"Hey Mister, Get off My Sister": Words on Survival and healing from Women Survivors of Prostitution
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In my three months at the Council for Prostitution Alternatives I learned quickly. Surrounded by the joys and pains, the anger and the chaos of women's lives, I began to see their truths mirrored in my own life, and the lives of those surrounding me. The women I met were as diverse as they were similar. I spoke with young women and old women, from teenagers to women in their fifties. They were women from a variety of backgrounds--Native women and white women, black and Iatino women; Jews, Christians, goddess worshippers, non-worshippers, and women who held to their own spirituality. There were lesbian, bisexual, and straight women. They had worked in massage parlors and strip joints, in the streets and in brothels. I met women who had been kidnapped, abused, raped and gang raped, and filmed in pornography. They told of being drugged, gagged and bound, tortured, starved, and beaten until there was not one bit of skin that was not bruised. I spoke with women who had been shot at, women who had been stabbed, women who had been given shock treatment, women who were assaulted by policemen, and then put in jails and mental institutions. There were women who had survived severe forms of ritual abuse, who had been prostituted and used in pornography as children, women who had been buried alive, penetrated with sharp objects and dead animals, and forced to have sex with their siblings other children, adults, or animals. I met who women who are in drug and alcohol recovery programs, women who suffer from mental and physical disabilities, women who cannot work as a result of their abuses ..... and the list goes on. I had no concept of how unprepared I was for the devastating truths that would be revealed to me during my three months at CPA. As one friend later commented, how can one ever be prepared for such atrocities? I don't know if anyone, aside from those who have been through it themselves, can ever be fully prepared to hear about the harms of prostitution. They are harms that should never be allowed to occur. It is natural that when we do hear about such things, there is a part in each of us that wants to deny the truth in order to make the pain go away. This is as true for those who have been harmed as it is for those who do the harm, and those who just hear about the harms. It is also true that our systems of denial are related to systems of power which allow some the privilege of denial, while others cling to their denial as a way to survive. It's been nearly one year since I left Kalamazoo to begin my work with the six women whose words are echoed in these pages. During the ten months that have passed I have been absorbed in my own ongoing process of internal growth, spurred on in leaps and bounds by the stories they shared with me. Allowing myself to see the truths of prostitution has deepened my awareness of the harms of patriarchy. At the same time, it is the strength and success of the survivors that has allowed me to find strength in my own womanhood. Much of what I learned I attempt to share with you in these pages. Even more remains which I cannot fully express on paper. But after all, this is only the beginning ..... .