Friday – ”Welcome speech”
This year, more than 20 women have been killed in Denmark, by men, and often by their partner or their ex-partner. Only three men have been killed by women. 29.000 women are exposed to gender based violence in DK every year. 8.000 men are exposed to violence and mostly by other men. Why do men feel entitled to treat people, and especially women like this?
I think, that the Australian sociologist, Raewyn Connell might have a bit of the answer – let me just quote her:
“In many parts of the world some men believe that women who are dependent on them must be their property – to discard if they wish, to kill if need be”.
A woman I know from Denmark was forced into prostitution. She had to give all the money to her partner, who only left her a small amount to buy food. He threatened her, told her, that if she didn’t prostitute herself, he would make sure, that she would never see her children again.
Another woman had to run away from her home country. She went to Denmark, hoping for a better life. She met a Brazilian woman in Denmark, saying that she would help her, but instead, she forced her into prostitution.
Another woman chose to go into prostitution. Her father tortured her as a child, raped her, and violated her vagina and her anus, putting different things inside of her.
Another Danish woman was raped by her grandfather – when she was just a little girl. When she grew up, she went into the sex-industry, being used and abused in films she never can make disappear.
Another woman had lived with a violent husband for many years. When she finally got away from him, she broke down. She was 50 years old, when she got involved in prostitution. She stood there on the streets, feeling her worth when men chose her, instead of the other women on the streets. She was raped several times in the buyer’s cars, but still, she was so broke down, that she believed that she was worth something, because men chose her.
I was sexually molested between the age of 11-17 by different men. In a park, on the streets, in an apartment stairway, in a forest, in a bus, in a train, in a public toilet, and I could just keep on listing places, where I didn’t feel safe. Actually, I was never safe in public places. Not as a child, and not even as an adult. I still have to accept, that some men feel entitled to comment on my body and my sexuality. When I don’t show appreciation, I am called a prude.
Raewyn Connell also says:
“There is also unequal respect. In many situations, women are treated as marginal to the main action, or as just the object of men’s desire. A whole industry markets women’s bodies as objects of consumption by men”.
And that is what it’s all about, and always has been about. Objectifying women for men’s sexual pleasure. Women and children are being exposed to violence and sexual harassment, they are being used, abused and raped – they are being bought and sold between borders, and still, politicians, the media and the population talks about free choices of going into prostitution!
None of the women I just mentioned was in prostitution because of free choices. I just launched a survivor-group in DK, and we are already 12 members in that Network. It was launched on the 18th of November this year! Before that, many women have been out public in Denmark. At least 15 have spoken out about their experiences in prostitution, never mentioning anything about free choices.
So why on earth do I spend my private life on this? Why do I travel around the world talking about this, why do I expose myself, letting everyone know that I have been a prostitute? Why on earth do I do this?
I could stay in my house and have tea with my daughter. I could read a novel, and just ignore the fact, that millions of women and children are being violated, sexually abused and abused in the sex-industry. Or could I?
It took me 9 years of recovery, just to be able to talk about this. It took me 9 years to accept my so-called free choice. It took me 9 years of shame, before I felt strong enough to speak up about my experiences.. – And you know what? As long as women are experiencing what I went through in prostitution, I will never be able to ignore it.
I have to do this, I have to speak up, and tell the truth about prostitution, we all need to do so, – all the brave women who survived prostitution must continue to keep on talking about this, telling about their experiences, because as long as the politicians turn a blind eye to this, we have to remind them, what THEY chose to ignore.
And what they chose to ignore is, that even if women aren’t forced into prostitution, they are still being manipulated into this industry – they are being exposed to sexual harassment, they are being manipulated by the media, to be objectified, commercialized and commodified, and they are still being taught, that they are worthless, that they have unequal rights, that they have to please and serve the male population. That they have to accept rape and violence and that men’s needs are still considered more important, than the safety of women.
