Rebecca was only 6 years old when a close member of her family began to sexually abuse her on a regular basis.
By the age of 14, she had become extremely vulnerable, ran away from home, and began working as a prostitute in London.
It wasn’t until her early 30s that she was able to get away from the British sex trade.
Rebecca is now a campaigner, and blogs about life before, during, and after prostitution on her website, Exited Woman’s Exploration.
This is Rebecca’s story.
“As a child I thought I belonged to the world of sleaze and self-hating. Incest gave me instructions on how to act the whore. With incest, you’re taught how to please a man through sex, and you’re taught one of the ways of controlling a man, that might be an angry man, or aggressive towards you, is to perform whatever makes him happy. Which is almost like a perfect way to train someone to be a prostitute.
“My fear was that the men buying me would see clearly that I was a child. I don’t have many photos of myself but I’ve got one or two, and I look at them and I think, not only was I a child, but I was obviously a very ill child. I was quite anorexic at that age, and I was so thin, and I looked younger than 14 because I was ill. I just feel like they never saw me as a child, they saw me as a prostitute, and once you see someone as a prostitute you don’t see them as a human.
“The way they isolate you is by making you feel like it’s all your own fault. It’s all because I did it wrong, or because I… I mean, one of the things that I remember a lot is being punished and not knowing why I was being punished. The reality was, I was being punished for no reason, because that is a control mechanism of the sex trade. And one of the ways they punish you is by putting you into a more violent form of prostitution, or by putting you with a punter that’s really sadistic.
“On the first night, some men took me to a flat and gang-raped me for six 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 was a good prostitute. I don’t know how I made it out alive.
“I think when I first started, the men that chose me were particularly wanting underage prostitutes. They were particularly violent men, and they were, in some ways, more honest about it than the men later on. The men later on were looking for an escort, or a girlfriend experience, and they were just as violent, and just as full of hate, but they lied about why they were doing it. They would pretend that they cared about me, or they would pretend that they didn’t do it very often, or it wasn’t really real violence that they were doing.”
“Lots of men that talk, they kind of talk in a way that is like they’re pretending that it’s not really happening, what they’re doing, or they’re trying to pretend to themselves that they’re the good guy, you know. They usually use that as a way of mentally abusing the prostitute, by trying to ask really personal stuff and trying to get under her skin. And it’s like, one of the ways you survive prostitution is by not saying anything personal about yourself.
“What I didn’t like was the dishonesty and the hypocrisy of these men, who were, like, pretending that they were the nice guy when you’re not a nice guy if you’re buying a human being for sex.
“Well to me, the whole point of the sex trade is to have as many prostitutes as possible out there, and so therefore they make a market from whatever they want. And one of the markets is to wreck a middle-class girl, is how they would view it. And using white, middle-class girls is one way of making it invisible, because people don’t want to believe that it happens to people like themselves. I was a runaway from home, and it doesn’t matter what class you come from if you run away, and if you have self hatred, you are likely to be attractive to the sex trade.
“A norm in prostitution is to be moved around to many different forms of prostitution, or aspects of the sex trade. All of that to me at the time felt like a muddle, but looking back, it’s all interconnected. And it’s all about making sure you never know how to be safe, and never know where a safe place is.
“I think that to disconnect prostitution from trafficking is a really good way of letting men think that, well, what I’m doing is okay. It’s what those other men are doing that’s so terrible. It’s always the others that are awful. But we’re doing the legal stuff, we’re doing the non-violent stuff. You know, there’s nothing non-violent about buying another human.
“I think exited women are the experts. If we want to end violence towards women and children, and we don’t listen to exited women, then it will never end. Because I think exited women have a really deep understanding of why men are violent, and how they get away with it, and how they make it normal. It’s about telling the prostitutes that society takes you seriously and sees you as human beings, and doesn’t see you as sexual goods, and doesn’t see you as not having a voice, and not having rights.”
Rebecca’s story was shared as part of an immersive audio-visual walking tour of London’s red light district in Soho, in recognition of UK Anti-Slavery Day this week.
The event, organised by international women’s rights organisation Equality Now, shared a collection of powerful first-hand narratives from three women, all of whom have personal experience of sex trafficking and commercial sex exploitation.
Interwoven with the women’s narratives, are real comments left by men on a UK website where men who pay for sex go online to review the women they have had sex with.
The women’s stories reveal a unique insight into the realities and emotional impact of the sex industry from a British perspective, either through being British citizens, or through being trafficked to the UK. You can listen to the full audio from the harrowing stories here.
By telling their stories, Equality Now hopes to increase understanding in the UK, and enable the development of more effective policies and support services in England.
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the Global Goals, including goal No.5 for gender equality. You can join us by taking action here, to help ensure equal rights for women and girls across the world.