A text by Sandra Norak and Dr. Ingeborg Kraus, published on 18th September 2018 on Trauma & Prostitution „Nie wieder Prostitution“; in the following translated from German into English by Abolition de l´industrie du sexe du Canada.
We got to know each other in our common participation as experts in the documentation “Brothel Germany – the billion-business with prostitution” which was nominated for “Prix Europa” 2018. Sandra Norak was a victim of lover-boys, a dropout from 6 years in prostitution who is now finishing her studies of law. Dr. Ingeborg Kraus is diploma psychologist and trauma therapist. In this common text we want to unite our experiences and perspectives.
Sometimes, for us the way appears very long, sometimes too long so that we think we won’t have enough power and won’t manage to go the way until the end. Exit from prostitution, a milieu which has mostly destroyed body and soul, is a very long and painful way which sometimes appears endless and on which you encounter apparently unbreachable obstacles.
Again and again we hear or read about dropouts who inside of themselves fight with the notion to go into prostitution again or finally really go back into it again, although they consider their experience in prostitution as traumatic and name prostitution a kind of violence. This behaviour isn’t understood by many outsiders.
With our text, we want to clarify about the difficulties of leaving prostitution and simultaneously encourage women in the process of leaving and after.
If it is spoken about prostitution in our society, you will see that many ones have internalised the imagination of it as a job like anyone else due to the prostitution-regulating law from 2002. But prostitution leaves deep cicatrices on body and soul. The exit is not comparable with a normal job change. Once caught in the system of prostitution, concerned persons will face heavy struggles to leave or they are completely unable to leave.
A physic exit from prostitution, the step with your body into real life can be managed quite easily, presupposed you have the opportunities. But physical exit doesn’t automatically mean psychic exit. Being in prostitution, concerned persons experience the deepest abysses of our society: an immeasurable and unimaginable huge extent of violence, humiliations, lies and inhumanities. You can escape from this life physically, but in psychical matters many ones still remain within memories, pain, and due to their experiences the belief to be worthless, being unable to achieve anything and to deserve nothing else. Physical exit is difficult, psychical exit is even more difficult, because it often takes years or even decades and it contains breaking through pain and trauma. It means to get slowly distance to a former life full of violence. This psychic exit is very important and it’s not about forgetting experiences, but it’s about accepting the non-erasable past, to integrate it into life, but simultaneously breaking free from the parallel-world of prostitution.
For concerned persons it is often not immediately obvious how their wounds from prostitution can appear in daily life, that’s what makes it additionally difficult to manage the exit. In the following, we want to explain some obstacles on the way into a new life.
For being in prostitution and standing uncountable penetrations by strangers, you need attitudes which trivialise this violence: that it all was bearable and/or not so bad at all. How do you get to such an attitude?
If someone is abused physically and/or psychically early in childhood, the concerned person could internalise the imagination that being mistreated wouldn’t be so heavy or that it was even deserved or normal. In psychic traumatology this is called the offender-influenced way of thinking. It is a survival-strategy to stand violence better. If they can’t stand the current situation and if they can’t change it, concerned persons often take the offender’s points of view, because if they act like offenders want them to act, chances of survival are higher. “If I do exactly what they tell me, they will probably let me alone and it won’t become so bad.” Words like “You are worthless” can turn into “I am worthless” and “You will never achieve it” can turn into “I will never achieve it.”
This internalisation and taking over the offender’s ideas due to own protection becomes manifest until the age of being a grown-up and it determines daily life not only in form of a negative self-image, but also in form of a lack of own protection and a lack of self-care. Someone who had to learn standing violence early as a survival-strategy, often won’t be able to protect against it. That’s a very important point. Own needs and especially limits aren’t recognised, because at an early point of time the victims have adapted the offender’s demands and simultaneously they had to experience permanent exceedances of limits.