I was in prostitution for 3 years. I believed that I was happy about it. I believed, that it was my free choice. I believed, that I was some kind of high-class prostitute, living out every woman’s dream. I believed that I was in control, that I was happy – and because I was so busy lying to myself, I hadn’t even discovered, that the violence, the sexual assaults and the fear I tried to hide, made me dissociate completely from my self, that it gave me anxiety, that it gave me a depression and that it gave me thoughts about suicide. – Because while I was there, I stupidly believed, that one day Richard Gere would come and take me away from it all.
So, let me finish, by quoting Raewyn Connell just one more time:
“Girls are still being taught by mass culture that they need above all to be desirable, as if their main task were to lie on silk cushions waiting for Prince Charming to come, checking the horoscope from week to week to learn if their star signs will be compatible when he arrives”.
Saturday – workshop 1 – ”Trauma. Traumatisation as cause and consequences of prostitution”.
When I became a therapist and a sexologist 10 years ago, I did so out of frustration. It was a frustration born out of my own experience with a psychologist I was seeing after my second sexual assault when I was 12 years old. She was a psychologist who had no idea what I was up against. This woman had studied at the university. She had at least 7 years of education. And still, she didn’t know how to help a 12-year-old girl who had been sexually molested by a man in an apartment stairway. She almost couldn’t look me in the eye. I remember, that I was sitting there in her sofa, while she was writing down her notes. I felt uncomfortable, being analysed to fit into the boxes she was trained to put me into. I was only there a few times, because it was a waste of my mother’s money. – If she had managed to help me, my life could have turned out differently.
Instead I was sent to a psychiatric hospital when I was 16 years old. At that time, I had tried to take my own life 3 times. Not even the doctors or the psychiatrics where able to talk to me – all they did was to see if they could make me fit into their academic boxes.
After a numerous amount of sexual assaults, I ended up contacting a photographer when I was 17-years old. I became a nude-model, until he molested me in the forest. When I started to cry, he told me, that I was useless, I was weak and he couldn’t use me as a model any more.
This is what Groomers are doing. There is nothing new here. But. What could that psychologist have done, to make me trust myself? What could she have done to teach me that I had the right, not to be seen as a sexual object? How could she have taught me to set my own boundaries?
What would have happened if that psychologist had been waiting for me with her coat on, telling me, when I arrived there, that we where going for a walk? What would have happened, if she had seen past her own boxes and notes and seen the real me? What would have happened, if she were able to just have a normal conversation with me, without academic words and vocabularies?
When I was 20 years old I began to prostitute my self in a Brothel in Denmark. I had lost all faith, that anyone could ever help me. It was easier for me, to become what men had taught me to be, a sexual object, who could be bought for money, a girl without any boundaries, pretending to love sex, even though prostitution had nothing to do with sex. I was taught, that men’s needs where more important than mine.
I had no boundaries when I went into prostitution. But I was devastated, when I got out 3 years later.
What I had seen in prostitution, were young girls who drugged themselves with medicine, alcohol and drugs. It was young girls like myself, who experienced unpleasant men, men who treated prostituted women as their property, who did things that weren’t allowed, but they did it, just to show themselves how much power they had over these young women.
Some of these women were exposed to violence, where the buyer had pinned them down tightly while they raped them. But none of these women saw this as rape. They talked about what the buyers did, as if it was normal and okay. They almost never spoke about these actions as violence against them. – So neither did I.
When they tore my hair, when they put their hands around my neck, when they tried to pull of the condom, when they used mental and verbal violence, trying to scare me, make me afraid of what they might do, when they were waiting for me outside the brothel, when they followed me near my private home, when they raped me or when they exposed me to violence. – Never, in my 3 years of prostitution, did I talk about the buyers as being violent. Because I had learned to believe, that this was normal and this was okay.
When I left prostitution, I was suicidal. I wanted to kill me self. To be able to stand all this violence, without putting the responsibility where it belongs means, that you have to dissociate yourself completely. You have to shut down every emotion, in order to get up in the morning, without breaking down completely.
