.

The issue of rape and sexual violence is bound up with the debate around sex workers. Stats are thrown around about the number of sex workers who are survivors of child abuse, rape, the dangers they face. These are usually used as reasons to criminalize sex work, to save the sex workers. The fact is men women and children are raped every day, only the narrative that sees you as permanently damaged goods would claim that sharing an experience with so many others meant you could never make decisions about sex again. Interestingly the damaged goods idea is the same shared by those who exclude and demonize rape victims. The idea of being permanently changed for the worse lies behind so much suffering, rather than the actual rape itself .(Not in all cases of course but it is a narrative that weakens rather than empowers)

I am thinking right now of two experiences in my life that were very different and by describing them I hope to explore some of the complexities around rape.

When travelling in Thailand I was gang raped by a group of young European men (Swedes actually, yup I love that country so much.) My partner and I were in a beach bar, they were drunk and some kicking sand around, some went in my eyes. My partner spoke, quite politely, to them and the bar owner asked them to leave. When we left the bar to return to our beach hut they were waiting, they knocked my partner unconscious and dragged me into the undergrowth. I was raped for a number of hours, by each of them more than once. They took delight in using humiliating terms and may have urinated on me, parts of the night are still dim.

This was about power, this was about control, putting both of us in our place, revenge and anger. We had spoilt their night, they intended to ruin ours. Recovering from this event was difficult for both of us, my partner believed he had failed to protect me, I felt confusion because I had orgasmed. But I never blamed myself, or him. Instead we both needed to accept it was simply something that had happened, that we had no control over. Not as victims but as people not responsible.

So by the damaged for life narrative which part of this disqualifies me from being a sex worker? Reclaiming my body, my orgasms, my consent has been vitally important to me. Being a sex worker is part of that.

Ahh but I hear the antis cry what about the extra dangers safe workers face?

It is true that whatever your occupation you can face the danger of sexual violence. Maggie McNeil writes as wonderfully asever on the attacks on migrant workers in the US. The sort of trafficking no one seems to care about, because as any whore knows sex sells. Sex workers in this regard are actually no different to anyone else, any woman walking down the street could be attacked, although she is actually in more danger from her partner. Seeing sex work as a special category actually fits with the blame the victim narrative.

Now I have only had one what could be called non consensual experience working, and I have never shared it except with those nearest and dearest to me until this weekend. There was a very good reason for this, those who would criminalize my job, who would further stigmatise and endanger sex workers leap on any account of a bad experience to prove their argument.

If you are a civilian reading this imagine that, imagine not being able to join in any discussion, ask for support, share your experiences, because it might mean your job was made illegal. Imagine being a hairdresser or a doctor who could never talk of their lives because the Feminist  Anti Hairdressing league or Women United against Doctors would throw it back in your face, tell you that the job, not the attacker was to blame.

We also return to those narratives I mentioned earlier. The experience I had was about sex, not power, and it is one that many others might recognise. I got accidently cut by a client whilst being consensually fisted. After checking myself and reassuring him, he looked rather pale at the sight of so much blood, I hoped to suck him off and get away. I knew I needed to be checked out and frankly would have left instantly if I had been bigger and stronger than him. We ended up having anal sex, at his suggestion. There is a wonderful account here of when you don’t want the sex but say yes because of the things you do want. I wanted him to come and for me to leave as quickly as possible. Afterwards I felt pretty shitty, but I was safe, paid, and able to speak to 2 people who supported my decision to put safety first.

In many definitions this was rape, there was certainly no enthusiastic consent. However it was not about power, just a guy with a hard on who failed to see the emotions of the person under him. Which is how we have got from Lot to a sex worker on a bus wondering if the blood is showing through her skirt, there are many conversations which need to be had about rape, many people whose voices need to be heard. The victims in the war torn states of less developed countries are silenced by one dominant narrative, but we must be careful not to replace that with an equally reductive silencing narrative. This has already happened to sex workers, and this post is an attempt to rip of the gag and say my story matters too.