Becoming A Sex Worker – The Brutal Side

Some people get into sex work because it just seems to make sense to them, as I described last week. But more often the entry is brutal, whether poverty, drug addiction, or kidnapping force the involvement.

One prostitute writing “A Personal Refutation of the Concept of Choice” says:

Choice does not always present as balanced; it does not always offer a different-but-equal alternative. When I think of my choices they were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger. Take your pick. Make your ‘choice.’

Another former prostitute says her grandmother unsuccessfully tried to keep her manic-depressive son from marrying his schizophrenic girlfriend. “What,” she wanted to know, “would happen to any children born into that union?”

“She was right to worry,” her granddaughter says. “It left us in state care, one after the other. And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.”

Sometimes prostitution arises from poor choices, as one drug addict describes, “My addiction is so bad I sell my body to pay for it. I never thought I would end up like this… I wanna get clean.”

Others are promised a better life through employment, education, or marriage. Instead, they are kidnapped and thrust into international sex slavery. Nick Kristof traveled to India and found that every prostitute he encountered had been forced into it by a trafficker, her parents, or her husband. Having studied and observed trafficking over the years, Kristof says his sense is that prostitution is deeply enmeshed in coercion.

In the U.S. girls often end up walking the streets by way of pimps who “befriend” them and then enslave them. You may have heard of Sara Kruzan. Her mother was drug addicted and abusive, and she didn’t know her father. After years in foster care she became depressed and by age nine she began attempting suicide.

At age eleven, 30-year-old G.G. became a father figure, showing her affection, taking her roller skating or to the movies, and telling her she was special — “so special” that she should never give away sex for free. Pimps like G.G. know that girls like Sarah are emotionally needy, and offer a sense of love from a “father” or a “husband” figure. And, like most pimps, he added terror for good measure. He raped her repeatedly and forced her to walk the streets everyday from six in the evening until six in the morning.

Sara eventually killed her pimp. She got a life sentence.

Or, there is Stella Marr who has fortunately escaped prostitution. She grew up in a troubled home. Her mother beat her all the time for things like trying to steal her friends (when Stella was 4 years old!) or for “making noise that woke her up when I came home from school.” Sometimes abuse took a sexual turn. And she was confined to her room much of the time.

Stella eventually went to Columbia University and got good grades. But the better she did in school, the more violent her mother grew. Finally, her mom threw her out of the house.

Broke and desperate, Stella says her grief created a micro-climate around her that drew pimps. One tricked her into sexual slavery:

I met Johnny (who said) he had a friend who needed a roommate, and that her family owned a restaurant and could give me a job. When we got to the apartment Johnny and two other guys who were waiting there jumped me, beat me up and raped me. They locked me in a tiny room without a window. They broke me like you’d break a horse. It was systematic. They’d rape me, beat me up, and then they’d be ‘nice,’ and give me a tuna sandwich. Again and again and again. It was torture. They dislocated my shoulder, and gave me codeine. I didn’t know if it was day or night. I didn’t think there was anyone I could turn to.

Some wonder why she didn’t run away. But trauma affects the brain, and Stella became brainwashed into believing escape wasn’t possible. And she saw society as complicit in her slavery. Early on, her pimp took her to a party with fourteen policemen because he wanted her to know he had cops in his pocket. Stella felt there was nowhere she could turn.

Unfortunately, despite all of the brutality surrounding prostitution, we too often blame the victims instead of helping them. In future posts I’ll discuss what might be done.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 2, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. We would like to think that we are a civilized society, but the truth in the matter is that we still act like savages. I believe that tricks create this huge problem which is prostitution. Is hard to believe that slavery still exists. There is something worse than death itself, and that is becoming a victim of slavery in prostitution. I believe that if men in general understood feminism this issue would be looked at differently. Educating the youth is very critical. Many men don’t understand that feminism is about equality not masculinity.

  2. Daisy Valenzuela

    I have never thought about how prostitutes might have got themselves in the position they are in. I always figured that women took that path to take the easy way out of their problems. I do remember watching Pretty Woman, how she didn’t have any other option because a lack of support. I think what should be done is trying to help and support these prostitutes to get out of their positions. Showing them that there are other support programs to help them get clean or get a job.

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