Extract: Psychological Issues of Prostitution

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Psychological Issues of Prostitution

‘R’ states that “People think it’s so easy, it’s not. You have to be quite smart, a good actress…That does affect your mind…I can be something in one room and completely different in another.” ‘S’ echoes this when she says that you have to be “…very strong-minded…put on an act.” She continues, “I can switch off emotionally from it and it doesn’t get to me. I can have my normal life as well. I’ve got this great way of blocking things out. I mind-block it. Within an hour I’ve forgotten about it.” ‘Q’ also agrees that “…it’s like being an actress,” and she “blanks it out.”

A French woman discusses the problems she has encountered with this dual-identity: ‘I’ve got a sort of split-personality. In the daytime, I’m myself, I do my shopping, live like any other woman; and at night I’m a real prostitute…If I wake up to this double personality while I am working…I realise only too well that I’m not what I should be, what I would want to be…Those times are the hardest.’[14] Another woman says, ‘You try to make light of it…you find ways of distancing yourself…you find escape routes, blinkers, drugs…You grow a sort of second skin.’[15] An American former prostitute imparts, ‘When you’re doing prostitution…you’ve got to have tremendous defences. You’ve just got to turn off…Drugs or willpower, you’ve got to cut yourself off somehow…If you tell me being in the life is beating yourself up psychologically, I can’t help but resent that. Because psychologically I’ve suffered so much more in other situations, been humiliated much more in other situations.’[16] One woman working in the 1970s found that ‘Most of the girls in London…want to cut their minds off…they’re hard hustlers.’[17] Another woman of the same generation tells of how prostitution made her feel ‘…very cynical and very bitter.’[18] ‘Q’ says that “From a young age…I’ve been hardened to it…When I first started doing it, I cried my eyes out every day and just scrubbed myself in bleach…I felt like I’d been raped…it really screwed my mind up….you become hardened in your…heart and your soul to it…this is when you get the hatred for the men…Sometimes I really hate it.”

Many of the women admit their attitudes have changed, especially towards men. ‘Q’ asserts that she has “…a completely different outlook to men…I could never trust a man, ever…you feel cold…I could never let myself go one hundred per cent with a man…because of the things I’ve seen and the things I’ve done…You see some really sick things…and it stays in your mind.” Although ‘S’ feels that due to prostitution she does not trust people as much, both herself and ‘R’ would like to find men that they could settle down with. In contrast ‘Q’ says, “I don’t know how I’m going to stop and have a normal relationship…I’ve slept with…I can’t even remember how many guys I’ve slept with…billions and billions…It’s a lot of people you’ve seen and it’s soul destroying to do it. But now, it’s…all I know and I can’t stop it. Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t stop it.” ‘Q’ does not feel that she could ever have a normal relationship with a man having been working as a prostitute for nearly nine years. A French woman shares this conviction: ‘I don’t trust men…precisely because I’m a prostitute. I always see myself as a prostitute…I can’t get the idea of prostitution out my head.’[19] An American woman said she feels ‘…Messed up as far as sex is concerned.’ Though she says, ‘that’s why I could become a prostitute.’[20]

A victim of childhood abuse who works as a prostitute talks openly, ‘When I became a prostitute I used to think men are paying for me…I used to laugh at them…I really detested them, and I think my stepfather had a lot to do with that…He had sexually assaulted me…my stepfather was a very violent man…and…a child should be able to trust it’s mother 100 per cent.’[21] Studies undertaken by Russell have found that one-sixth of girls with stepfathers have been sexually abused by them, and one in forty girls have been sexually abused by their biological fathers.[22] ‘Q’ suffered a similar experience as that described above. In fact, seventy-five per cent of women in prostitution have been victims of childhood sexual and physical abuse.[23] ‘…Early sexual abuse may leave children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation as prostitutes.’[24] However, others argue that the coping-mechanisms learned through this abuse enable the woman to work in prostitution rather than enable her to become the victim of sexual exploitation. It is possible that the way women in prostitution feel about men has not been caused by prostitution but by childhood abuse. However, it is probable that these feelings are reinforced by their work.

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