UK children continue to be subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Children in the care system and unaccompanied migrant children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Rebecca was sexually abused and exploited as a child and only left her situation as an adult when she experienced such violence that she ended up in hospital. Here she discusses how societal gender norms contribute to and justify abuse to women and girls.
I was prostituted from 14 till I was 27. I got out because I chose to live. The guy I was with was very violent and I ended up in hospital. I remember the nurse yelled at me for being a prostitute. She sewed me up without anaesthesia and I left the hospital. I was paralysed for 3 days. Those 3 days made me think. I decided to catch a train and leave without knowing where I was going. I was in prostitution on and off for 3 years after that, but that was the beginning of my exit.
I was abused by my step-father from the age of six. I told my mother but she didn’t care. She was just concerned about me not getting pregnant. There was a club in our town where if you were a girl and under 16, the bouncers would let you in for free at the end of the night. My friend, who, like me, was completely fucked up and hated the world, took me there. It was strange because we were told to sit at the bar, not talk to each other and were given lots of cocktails. It all felt very sophisticated. I was 14. On that first night some men took me to a flat and gang raped me for 6 hours. There was a queue of men outside the door; one would finish and another would come in. Now, when I look back, it feels like it was a test to see if I would be a good prostitute. I don’t know how I made it out alive.
Although I didn’t go back immediately, I did return with my friend because I didn’t care about myself. She would take the money while I had sex with often violent men. I ‘worked’ there for 3 years. I could hear what was happening in other rooms and would think, at least what’s happening to me isn’t as bad. You have to survive. If I saw someone else looking scared, I’d think at least that’s not me. It’s hard for me to live with the fact that I know some women disappeared—I feel guilty.
I was often truant from school but attended till I was 18. From 17 upwards, an average day was trying not to sleep as much as possible. I’d go to pubs and have people buy me drinks. There was a regular at the pub who was known to be violent to women and to pick up prostitutes. I used to be seen with him in the pub, but no-one ever said anything to me. I’m not saying they could have stopped me, but they didn’t even try.
Loads of men who were abusive to me were white and English, but there were also men from other nationalities and countries. It was the time of the anti-apartheid movement. Outwardly they portrayed themselves as so good. Some would actually talk to me about human rights while they were doing horrible things to me! One punter (slang term for men who buy sex) actually resuscitated me and then carried on doing what he was doing to me. I was getting to the point where I wanted to kill the punters or myself. Always being surrounded by people who wanted to kill me made me think I should commit suicide as that would piss them off!
I would see injuries on me after punters had used me and not know where they’d come from. I mentally closed down. My body had been pushed to the limit but it didn’t die. At the time I thought I was choosing punters, but now I realise that men knew they could offer me money and that they could be violent towards me; it was a small town and they knew through word of mouth. Now when I look back, I see that there was a hell of a lot of organisation behind what happened to me.
For the longest time I hated going to the cinema as normally punters would take me there to have sex. When men found out I read, some would buy me books like Lolita and Marquis de Sade. I once set fire to a copy of Lolita. My step-father used to read Marquis de Sade to me at bedtime.
I also did that escort “girlfriend” thing, which is a total mind fuck because even if they treat you well, they still get all the sex they want any way they want. Many wanted to see me regularly. One guy kept me in his flat for 8 days. That messed with my head because I would start thinking like he was my boyfriend, when he wasn’t. He would lock me up in the flat before he’d go out. We’d watch American football on TV. If he saw me looking bored he’d rape me. At least men who are cold and violent don’t fuck with your brain!
What are UK and European lawmakers doing about sexual exploitation and trafficking?
As an escort most of the guys who bought me were very rich - many were training to become leaders in their own countries. Some of them are now in positions of power. People disconnect prostitution from other rights abuses. It makes me cynical about governments and those that run them.
Punters are so arrogant. If you’re going to be a bastard, it’s easier to stick to prostituted women because no one really listens to or believes prostitutes. One reason men are angry with prostitutes is because they can’t destroy them. Most men don’t want to use condoms- they don’t come to prostitutes for that. If someone had given me a condom I wouldn’t have had the self-esteem to use one. I didn’t feel like I deserved to live or not get a disease. I look back at the escorting and think those punters really hated me.
A lot of men were in denial about what they were doing so they would pay me with food or alcohol or give me a bed for the night. The guys who thought they were gentle or talked a lot, I hated the most. They wanted to know things about me as a human being, while they wanted to do all these things to me. I hate the punters and the way they make so many excuses for what they do. I hate that what they do is justified by society. I don’t know how any man can justify buying a human being either, just so they can have an orgasm! I hate that they made me feel I should be grateful to them. I feel like they put poison in me.
I started a blog just after the 2006 Ipswich murders (I’ve always noticed they only report these things when it’s a serial killer and then it’s always about the guy not the women). In Manchester I got lots of backlash from people who talk about prostitution being a choice and people who say I couldn’t have been a prostitute because I’m middle-class or too educated. Within a month, however, I started getting a strong response and now I use it to be political and to talk about the trauma associated with prostitution. I also contribute to Sex Trafficking Survivors United online forum. I campaign for abolition and changing laws.
As told to Equality Now.