You can report rape, but it’s already a form of rape

Former prostitutes who don’t view sex work as just another job.

AT RHIANNON’S* lowest point, she agreed to sex for money with a man who found her drunk, high on prescription drugs and crying on the street outside the strip club where she worked.

Back at his home, she cut her wrists in his bathroom and stuck toilet paper on them.

“The man felt it was worth paying a hundred dollars to have sex with a woman who had a tearstained face and bleeding wrists,” she said.

“I insisted on clutching the cash while he used me.”

She asked him to call her an ambulance and he shrugged, so she left and called one herself. She planned to jump off a bridge if it didn’t arrive in ten minutes.

Her story is just one of the graphic first-person testimonies in Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, a shocking book that will be launched at an anti-sex trade conference at RMIT University in Melbourne this weekend.

Former prostitutes and other women across Australia are coming together to talk about the “oldest profession in the world” in a different way. They don’t use the words escort, call girl or sex worker, because they say these legitimise men paying women for sex as a service or a career. Instead, they call it abuse.

Well have they talked to enough privileged lefty women who swear up and down that prostitution is fun and empowering and well paid? Are they sure they’re not SWERFs?

Last weekend, prominent high-class call girl Samantha X gave a talk in Sydney to around 50 female fans. She spoke about her choice to leave journalism for highly lucrative sex work at 37, having quick sex and long chats with three men a day in hotels, and the safety of working for a reputable agency like hers, which screens its clients.

Many agree with her. But a growing group of survivors and abolitionists say they are disturbed at pro-sex trade lobbyists painting the industry as a profession, chosen by autonomous women because it makes them feel empowered.

Lobbyists? I thought they were the ultimate in 4th wave sex-positive purified feminists. No?

“I was groomed very young by society, a neoliberal culture,” former prostitute Simone Watson, from Western Australia, told “I came from a pretty lovely family. I called myself a feminist.

“I was about 23 and I needed money. I’d had sex with people I didn’t like very much before, why not get paid for it?

“Like the women around me, I took different kinds of medication. Then they can do whatever they want with you. You need to disassociate and leave your body. I used diazopenes. You couldn’t drink on the premises but I made up for it at home.”

Simone, 48, is now national director for the Nordic Model Australia Commission. The model, which has been successful in Sweden and was introduced in France this week, sees prostitutes decriminalised and those who pay for sex criminalised.

“What can police do i[f] sexual harassment is part of your working conditions? You can report rape, but it’s already a form of rape,” said Simone. “You get lonely johns, aggressive johns, creepy old men, mundane middle-aged men and uni students who are incredibly rude.

“It’s all on the paradigm of male violence against women. It isn’t a job like any other. Men who buy women for sex have no respect for women.”

Simone has been left with PTSD, anxiety and agoraphobia, so her advocacy work and travel has been challenging, but she’s desperate to create change.

Since the Nordic Model was introduced in Sweden, she says, there’s been a cultural shift. “Young people grow up thinking the idea of buying sex is abhorrent.”

Not that prostitutes are abhorrent, you see, but that buying sex is abhorrent. It’s the dehumanization.

Stories like that of Samantha X — of attractive, high-class escorts, who love their work and live a glamorous lifestyle — are often recounted by the media. Many women in the book say they once claimed the same.

The survivors gathering this weekend say the experiences they recognise are about violence, exploitation, drug abuse and self-harm. Yet they say the blame fell on them, rather than the men who paid to have sex with them. One had regular sex with a priest, who would “forgive her” afterwards.

They say most clients didn’t care if they were tired or in pain. Their detachment is clear on review sites such as PunterNet, where men make comments like “I can’t do this with real women,” or, “It’s like going to the toilet,” or “She wasn’t as young as I thought she’d be, but I f***ed her anyway.”

Go ahead, tell us how empowering that is.

*Names changed to protect identities.

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