When we hear about a woman who has lived with a partner who has exposed her to violence, we understand what she has been through: The constant fear, and the unpredictability, the not knowing what will come. We understand, that what her partner does is to break her down, make her believe, that no one will ever love her, that she is the reason why he beats her up.
We know, that this is not her fault, and we have laws against his actions, despite the fact that she stayed with him for ages, and even though she goes back to live with him. Even though she says she loves him. We know, that this woman has been exposed to so much violence, psychologically, verbally, physically, that we, as a society take responsibility, we take actions, to protect this woman.
But when it comes to prostitution, no one seems to relate to this as a violent relationship. But that is exactly what it is, a bad and violent relationship. A kind of desperation, where you lie to yourself, where you dissociate from yourself, where you point out all the good things that prostitution does for you. It gives you money, it gives you opportunities, it gives you the opportunity to work less and earn more, it gives you freedom, it gives you some kind of false security, that you can earn your own money. But you know what?
This has nothing to do with prostitution. No one wants to talk about what prostitution really is. What people want to talk about is the glorification, the lies, and the things around prostitution.
But what prostitution is, is this:
You are waiting to be chosen. You are waiting to hear what he wants from you. You are waiting to see if he breaks the rules and crosses your boundaries, you are waiting for the amount that shows you, what he thinks you are worth, you are pretending that you like to be there, that you like to be chosen, that you like to discuss the rules and your boundaries, that you like to see what he thinks you are worth. And then, when he has paid for what he wants, then you have to take off your underwear, lay down and pretend to like him, pretend to like his actions and the way he touches you, The way he looks at you, the way he talks to you, even though he is rude, violent, aggressive, unpleasant, smelling, disgusting, condescending and offensive. – You have to pretend, that you tolerate this, that you like it and that he can turn you on.
But we are not done. Because it’s not just abut pretending. This is about pretending, while he is as close to you as physically possible. This is when he has his penis inside of you, in your mouth, in your vagina, in your anus. Even if it hurts, you have to pretend, that you like it. This is when you are most vulnerable, naked, alone, and he asks you to go down on your knees and take his penis in your mouth. While you are giving him a blowjob, he calls you a nasty whore. When he asks you to bend over so he can put his penis inside of your vagina, you are just hoping, that he won’t hit you, pull your hair, pull of the condom or spit on you. And this goes on 5, 10 or 15 times a day. Can you imagine what happens to people, who are exposed to these actions so many times a day, several times a week.
They break down. They become overwhelmed with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, traumas and posttraumatic stress disorder. Some of the women in Denmark can’t even sleep with the light off. Most of them have been in therapy for ages, still recovering slowly, after all the violence they have been exposed to. These women are confronted by society as being weak. Media talks about prostitution as sexwork, without giving these women a thought. These women are being haunted, if they speak up. They still can not trust anyone. – Because if they stand up, and speak out publically, they will be attacked, threatened and silenced. They are out there, alone, with their vulnerability – afraid of what people will think, if they find out, that they were too weak to take the violence in prostitution.
When I finally got out of prostitution, I began in therapy, with one therapist after another, who didn’t have the right skills because they didn’t have a clue about prostitution and its impact. They were more curious to hear about what it was like, without understanding, that what I had been through was a kind of psychological torture.
One day, when I was 26 years old, a friend asked me to call a man she knew. He was an old man; he was a retired psychiatrist, still seeing clients in his private home. So I called him, and I saw him there once a week for almost 2 years. When I arrived at his private home he had lit the woodstove, made tea and placed a bowl of cookies on the table. He started out by telling me about himself, his life, his wife, his children and his work. And then he said:
“When I retired, I had 2 opportunities, I could go and play golf with the other retired people, or I could keep on doing what I love – which is to talk to people who need help to find peace”.