If in addition sexualised violence in form of prostitution isn’t named as such a violence in society and in a state, but instead trivialised as a service, those offender-influenced ways of thinking won’t be terminated, but confirmed. With the legality of buying sex, people in prostitution are taught that violence which they experience in prostitution wouldn’t be real violence, because it is legal that they can be sold for sexual objectification and (ab)use. The government signalises with its liberal legislation: “Prostitution isn’t violence, but a normal job.” This point of view is taken over by many counselling organisations, too. That’s dangerous, because it misleads persons to get into prostitution without clarifying them about the immense violence which expects them there.
When my pimp pushed me (Sandra) for the first time into a brothel during my recruitment as a young adult, I had a very bad intuition and wanted to escape. I was young, instable and didn’t know how to behave and in which kind of dangerous situation I was. He lead me towards prostitution, urged me and said I shouldn’t be embarrassed, it was all normal. I remembered the point of view of our government which considers prostitution as a job and that pimps as well as brothel owners appear in talk shows, being called businessmen instead of criminals. I remembered that this milieu was mainly described as not so bad at all. Exactly this image of normality in prostitution milieu is transmitted with our state legislation (remark: in Germany prostitution was widely legalised in 2002) and so I could recognise less that I was about slipping into a criminal milieu full of violence. It wasn’t named as such one and won’t be named as such one. But our state has got a responsibility in form of a role model and provider of orientation especially for young and vulnerable people. If he had told me loudly with a prohibition of buying sex: “Prostitution is violence and a violation of human dignity”, the human trafficker would have had it much harder to lead me into prostitution. But the sad truth is: our state has internalised that sexualised violence against women is normal, because its liberal legislation on prostitution means nothing else. And that’s what people are orientating themselves on, that’s how children grow up, believing that it isn’t violence if people in prostitution are penetrated daily and deprived of their dignity.
However, it is violence and these traumatic experiences in prostitution often lead to posttraumatic stress disorders whose symptoms might complicate reintegration into a life aside of prostitution, because they exist, but for outsiders they are often invisible and due to the fear of being socially rejected they are often hidden. After experiences in prostitution, diverse situations (not only characteristics of culprits, but also stress, a season, sounds etc.) could be triggering and cause fears; this might come along with physical reactions and block entry into a new life as well as finding new social contacts. Extreme feelings which were dissociated during time in prostitution might be evocated by peanuts in daily life and make new acquaintances insecure. This can build up a vicious circle, because it confirms the feeling of being lonely and that you keep on feeling alienated and only understood by certain persons from the red light milieu. This increases the danger that dropouts slip into prostitution again. Frequent symptoms, for example, are panic attacks and dissociative phenomena. In some cases these symptoms lead to a heavy limitation of ability to concentrate and capabilities so that existence becomes torture. Besides of traumata, physical illnesses appear frequently, too.
A further problem in leaving prostitution is that a life in it isolates you. This isolation is an intended strategy of offenders for binding concerned persons stricter to them. Lonely people are easier to control than people who keep in touch with others. Many people who prostituted themselves are completely lonely when they exit and have to start at zero, because they only have contacts to the red light milieu. Many ones have already gone into prostitution at a young age and therefore couldn’t finish school or learn a job. They come out of prostitution and don’t see any perspective for themselves. For catching up on lost time and what you’ve been personally and professionally deprived of in prostitution, it partly takes several years and, besides of refurbishment of a painful past, it requires a huge extent of patience and a firm belief in yourself – something which was shattered in prostitution-experiences.
Violence determines prostitution, but in spite of this, many ones have the feeling that they had at least a place within it. Life aside of it appears strange, as if they will never be welcome and accepted in this new world. A former prostitute who is known to us looked for a job after her exit from prostitution and tried it with honesty. She told her potential employer that she was in prostitution, now looking for an exit. She received the following answer: “My wife will have a problem if you work here and were a prostitute, but if you have want, we could meet in private in a hotel tonight. I would pay well.” For the dropout this encounter was deeply humiliating. She wanted to fight for her way out of a system of prostitution in which she was objectified and degraded to a commodity. Instead of support she got the stamp: “You’re worth nothing else than being used sexually.” People in prostitution feel exactly the same. If they make such an experience in their phase of exiting, it is probable that they lose hope and fall back into the system. If nobody else wants me, if I am worthless, if I can do nothing else, so the thoughts, they will go back to the old places. For concerned persons it is very difficult to escape this circuit.
