Below are six testimonies from women who have all been exploited within New Zealand’s sex trade, and who have exited to become vocally critical of the trade itself and wanting to see open debate on prostitution legislation in New Zealand.
Rae Story, excerpt from Working in a New Zealand brothel was anything but ‘a job like any other’, published on Feminist Current
The boss liked us to work most nights and so the constant interference from (often) rabid men left us bruised and sore. This one particular john had a thick penis, which he liked to jab in and out of me, as hard and fast as he could. Initially, I tried to breathe deeply and relax my muscles, but the pain was excruciating. I began to hold onto his hips to slow him down, push him away from me, but he got impatient and then angry, before flouncing off to complain, as though he was the victim of some great injustice.
When I walked back down to the foyer, the receptionist pulled me aside to inform me of his grievance. I hyperbolized his brutalization, knowing that if I simply said I was too sore to cope with what was a fairly banal experience of prostituted sex, it wouldn’t satisfy her. She narrowed her eyes cynically, but said she was willing to let it pass as this had been the only complaint leveled against me. One imagines, looking back, that the other women had to learn how to alleviate these situations for themselves — learn how to cope with the bruising, the discomfort, the tiredness, the objectification, and the hours of unpaid and thankless work they conducted for the benefit of the brothel.
Jade, excerpt from The Fake You, published in Prostitution Narratives, edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Caroline Norma (Spinifex Press, 2016)
We hitchhiked to Auckland, and about half-way there we scored a job with a team on the V8 car-racing curcuit where men were happy to molest us with oversized sex toys for a couple of hundred bucks and a few beers. It was my first experience of selling sex. Arriving in Auckland, my friend gave me her identity card (because I was underage) and dropped me off at a brothel while she went to another. The madam was an overweight middle-aged woman who talked with me at the bar as I sucked on a lollipop. She barely glanced at my I.D. She seemed pleased with the fact I looked about 14 and put the word out I was young.
My first client in the brothel was into pedophile fantasies. He was in his 50s and wanted me to recount things from my childhood so he could get off, such as my first sexual encounter. The younger I pretended to be when I lost my virginity the more he enjoyed himself. From then on I had night after night of pedophile types… The madam had convinced me to keep my money safe by putting it away with her and the club… When I did request it she gave it to me in bags of crystal meth. I had never tried meth before, but she said it was easy, “just like smoking pot”…
There’s no ‘how to’ when learning to be a prostitute. I was at the mercy of the clients who would take advantage of my lack of personal boundaries. I would be left with bruises all over my body from the rough sex, men always wanted to imitate hardcore porn, acting out the sexual violence they were feeding on. The drunker they were, the angrier they would get until they were in hateful rages. Those were the times my vagina would bleed from the trauma. I had no-one to tell or to help me as we (the girls) were experiencing the same thing…
Over ten years I estimate I have been raped at least 30 times and suffered about 2,500 severely violent attacks. I never got any medical treatment…
After five years I wanted out of the sex industry. Twice I tried to go to school – once when I was eighteen and again when I was nineteen. I wanted to be a youth worker. But I couldn’t study due to drugs and sex work. None of the sex worker advocacy agencies ever offered a contingency to get me out of the sex industry. They supplied lawyers, health checks, lube, condoms and dams but nothing to help me get out.
I remained in the sex industry for another five years…
It took 18 months of intense residential treatment to overcome the trauma of sex work, then a further two and a half years of living in supported accommodation before the fear and anxiety of participating in everyday life was overcome. I still have regular counselling; the psychological effect of sex work has had an incredibly debilitating effect on my life. It is hard to maintain relationships after you have been treated night after night with contempt. It is hard to value yourself when you have been sold for as little as a packet of cigarettes.
I don’t know why or how prostitution can be legal, and I believe there needs to be more support for women in the industry to leave and get specialised counselling. I spent a decade in the sex industry and count myself as one of the rare and blessed survivors to be able to get out. Too many do not.
Rosalie, testimony from rosalieshaven.org.nz
I was put into a Children’s Home… I was an unwanted child, I was so neglected that at the age of four, I couldn’t say one word, but with speech clinic help I soon learned how to speak. Now you can’t keep me quiet.
The Children’s Home was run by a church organization in Wellington and to everyone outside the Home, it appeared to be well run and was, until the superintendent left and we got a new one. The new superintendent was a wicked man, he could do no wrong in the eyes of those outside the Home and was well thought of. He sexually, physically and mentally abused most of the children in his care. When complaints were made they always believed this low life. He was teaching Sunday School and we made the church aware of that but again they chose to believe him.
When I was 15 my father turned up out of the blue, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap, but at all cost I wanted out of that Home so I went home with my father to the King Country. However he sexually abused me many times, so I ran away and became a sex worker, the law caught up with me and I was put into a foster home which was a disaster. So Child Welfare in those days gave me a choice: go home and do what I am told for 3 months, or go to Marycrest… I certainly wasn’t gong home and falling pregnant to my father, so I went to Marycrest. It was a haven for me, I still keep in touch with the Catholic Sisters that looked after us 50 years after leaving, I think that in itself speaks volumes.