For the first time ever, I felt that I was exactly where I should be. He didn’t see me as a client, as a project or as someone who should be described with in diagnoses or academic words or placed in boxes. He saw me as a human being, and we just spoke about everything. For the first time I felt comfortable, because he was able to see the real me, he was able to give me time, he was able to work with me slowly, just like I needed. We spoke about everything. The weather, nature, holidays, and also about my childhood, my experiences from prostitution, the violence I had been exposed to in my relationships, and we spoke about my daughter.
When she was sick, I brought her along to therapy, and we all had tea, together, ate biscuits and talked about other things. But the most important thing was, that he was there all the way. For the first time I trusted someone. I believed, that I could live a normal life. I told him about my experiences with different psychologists and therapists and he said to me, you have to become a therapist, and one day you will write a book.
One year later, I finished my degree as a sexologist. After that I kept on educating myself, and 4 years ago I had a book published about sex and love.
I promised myself that I would be exactly like him. I wanted to see my clients as equal. I wanted to use myself, my story and my journey to help other people. Because if it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know where I would have been today.
My story is not unique. Most of the women I know in Denmark who have been in prostitution, tell about psychologists and therapists who don’t have a clue about the issues, these women are up against. But experiences from Denmark show that women who have been there themselves, who are educated as psychologists or therapists know exactly what these women go through.
Therefore, I would like to encourage all psychologists and therapists who meet these women in the their practice, to obtain the necessary skills, either by studying the topic or by speaking with the therapists and psychologists who have experiences from prostitution themselves, and have been through this journey themselves, because they know exactly what it takes, to get back to a normal and worthy life.
Worldwide we talk about equality. We talk about gender-based violence, about the sexual exploitation of women and children. We talk about rape in India, the murder of a young woman here in Germany who wanted to help two young girls who were being molested by a group of men, we talk about trafficking, about poverty, about Nigerian women who are being threatened by voodoo, to work in the sex-industry, we talk about the murder of 20 women in Denmark this year, killed by men. We talk about child abuse, mostly done by men. Vi talk about acid attacks on Pakistani women, we talk about young Yemeni girls who are forced into marriage and then….. We talk about sexwork. How can that word come out of anyone’s mouth, knowing, that women worldwide are being used and abused – exploited and violated in so many ways. This has to stop. As long as we ignore the violence in prostitution, no one will be able to stop the violence against women in general.
You can’t commercialize or commodify something, which is fundamental in human beings. You can’t take the sexuality out of people and make it into something, which can be bought and sold. And sexuality is inside of us – in all of us. It’s something we live out from the inside, because of attraction, lust, needs and love – it grows inside of us, when we are children, and it’s stimulated by the love from our parents or other people in our life.
If we live it out because of desperation, because of poverty, because of a low self-esteem, because we have been violated and sexually molested or because of the fact, that some have been forced into doing it, we dissociate ourselves from this core, the core that should lead to pleasure, joy and happiness. And most of the women who have been in prostitution aren’t able to find their way back to that core, and if they are, it takes a very long time, because it has been taken out of them, commercialized, commodified and objectified – it was never about these women’s attraction, lust, needs or love in the first place, and that is why many of them aren’t able to be in sexual relationships today, because their sexuality has been raped over and over again.
If anyone in this room calls prostitution sexwork, I would like for him or her to try it themselves, not just one time, but for a few months, and then come back, and tell me, if this is still something he or she would still call work.
Saturday – workshop 2 – ” The Reality of Prostitution: Survivors tell the truth”
In the first 6 months in 2014, 29 people were identified as victims of sex trafficking in Denmark. And still, noone seems to show the 70 Nigerian women standing in just one street of Copenhagen all night long any attention. Nor do they pay any attention to the Eastern European women who stand there in the daytime. And this is just one street in Copenhagen. We have a lot of streets in Denmark, and we have a lot of indoor prostitution. I think, that everybody who is represented her today knows, that a lot of these trafficked women, are also hidden in apartments, basements, houses and caravans.
