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LauraMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 08-Dec-16 12:22:05

Guest post: "I didn't think of my prostitution as traumatic - but it left me with PTSD"

Rae Story says we need to better understand the scope of the trauma which can arise in women as a result of sexual coercion or violence

Rae Story

In Permanent Opposition

Posted on: Thu 08-Dec-16 12:22:05


Lead photo

"There was no single scene of violence; the assault came from the layers of intrusion built up over time."

You don't expect to experience post-traumatic stress disorder if you don't really understand that you have suffered a trauma. When what you've experienced is normalised, the psychological after-effects may be attributed to something else, or ignored entirely. But trauma comes in many guises, and violence is not always obvious.

A poorly understood fact is that PTSD is more common in women than in men - and one of the most common causes of women's trauma is sexual violence. On the surface we accept that sexual coercion, for example, is negative, but we don't often discuss the severity of its effect on women.

I was in prostitution for 10 years - middle-class, indoor, 'acceptable' prostitution. I was never held at knife point, beaten or tied up; I never worked the streets. My life was regular hair appointments, expensive brandy in nice restaurants, and strip clubs for faux fun: the laissez-faire libertine.

Of course with many punters I had to hold my nose and hope they wouldn't take too long. These weren't just men I didn't find attractive, but men who actively repulsed me. But it was just the 'job'. When I entered prostitution, everyone just shrugged it off. You saw women resigned to what was happening to them, their lack of sexual agency - you spotted their tricks for shortening appointments, the little hits of booze or dope to get them through, and you learnt to do the same.

We don't understand the scope of trauma in women because sexual violence and coercion have historically been dismissed as just other, if controversial, forms of sexual possibility. If we are to better understand PTSD in women we need to start - seriously - rewriting this script.

But then I just seemed to stop. When my 'clients' visited me I began to feel a hurl of nausea in my throat. I felt anxious everywhere I went - every week there was a new thing I could no longer do, a place I could no longer go, because of the panic it engendered. Meeting new people, public transport, shops, swimming, the cinema, everything became frightening. I was like a prey animal.

I was not intellectually opposed to prostitution; I was a modern, open-minded, liberal feminist. But, as I became more and more isolated and fragile I started to reach out to other women exited from the sex industry, reading their articles, talking with them on social media, and I found the same patterns, the same textures to their stories.

Like Sabrinna Valisce, "When the flashbacks happen I can be anywhere, around anyone. They're unpredictable and intrusive and leave me wanting to shower and sleep it away."

Or Diane Martin CBE, "A few months before and after I got out of prostitution, I started having what I now know are panic attacks and I lost the ability to speak. I just couldn't talk, no sound would come, I was shutting down."

PTSD is a risk in a number of professions, but these tend to be 'front-line' jobs: soldier, paramedic, firefighter. It's useful to have this point of reference when considering trauma as a result of prostitution. My 'benign' servicing of thousands of men's sexual wants has had repercussions that ordinarily befall those who have witnessed bodies burnt, bombed or disembowelled. There was no single scene of violence in my experience of prostitution though; the assault came from the layers of intrusion built up over time.

We don't understand the scope of trauma in women because sexual violence and coercion have historically been dismissed as just other, if controversial, forms of sexual possibility. If we are to better understand PTSD in women we need to start - seriously - rewriting this script.

It took me a long time to fully understand my symptoms; the irritability, the anger, the fear, the strange existential sense that life no longer had any purpose. It was difficult, because by making the connection between mental breakdown and prostitution, I had to face the fact that what I had been through had not been benign at all. Not all women in prostitution will suffer from PTSD, but many of us do; even in the most conservative findings, prostitutes are shown to be significantly more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population. For us it is the site of our suffering and the cause of our enfeeblement. Only by confronting that, have I begun to heal.

By Rae Story

Twitter: @raycstory

Vickiw1 Thu 08-Dec-16 13:36:34

Very brave to admit this - that prostitution is not a job like any other. The fact that the johns/customers and the management/pimps use hate speach to describe the workforce and slavery and coercion is used as a recruitment tool should be enough to satisfy people that its exploitation, very often of children as the average age girls get entered into prostitution is 13. In these post truth days where up is down and male is female, we seem to have lost our understanding and comprehension of reality.

micknordic Thu 08-Dec-16 14:12:52

It's great the way this article gets beneath the surface of what society tells people should be thinking and feeling, to reveal the terrible cost which prostitution can extract. A good antidote to the "solutions" of the paid-sex lobby, which only seem plausible if we are willing to go along with a simplistic and superficial analysis of the problem.

Smartleatherbag Thu 08-Dec-16 14:15:59

This is great to read. I have cptsd, amongst many other mh illnesses, partly due to similar circumstances to Rae. I wasn't trafficked or on drugs or forced into it. But holy crap, it leaves the scars.

juliascurr Thu 08-Dec-16 15:03:34

I can't find an adequate response to your account. The stress of that experience must be immense; I send my best wishes for your continued recovery
from Heather

PamelaRubin Thu 08-Dec-16 15:21:43

This is so important and hard to describe. Brilliant! Thank you.

sangiec Thu 08-Dec-16 15:46:26

Thanks so much for sharing this.. really important contribution to the 'job like any other' debate.. I can't imagine that slow but assured pervasive trauma on the psyche.. please take good care of you.

OneFlewOverTheDodosNest Thu 08-Dec-16 15:49:06

Thank you for writing this Rae - so often the narrative is overtaken by "sex workers" groups which end up being almost entirely made up of pimps and punters with a clear agenda.

