This is our truth, tell us yours
I have written before of my disdain, my contempt, and disgust for those who parade victims of rape as “sex workers” in order to push the Swedish Model. It denies healing, re-abuses and causes untold harm to people, who by their own accounts are victims of sexual violence. The issue of how to deal with those who claim to have been sex workers who support criminalization is complex. Some, like somaly mam are simple fakes. When so much money is thrown at the rescue industry it will attract all sorts of frauds, fakers and scam artists. Others are simply looking for support, and need to toe the party line to get it.
One of the issues with those who support the criminalization of sex work is their accounts of sex work are all unremittingly grim and negative. Every client is abusive, no one ever shows any decency, humanity or concern for them. It instantly doesn’t ring true if you are not already a whorephobe. If you talk to survivors without an agenda, or book, to peddle, they will give a far more nuanced account of their experiences. One of the fundamental tenets of this blog is “we believe you”. It is therefore important for me to reconcile the accounts of those who say every client abused them, every man raped them, every single person they encountered was without compassion with both common sense and believing victims.
In some cases although money changed hands, they were not sex workers, instead they were exploited by closed groups, as in Rotherham and Rochdale.. The use of money to humiliate and further control the victims has been mentioned by more than one report into the grooming gangs.The reports make clear that the money was not an income (in the traditional sense we think of a pimp, earning from the exploitation of anothers sexual labour) but a tool of domination and psychological abuse. That antis collude with this has not been challenged enough. The reports into Oxford and Rotherham both made clear that the belief that abused children were sex workers, and therefore “got what was coming to them” was part of the reason nothing was done for so long. Closed groups of abusers, which carter writes about so well here, are not clients, however so evangelical are antis in their crusade against sex work that they will even appropriate child abuse to further their cause.
What of those others who are not frauds, and were not being abused by closed groups? How can we explain their insistence that their experiences were wholly negative, reconcile belief with common sense? I believe it can be explained by the ego defence of splitting. Splitting was first described by Melanie Klein, one of the great minds of psychotherapy. She believed that as small babies in order to cope with the pain of hunger, the denial of sustenance we split our mother into two, the good breast which provides and the bad breast which denies. Such Freudian analysis may no longer be fashionable, however it is a black and white view of the world with which many of us will be familiar. As Klein says, the journey towards maturity is one where we leave such clear-cut divisions behind. The trauma of growing up is realising our parents are not ideals, but humans, with all the flaws that entails. Splitting as a defence mechanism is often employed by victims of child abuse, it is the only way they can safely cope with the abuse. By splitting the parent who nurtures off from the parent who abuses they are able to survive.
The idea therefore that all clients were evil abusers may be a result of this splitting, an ego defence mechanism for those who are encouraged to see the world in this black and white, immature manner. Their truth may be that they only remember the abusive clients, since their world view is one that needs to have this split. Indeed I believe it may be the same defence mechanism in play for those who insist they have never had a bad client, although one must be careful of marketing in both cases. Simplistic narratives sell, as they promote a certainty of infancy which many find seductive.
I wonder in fact if this process of splitting is not one which many sex workers, or successful ones, will perform, in the course of each booking. To engage on the level, emotionally and psychologically, that a client desires you must be able to present yourself as wholly desiring them, wanting to be with them, unafraid and trusting. However at the same time it would be foolish to forget that you are vulnerable. It is perhaps the ego defence of splitting which allows us to do our jobs, especially if we have had bad work experiences. It is important to point out here that defence mechanisms are unconscious, and as the term suggests, important for protecting our psyches. They are not a choice, but instead a vital way of getting through our lives. When it comes to sex work, being able to split the client who abuses from the next client, who may or may not be abusive, is possibly one of the most important defences we have. When one engages in sexual labour to do it fearing assault is damaging, but, ignoring the risks is dangerous. Thus the process of splitting allows us to not live a life of perpetual victimized, whilst at the same time protecting us from being victims.