There is one thing for sure: exit from prostitution is extremely difficult, it is a way full of obstructions, often characterised by desperate situations and apparent hopelessness. However, a re-entry into prostitution isn’t a helpful step on the way out of misery, but an additional obstruction. Re-entry into prostitution isn’t part of the way leading outside and towards liberation, as some ones suppose and therefore think about going into it again. Instead, it brings you back onto another way – one of complete destruction of body, spirit and soul which you once have left exactly because of these reasons.
Re-entry is like a kind of trivialisation of heavy traumatise against yourself which doesn’t only come along with physical symptoms, but also means continuation of destruction of sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect. Maybe many important abilities like this haven’t been developed when entry into prostitution happened very early or they get lost in prostitution. Abilities which you have discovered and unfolded after exit will fade away again with re-entry. It’s like pressing a reset-button. Re-entry into prostitution isn’t a temporary solution and it’s never a progress.
Nonetheless: prostitution is sexual violence and mechanisms of violence are ruling in it. These mechanisms lead concerned persons back into it and they might be far away from logic which can be understood by outsiders. Even if you are clarified and know about the system and its mechanisms, about violence, the causes and consequences, then especially in the phase of confirmation of exit insufficiently available helps or inwardly injured parts of us might drive concerned persons back into prostitution, in the process sabotaging their exit. That’s why you may never make reproaches on a personal level to persons who re-entry.
However, a return into prostitution should never be publicly presented as a solution. At this point the abolitionist approach begins which wants to get people out of the system even if prostitution in Germany is still called a normal service and the Nordic Model couldn’t be enforced. Abolitionism knows: a re-entry into prostitution isn’t a way out, but a continuing exceedance of limits which destroys a human more and more instead of pushing forward. It doesn’t heal wounds, but rips them open again.
Increased and eased access to trauma therapy is important for coping better with heavy obstructions after prostitution and confirming the exit. It can help getting to know limits, to mark them and to free yourself from violent relations and/or ways of life. Only the one who understands what happens will be able to find solutions and an exit if she wants to. Overcoming the consequences of traumata is of enormous importance, but impossible if the action which caused the trauma or with which other traumata are re-enacted, is continued.
Sometimes this way of leaving appears too long so that you want to surrender, because you think that you don’t have enough power and will never reach the end of the way, but you should go on for yourself until you have reached the aim.
For me (Sandra) the way out of prostitution has also been a long and difficult one. Just the physical exit and to catch up on school education till studying at university seemed nearly impossible. In 2012, I started catching up on the university-entrance diploma when I was still in a brothel. People laughed at me: “You will never achieve it.” I was carrying this sentence around with me for a long time, I had internalised it, but anytime I started defending against it. I wanted to achieve it. I wanted to leave. I wanted a life. In 2014, I managed to exit from prostitution and caught up on the university-entrance diploma. Today in 2018 I am about finishing my studies. Since 6 years I have learned for catching up on education which I was deprived of due to being in prostitution. I knew: education is the key for getting out of misery. Wanting to leave prostitution behind and finally managing the exit means to accept the huge challenge of fighting oneself back into life, something which might make you desperate from time to time.
The trauma might be anchored in your body and manifest itself in different ways. After my exit, disorders as consequence of a trauma didn’t only manifest themselves in form of panic attacks which made my daily life unbearable due to dyspnea and a feeling of transient loss of consciousness. They also manifested themselves in my musculoskeletal system which became so weak that I could hardly walk. Suffering violence weakens body and soul. Having to suffer violence which isn’t officially recognised as such a one (like in Germany where buying sex isn’t recognised as violence) weakens body and soul even more, because you pretend yourself that it all couldn’t be so bad and expect yourself to stand unbearable things.