At a time when even Amnesty International seems to have been taken in by the words of traffickers, it's important that the human cost is not minimised or overlooked.

raestory Thu 08-Dec-16 16:36:03

Thank you all for your kind words of support; yes indeed the pro sex industry lobbyists would just read this ^ and say, "I'm sorry you had a bad experience". Making individuals out of us, even when trends are evident, is a great way of pushing policies that benefit the few because the many who might say, 'but this doesn't benefit me' can be, effectively, ignored.

Hi Smartleatherbag; like so many of us I fear, and yea we aren't forced or suffer obvious, what I call 'Hollywood' style violence, but it isn't necessary for that to be the case, for prostitution to result in mental health problems. There is no way we can call this 'work like any other' when the potential risks are so severe and when there is no social benefit or imperative to it whatsoever; women often from poor backgrounds being put at risk for the selfish (and perhaps even sociopathic) pleasure and entertainment of, usually, well off men, is not like being a medic or firefighter.

RandomUser1316 Thu 08-Dec-16 17:04:53

NC'd for obvious reasons. This is so good to read. Have a similar background. 10 years on with a DH and 2 DC. No one in the world knows what I did and I'm too ashamed to ever tell. It's a heavy secret that has a lot of baggage that I'll never be able to explain to anyone.

AskBasil Thu 08-Dec-16 17:15:19

Thank you for writing this, it's so important that voices like your one, which I'm pretty sure is the majority voice, are not drowned out by the tiny minority of unquestioning cheerleaders.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Thu 08-Dec-16 17:24:18

Thanks for sharing this - it's frightening when you think how normalised prostitution is in danger of becoming among young women.

hohohoholdon Thu 08-Dec-16 18:15:12

Thankyou Rae.

I have found you blog really informative, if not easy to read because of the issues.

I recently had reason to link with a prosex work organisation. A woman in prostitution went to them for help. They weren't able to do a single thing for her. Nothing. They knew of no local services, had no idea about referral and in fact linked with a support org which they slate in the media. When talking about the woman - they just said the work didn't suit her. As if her trauma was somehow her fault.

We need trauma informed services who can really link with women and offer long term support, whilst dealing with crisis needs such as housing etc.

Thank you for speaking out. Your voice is so important.

misskelly Thu 08-Dec-16 18:35:11

Thank you for telling us your story. I think it's really important we hear from women about the damage that prostitution does to them. I think it has been easy for those who are pro-prostitution to glamourise prostitution and make it seem like a reasonable choice for young women to become escorts and make lots of money. I think some believe that if you've not been trafficked or walking the streets means you avoid all the nasty aspects, clearly this is not the case, It's just a sanatized version of exploitation.

Myusernameisalreadyinuse Thu 08-Dec-16 20:01:37

Thank you for sharing this and for speaking out. I'm so worried by the "sex work is work like any other line" that is being promoted at the moment. It just isn't and your story helps to explain why. I hope you are recovering and finding peace xx

Smartleatherbag Thu 08-Dec-16 20:15:12

Thanks Rae, for replying smile. Also commiseratory / sisterly hugs to Random too. There are, I suspect, so many of us who wouldn't fit the stereotype, but were more subtly nudged into prostitution. The 'boiling frog' analogy definitely applies in my own case. Luckily, I came out physically ok (I was beaten but not 'badly' Ha!) but mentally really messed up. I lost a few colleagues, one who was a good friend and who had two little girls. We might have been wined and dined, but we were just seen as disposable.

LoveAMoan Thu 08-Dec-16 20:20:37

flowers to you Rae.

trafficcarrots Thu 08-Dec-16 20:25:45

I agree, but the emotional stress is weighed up agaisnt the monetary gains, and somehow, monetary gains win. There may be many reasons, and I think there needs to be more accessible and profound support, but it is a choice. Not everyone will agree, but determination is your only barrier, it is an easy choice if you are drug reliant.

WorkingGirlJem Thu 08-Dec-16 22:11:01

I have been an independent escort for 3 years now and read this several times with great interest.
I actually enjoy the job and don't feel any negativity at all.
Do you think its possible that in years to come its going to affect my mental health in ways I hadn't imagined, or might it be that there are some people for whom it really is just a job?

0phelia Thu 08-Dec-16 22:14:57

You really start to realise how much men hate you (women in general maybe or just prostitutes) after you enter prostitution.

The comments I had ranging from "Can I get a different girl rather than you then?" (After declining full sex without a condom)
to "If you're not going to orgasm I want my money back"
Did make me lose faith in humanity in many ways. Other experiences too numerous to mention here also ebbed away my faith.

It's a grim job. It's a rarely a "choice" It is a last resort.

The onus is on our culture that turns a blind eye to men paying for sex, and blames the women for "choosing" it, while offering few alternative options outside of this
last resort.

AskBasil Thu 08-Dec-16 22:15:28

I think there may well be people for whom it is just a job, just as there may be women who are prepared to be surrogate mothers for money, for whom it is just a job.

But I suspect they are in such a tiny minority that their interests should not be put above the interests of the very large majority who will be harmed by this "job".

It's all about risk assessment. Sure, a few people may not be harmed. But for the sake of all those who will be, we need to oppose enabling punters to abuse prostituted women.

0phelia Thu 08-Dec-16 22:16:12

In what capacity do you work?

0phelia Thu 08-Dec-16 22:17:35

(Sorry I mean how busy are u if u don't mind)

WorkingGirlJem Thu 08-Dec-16 22:34:25

I dont mind at all.
I'm an independent and I work 4 days per week seeing between 2 and 4 clients a day.

hoofwankingbunglecunt Thu 08-Dec-16 22:42:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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