However I went back to working as a sex worker, it was the thing I really knew. I got friendly with some lovely Christians and started going back to church, but because I did some bad things and couldn’t stay on the straight and narrow I got kicked out of the church and everyone in that church was told to have nothing to do with me. I swore I would never go into another church. I got into more trouble with the law. I was staying in a motel one night in Auckland with no money or food, the next night I stayed in a brothel and I decided to put God to the test. There was only God and myself. I said to God if you are for real, get me out of this mess and I will follow you. His response was go back to the town you have run from and put things right. So I did this, it wasn’t easy and I knew there was a chance I could go to jail. I had to go back to a government department and say I had defrauded them – that was really scary, they had a private detective on my trail, who wanted to throw the book at me. The department was really good and dropped the case against me. I went back to church.
Sarah, who wrote to me via this blog
As a 16 year old street worker Anna Reed certainly never tried to help me, even though I was under age and going to the NZPC on a weekly sometimes even daily basis. If anyone need help it was me. I never agreed with her push to have prostitution decriminalized. I refused to sign her petition (at then 19 years of age I could see what she clearly could not, or would not) while she was traipsing round the brothels pushing her agenda, and yes I believe she has her own agenda based on her own world view. Prostitution is the result of the dysfunctional break down of the moral fabric of our society and it will destroy our country just as it is destroying our world. The rape and murder that has occurred on Manchester street alone since it was decriminalized should speak volumes. Was it worth it? The promise of tax write off lipstick and handbags?
Sabrinna Valisce, excerpt from The Evidence Against Prostitution that the New York Times Ignored, published on Truthdig
I worked pre- and post-law reform. The Prostitution Reform Bill passed into law to become The Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) in 2003. The good part of it was that the threat of a criminal record was removed. This would happen under The Nordic Model also. I volunteered at the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC), so I was [able to compare our decriminalization] goal … to the results. I, and others who were agitating for decriminalization in New Zealand, we always wanted the power to be placed firmly in the hands of the prostituted person/sex worker. Decriminalization didn’t do that. The power went to the brothel owners, escort agency owners and johns. Immediately following the PRA, the pimps became legitimate businessmen. They introduced “All-Inclusive.” An “All-Inclusive” is a single fee paid by the john to the brothel/escort agency via the receptionist. This means that the prostituted person/ sex worker has no power of negotiation. It also means that the pimp decides her earnings (most are women). The pimps gained the power to decide what a “service” would be paid and how much of that belonged to them. They also gained the power to withhold the woman’s earnings or even deny any existence of those earnings.
It used to be that men knew the sex they did to us was unwanted, that we just needed the money. This didn’t make them feel like helping us out with some money and leaving without raping us, but it did make them feel at least a little bit guilty about exploiting us, which made them treat us a little bit gentler, and they aimed to get their jollies and leave a little faster with a little less inconvenience to us.
Increasingly, with the current decriminalization legislation and pro sex-work propaganda saturating the media, more men are convincing themselves that we are having consensual sex with them, and charging them not for any hard work nor for any victim compensation, but only because we can. This makes men feel ripped off, “if we are two consenting adults why do us men have to pay while she just collects?” It makes them even more angry, more violent. – They are expecting more and more, and willing to pay less and less.
Sorry but no, we don’t want to have sex with you, we work our asses off catering to you, and we suffer all the same physical and mental consequences of rape as in any other rape case, only for us the trauma is repeated, again and again till we have rent money, again and again until we have food money, again and again until we have babysitter money, again and again until we have tertiary education fees, again and again until we have the power bill, again and again until we can pay back our drug dealer for the substances we’ve learned to depend on to cope with the reality of enduring repeated sexual abuse all the while knowing we need to come and endure it again next week, and the week after, maybe the week after that we manage to afford some time off while we have our period, or maybe we shove a piece of sponge inside us and inconspicuously reach in to fish it out and give it a rinse every 2 hours while we get our already aching reproductive organs pounded by men who demand of us that we never let on we have any human function such as menstruation or anything else, where smiles and compliments are the only self-expression allowed.
If we had decent careers which payed at minimum a living wage, free from sexual harassment where we received equal pay for equal work to men – We would not be letting you touch us. If we lived in a society where we were treated as full human beings with full human rights – We would not be letting you touch us. If we were not oppressed through sexism and classism and often racism as well – We would not be letting you touch us! We would be having sex (or not having sex) with those people we are sexually attracted to and interested in, and only those people, for *our* pleasure and fulfilment not just *theirs*. I don’t know any woman who’s own personal sexuality drives her to be with a succession of strangers, catering to these strange men’s desires while struggling to uphold the very minimum of safety precautions, until we are sore, raw, swollen, chaffing, and torn. This is not consent, this is coercion. This is not sex work, this is rape. This is economic exploitation. This is women’s oppression.
No, we are not ripping the men off by charging them for consensual sex.
No, decriminalization of johns and pimps has not improved our safety or lives.
No, we are not satisfied with a Prostitutes’ Collective that merely dispenses condoms, we need real support services, we deserve more from our country.