Later I asked myself how I could have been standing it for 6 years in spite of my experiences. Not only numbness with alcohol was helpful, but also dissociation of which I got aware only later. Dissociation is a physical mechanism of protection, it means your body separates feelings from your consciousness for the purpose of suffering unbearable violence. It took several years until I realised what dissociation is, how it works and in which way it helped me. It can manifest itself in different ways: in me, it was the feeling of not really being present and having an apperception like being in cotton wool. I noticed myself and my life like behind a soundproof wall of glass, I was walking through life like through a channel. Doing it this way, you feel less psychical and physical pain, that’s the aim of dissociation. I was permanently in a kind of trance and it took a long time to terminate this mechanism of protection which had already developed to an automatism, so that I could finally feel the life around me with full senses again. For a long time I didn’t know what was going on with me and the preventive behaviour which resulted from this as well as the social pullback drove me more into isolation.
Today I am another person. Once weakened by consequences of a trauma, today I can climb mountains and have developed an imperturbable self-confidence so that I know by 100% that I can achieve all what I plan to do and all for what I will fight bravely. I enjoy every little detail. Since I left prostitution, I have discovered the world in a new way. I became strong and nothing can shatter me anymore. One thing is obvious: I will never forget prostitution, but I exited physical and psychically. Forever!
The prostitution-liberalising law, released in 2002, has been considered as failed since several years. Often it was argued that people in prostitution should organise themselves and engage for their rights, but this is difficult or even impossible, because they perish in prostitution – not after years, but immediately. For me, the inhibition threshold to get intimate with the first punter was very high. Feelings like disgust and nauseation, shame, grief and fear made it nearly impossible for me to do it. I was short before screaming and crying. When the act was over, something inside of me got destroyed. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t do it anymore. My feelings were numbed and killed. The ability to defend and resist gets more and more lost the more punters you have, because due to unwanted penetration, dissociation rules your body and your personality gets more and more broken. The act of penetration means a permanent humiliation and degradation to an object of sexual use. You are deprived of human dignity. You stop noticing yourself as a human with feelings. This is one of the reasons why many victims of human trafficking remain in prostitution although the culprit got into distance. Their personality, their will, their identity was broken. It is nonsense to assume that exact these victims shell resist and fight for their rights. It’s a task of the government to protect these humans! That’s why it is scandalous that the Green Party, who had initiated the law in 2002, didn’t listen to critical voices in relation to prostitution on their feminist future congress on 7th and 8th September, but instead still are sticking to their liberal legislation on prostitution.
Leaving prostitution behind is a struggle for yourself against all obstructions and (self)-doubts, against a state which normalises this violence by legalising it instead of blocking it. Our society should start to understand that prostitution is violence and exit from it is very difficult due to external conditions. Creating more exit helps is very important, because in Germany we have too less of this kind.
For dropouts it is important to believe in good things, in respectful relations, in love and real friendships in spite of all obstructions and difficulties. The key is patience as well as hope and trust (in yourself) that the exit will be successful, that things will become better and that you will find a permanent exit.
This inner process of psychical exit is an important issue. It needs to be an inner process driven by deep-rooted conviction that prostitution can never be an option again due to violence in it. It needs to be an inner process of never accepting to be humiliated again, because you are valuable and you have an inviolable dignity. It needs to be an inner process of never giving up your self-respect again in a way that punters get the power to hurt and traumatise you. Germany finally needs to wake up and punish those one who use violence – the punters. We use this text to aim at the German government to understand its task of protection and we hope that dropouts don’t give up themselves by re-entering into prostitution. That’s why we have the following message to all women who are thinking about re-entry:
NEVER AGAIN PROSTITUTION!