The issue of child prostitution and its supposed alter-ego, adult prostitution, are personal to me because I’ve experienced both, having been prostituted between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two.
I sometimes think of what those who knew nothing of me would have thought of me, as they caught glimpses of me, on the different stages of those seven years. Who doubts that the majority would have looked at my young teenaged self and wondered what sort of world we lived in? And who doubts, if they’re honest, that many would have looked at my young adult self and wondered what sort of women populated it?
This is the dichotomy of adult and child and they are viewed as very separate, very distinct, so that there is a clearly perceived line between these stages, these ages, but in fact it is not a line. It is a bridge. It is a bridge that spans the in-between; that gap that connects the points in the lives of so many women who were prostituted first as children then as adults. I lived that bridge in my own prostitution life, when I was turning from a child into a woman, and I was used sexually for money on most of the days that made up my adolescence, as I was before in childhood and afterwards in early adulthood. And here is the crux of the matter: it was all the same nightmare to me.
People chose though, before and after those in-between years, whether I was blameless or blameworthy. In the interim, while I existed in the in-between, each individual who looked at me or fucked me had the privilege of making up their own mind. Many did, and most chose the latter.
After that, when I was identifiably a woman, it was not a case of ‘most’ anymore, but ‘almost all’ – because almost all those who looked at me in my young adulthood decided that I’d chosen what was happening, and saw it as what I was doing rather than what was being done to me.
The ‘done to me’ aspect died, you see, along with my adolescence in the perspectives of other people. The problem was it didn’t die, and I was still alive, living the ‘done to me’ reality every day.
As a fourteen-year-old girl, a full year before I ever started prostituting, I first realised that some men felt an actual entitlement to my body. This was perfectly expressed by the extreme belligerence they’d display when I rejected their advances. They would be so angry. ‘How dare you?’ said their actions. I couldn’t make any sense of that attitude. It was literally like someone was speaking in a foreign language to me, and it was a foreign language in a sense; it was the language of sexual entitlement. I became fluent in the language eventually, but fluent in the sense of someone speaking a language not of their origin; someone who can understand it audibly, but will never be able to write it.
At that time though, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could think it was okay to walk up to someone on the street and wrap your arms around them, or grope somebody, or growl what you’d like to do to them into their ear. But I had all these experiences as a fourteen-year-old girl and I’d had three approaches by paedophiles as a pre-pubescent child, and still I could not fathom why and how this was supposed to be acceptable in the view of these men, why this was supposed to be okay. I remember one man’s surprise and affront as he told me “You’re very standoffish!” after I pulled away from a physical embrace I didn’t initiate, ask for, permit or fucking want.
These experiences came thick and fast from the age of fourteen, when I began to be more noticeably developing breasts. It is little wonder I became fluent in the language of male sexual entitlement. Facial expressions, aggressive stances, weary sighs, protracted silences – all these too make up part of that language, all these are used to communicate the idea that you’re expected to consent when a man decides he will have rights to your body.
So I’d had some schooling, in that sense, as to what prostitution expected of me. What I didn’t know was how bad it was going to get. I couldn’t have known that before I experienced it. It was unknowable. Well, I soon found out, and what I found out didn’t get any better on the day I turned eighteen and it didn’t get any better on the day I turned twenty-one either.
They bother me, these stupid irrelevant lines that are drawn that attempt to divide the lived reality of the prostitution experience based on whether a female is fifteen or seventeen, seventeen or nineteen, eighteen or twenty. They are diversions to the central matter at hand; they divert from the core issue. They disappear the fact that this is wrong, not only by degrees that deepen with the youthfulness of its target, but by its nature, so that all those who’ve been paid for sex they do not want have suffered sexual abuse. There is a shelf-life for women in prostitution, but there is no shelf-life for the nature of prostitution. Its abusive core does not morph into something else on a person’s eighteenth birthday. Not that many men wait that long in the first place.