“Incest is the boot camp for prostitution.” —Andrea Dworkin, radical feminist writer & activist
I have never been in the military, but I have been through the boot camp of my father’s sexual abuse. His sexual abuse that began at age 5 formed my identity around being sexually violated by men. Sexual objectification and violation were the norms that we, as girls, should expect from men—at least that’s what I learned.
Boot camp is in part about breaking a person down so they can be shaped for another purpose. And my father’s abuse definitely broke me down. I fought him, but I learned that the power had been given to him. And he had all the power over me until that moment he put me in the hands of other men.
I was sold into routine sexual exploitation in a brothel by my father at age 11. His “training” had been preparing me for this moment. And despite what you may think, I am not referring to sexual experience or specific sex acts. His sexual abuse did not teach me how to do all the things that sold well.
Prostitution rarely begins because someone has a list of sexual skills and abilities, as if on a resume. Most girls are coerced or forced into prostitution underage, like me, without the required “skills.” We are chosen because perpetrators sense we are easy prey. My father’s sexual abuse had made me walking prey, vulnerably exposed, and they knew it.
When Andrea Dworkin says that “incest is the boot camp for prostitution” this exposing of vulnerability is where it begins. The training of sexual abuse that prepared me for prostitution was a ripping away of protective walls and human expectations.
For me, my father’s sexual abuse was like being hunted, but without a forest to hide in.
For me, my father’s sexual abuse was like being hunted, but without a forest to hide in. The predator lived in my house so there was no escape. Even if I got away for an afternoon he was still waiting for me when I got home. Being caged and exposed in an environment of sexual violation originated with my father, but it would continue throughout the next seven years of exploitation in prostitution and porn.
Learning this power differential is essential to all sexual exploitation. I learned that my father owned me and had the right to violate me on demand. This experience of “not being my own” was foundational to the experience of being prostituted. In prostitution every man whether trafficker, pimp, or sex buyer owned me and had the right to violate me.
My father’s abuse was masked by an Oscar-worthy performance as the guy next door, a religious man and “pillar of his community.” Sex buyers wore these same masks. I knew their masks by the wedding rings, uniforms, and crosses that they took off as they came through my door. They wore masks, but we were exposed, forced to accommodate their violent violations with a fake smile.
Our smiles were false because, contrary to urban myth, prostituted girls are not nymphomaniacs who enjoy the sex. I didn’t even care about sex. My father’s abuse had taught me at a young age to disconnect from sex completely. Disconnecting from sex is an essential skill for surviving being raped by so many men nightly.
They walked through the door and I disconnected as I put on the mask of a smile. I think all of us at the brothel did. I was not in the other rooms, but it was the only way to survive so many men in and out of you. You just cannot be fully present for that kind of violent, repeated violation.
My father always demeaned me in his abuse, but in a way that simultaneously blamed it all on me. This is not unusual for perpetrators of sexual abuse as well as traffickers and pimps. They all blame shift like world champions.
We, in our innocence, believed that they were really seeing us, that the fault belonged to us instead of them. So as much as his abuse hurt me physically and emotionally, I internalized it all as though I deserved it. And that twisted way of processing his harm as my fault became essential to pleasing sex buyers and traffickers alike.
Sixty-five to 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children.
Sixty-five to 95% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children.1 I was one of those. Incest is the boot camp for prostitution. My father taught me that.
We need to start seeing the true picture of prostitution. It is not about choice. It is about common patterns of vulnerability. And many of these patterns of vulnerability begin with sexual assault and abuse in childhood.
What if we looked at the sexually abused little girl inside each prostituted woman? What if we saw each woman as a girl reliving their childhood trauma repeatedly through each sex buyer? What if we saw each girl trying to survive, trying to find a different ending for her story of abuse?
It is not hard to see that Andrea Dworkin was right. Sexual abuse shaped us, the survivors of sexual exploitation, making us easy prey for traffickers and pimps. Those of us that have emerged from the ashes of yesterday are finding different endings for our stories.
Prostitution is a story of sexual abuse. Now that you see, the question is: how will you tell the story of prostitution? How we speak the stories of our culture matters. #shiftculture
Photo Credit: Aleyna Rentz
- 1. “Prostitution and Trafficking Quick Facts,” prostitutionresearch.com