It shocks me that nobody seems to care about these women. They have travelled to a foreign country, maybe because of their own free will, maybe not. They are out there in the streets, being picked up by foreign men, who they aren’t able to communicate with. They drive away to dark alleys, and give sexual pleasure to men, who don’t care if these women have been trafficked into prostitution or not. Women from around the world have told, that they sometimes told the buyer that she needed help, but that the buyers doesn’t seem to care. In Denmark every 7th of the sexbuyers doesn’t care, if the woman they buy has been trafficked. – What they say is, that they don’t care, who gets the money. If she is there, and he pays, it’s up to her, what she does with the money. These men have no empathy at all.
No man ever asked me, if I was in prostitution because of my own free will. They didn’t seem to care at all. What they did was to show their excitement, when they saw that I looked much younger, than 20 years old. They actually said it: “You look like a seventeen year old”, and then they smiled. They smiled… Even if they where in there seventies, especially if they where in their seventies.
Sometimes I remind myself, how lucky I am. I had the opportunity to get out of prostitution. I had a family who was there to help me. I spoke the language, and I knew where to go, to get help. I know, that a lot of these women are forced into prostitution, because of pressure from their family, because they are being trafficked, because of poverty or because they are being lied to, when they dream of a better life in Europe or Scandinavia.
I also know, that some people say that it’s better for them to prostitute them selves, to be able to feed their children. That prostitution is better than poverty. I do not agree. – That’s not the same as saying that I think people should live in poverty, because no one should. But not even poverty gives men the right to abuse women, poor and desperate women.
I know, that we need laws to protect these women, and that those who force these women into prostitution should be punished for their actions. But there is only one reason why these women are being trafficked. The reason is exactly the same, as the reason why I was in prostitution. The reason is the buyers! They are the ones who increase the demand for prostituted women and therefore create the market for traffickers and criminals.
The buyers are the ones living out fantasies they can’t live out in normal life. When no one in their normal life wants to fulfill these fantasies, how can we accept that a marginalized group should? Do we have so little empathy and sympathy for this group of people that we accept that they are used in ways and by people we would never allow ourselves to be used and abused by in the same way?
Even though I wasn’t trafficked, I was still a victim, a victim of the patriarchy. A patriarchy that still allows men to oppress women. A patriarchy where most laws are made by men, a patriarchy that accepts the objectification of women, that turns a blind eye to the violence, the sexual harassment and the misogyny that exists all over the world. The patriarchy that is manipulated into children’s minds, is being lived out by adults and accepted by politicians.
In Denmark we have this way of speaking, mostly to young girls. So when a girl comes to a grown up, and says that on of the boys are hitting her, the answer is “Ohh, then he likes you”. In that sentence lies a manipulation of young girls, that they should appreciate the violence, because violence means love and attention…
Society doesn’t take responsibility for all the women who experience these things: The commercials that turn women into sexual objects, the movies that give women roles where they are objectified, and where they often have second part roles. Society ignores the fact, that young people can play games where you can earn credit by killing a prostituted figure. Thankfully, Grand Theft Auto 5 has been removed from the stores now. – That women in general are being sexualized in every thinkable way. Media has manipulated the population, by talking about sexwork, free choices and sexual liberation. I can tell you, that there is no liberating about prostitution, what so ever.
Imagine, that you have some one on top of you, whom you don’t know, someone you aren’t attracted to, someone who whispers in your ear, that he will fuck your brain out. Someone that bites your nipples so hard, that you are afraid, that he will bite it of. Imagine that you lie there, and constantly have to mark your boundaries, because he is doing all he can, to cross them. And when he finally finishes, you don’t have time to get angry or sad, because a new one is waiting, so you just have to push your feelings aside, and go in and play the role one more time.
And this time, he’s drooling on you, licking that nipple, that still hurts like hell, and then he says “smile”.. And you try to smile, and you try to hide the tears, because it hurts, it hurts everywhere, inside, outside – and then you just have to think about your own free choice of doing this, because that is what politicians, the media and the population tells you.
That this is just an ordinary occupation, and you should be shouting out for more rights. The right to be in a union. The right to have a contract. But when you are lying there, you don’t give a fuck about rights and contracts. In fact, you don’t give a fuck about anything.
I am actually struck speechless, that so many people believe prostituted people are there because of there own free will. – That people believe that some people like to be prostituted. I can’t help thinking, how people profit from this way of thinking?
Do some people find it liberating or thrilling, that prostituted people have no boundaries, and therefore prostituted women have to take what they would have found unacceptable? Do the same people close their eyes to this, because they aren’t affected by it themselves? If this is the case, I can tell you, that prostitution affects all women – if one is for sale, it’s just a matter of the prize, to buy all the others. – That is actually what men who bought sex said to me.
I can see why a lot of men fight for the legalization. They don’t want to let go of their privileges. There right to buy women for sexual pleasure. That makes sense. But then – why don’t they say it? Why do they say, that they fight for women’s rights, when women should have the right not to be seen as a sexual object?
Does anyone in their right mind truly believe that people like to be prostituted? And if not, how can they ignore the fact, that these people are being used in ways that give them depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and puts them in situations where they are exposed to violence and sexual assaults? How can anyone ignore that?
No one likes to be in prostitution – what they might like is the money, but it’s never the prostitution, the violence, the sexual assaults or the thought of what the buyers might do to you. And that is what prostitution is about, the men, their rights, their needs, their power, their hegemonic masculinity, who have no respect for women in general.
Liberation is a good thing. Giving people the chance to realize themselves is a wonderful thing. Giving women more rights is extremely welcome, and also the right to decide what to do with our own bodies. But prostitution is not about women’s rights. It’s not about liberation, it’s not a way to realize yourself, and prostitution is not about deciding for yourself. Prostitution affects all women, because prostitution is a buyer’s market. Prostitution and the legalization of pimping and brothel keeping is about men’s rights to exploit and oppress women – and when you talk about free choices, these choices are manipulated because of violence and sexual abuse in women’s childhood, or the media’s manipulation when they objectify women’s sexuality and turn it into something that can be bought and sold.
If Germany has around 400.000 prostituted people, it says something about Germany. – That Germany has laws that allow the oppression of women, the violence against women and the exploitation of women. It says it all, when we look at the number of killed prostitutes in Germany – 39 since Germany legalized pimping and brothel keeping. It isn’t the prostitutes in Germany, that have become rich, but the State, the Government, pimps and the brothel keepers, that take advantage of these women – they are the ones making big money on other people’s desperation.
Germany has a long way to go. First, they must admit the mistake of legalizing pimping and brothel keeping, secondly, clean up the mess by taking care of all the women who have been abused and violated in prostitution, and finally, tell the population, that it is not okay to buy people for sexual satisfaction. And that is the biggest mistake Germany has made, – to tell through law, that you have the right to exploit vulnerable people in prostitution. I wish by god that you would make an effort to have this law withdrawn. Because this would show, that you, as a country have some kind of thoughtfulness and humility towards the people, you as a government, are responsible for – and then you would also make sure to be an example, so that no other country would ever make the same mistake as you did.
More and more survivors are going out public. We can no longer be silenced – because from now on we work together across borders to make sure that no one will be able to ignore the truth about prostitution. We have been silenced too long. Movements have been made. As a part of Space International we are members representing more than 6 countries and 5 states in the US. In Denmark I have launched a new survivor-group here in November. We are already more than 12 members, sharing our experiences in Denmark and working for a criminalization of the buyers. Before that, about 15 women have been out public, sharing their experiences. That’s almost 30 women – just in Denmark. More women will come forward. It takes time, to recover, but when they have been recovered, they will join us, and movements will grow bigger, and we will fight for the Nordic model, because women deserve that. – And every time a Danish magazine uses the term sexwork, we will draw attention to and raise awareness of the harm in prostitution. Because the purchase of sex is violent – prostitution in itself is violence, being a part of an industry where mostly women are abused, raped, bought and sold. – We can no longer ignore this.