When I first began volunteering with the Beyond The Streets team, a member of staff recommended that I read Rachel Lloyd’s memoir ‘Girls Like Us’. I made a note of it but was in no rush. Little did I anticipate the tour-de-force that would have me devouring the pages, only to eke out the last few chapters to stave off reaching the end. I was humbled; not just by Lloyd’s own harrowing story but her ability to incorporate compelling true narratives with hard facts and statistics about the sex trade. ‘Girls Like Us’ is the perfect balance of head and heart.
Interspersed are accounts of Lloyd’s own troubled childhood. From a somewhat idyllic start with a doting mother, life begins to spiral out of control when the man whom Rachel assumes is her father, comes back into their lives. An abusive and violent alcoholic, Lloyd’s mother also develops a drinking problem in order to cope with his tirades. Young Rachel’s relationship with her mum doesn’t improve with his eventual departure and becomes one characterised by neglect. The daughter assumes the role of guardian, dropping out of school to bring in an income and doing her best to intercept her mother’s attempts to kill herself.
By the time Rachel is living in Germany in her mid-late teens, she has already suffered violent sexual assault at the hands of different men. A perfect storm of straitened circumstances, no means of going back home and those all too willing to exploit a one-time-model’s looks, she lives through a terrifying experience at the mercy of drug-addled and paranoid boyfriends-turned-pimps. Tired of their murderous threats (Lloyd goes as far as making arrangements for her funeral and to inform her colleagues in advance of the likely perpetrator), the last of several suicide attempts proves -thank God- unsuccessful.
Surprised and grateful to still be alive, she wanders through the doors of a church on an American army base and begins the long, ongoing road to recovery. This will lead to her moving to the States and starting her own New York-based project, Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), supporting young women who have been sexually exploited. She also picks up Bachelors and Masters degrees along the way.
Lloyd boldly takes apart the glamorised images of the sex trade encouraged by some. The author challenges the myths and misperceptions around selling sex as well as the contempt for these girls and women by the authorities and the wider public. Along with others engaged in the battle against sexual exploitation, she is determined to change the lexicon around the subject. ‘Prostitution’ denotes an element of choice that does not reflect the limited agency and complex factors that are at play in the majority of cases, especially for minors. Lloyd is at pains to explain the strong emotional, psychological and even financial ties the girls feel towards those who have exploited them and which makes it even harder to leave for good.
Yet amazingly, the author achieves all this without being sanctimonious. The reader feels better informed rather than sermonised.
‘…One well-known advocate for the sex industry…was actually introduced to the life at the age of 14 after running away from an abusive home. She was a commercially sexually exploited child “trained”…from an early age. Yet because she is not black or Hispanic, because she was not sold on the dark corners of Hunts Point; because she appeared to be on the upper rungs of the “hierarchy” of the sex industry, that much-lauded fantasy world of the escort/call girl, her experience has never been framed as child exploitation or even questioned by the media and general public who continue to enjoy and support the idea that there are some forms of the sex industry that aren’t harmful, that women actually like it, that men’s “participation” in the industry is inevitable and may actually support the women’s career goals. It’s ideas like this that rationalise the continued buying and selling of women and girls…Just because an individual experience has not been difficult, painful or disempowering doesn’t make it true for millions of women and children around the world. The sex industry isn’t about choice; it’s about lack of choices. It’s critical for children and youth, and even many adult women within the sex industry, that we use language that frames it accurately…’ (page 219).
Lloyd’s memoir is essential reading, whether or not you feel a particular connection to the subject. This is a worldwide social epidemic and we would do well to understand its complexities; if nothing else to make us more alert to what might be going on under our noses.
Lloyd’s resilience makers her more than a survivor or even the fitting, but now clichéd, inspiration. She’s a walking miracle and whether or not they realise it, so are all those who have been down a similar path and lived to tell the tale, regardless of where they are in the recovery process. Even those yet to begin.
This blog was contributed by Tola Ositelu, a volunteer, supporter and friend of Beyond the Streets.
‘Girls Like Us’ by Rachel Lloyd. Harper Perennial Edition 2012, Harper Collins Publishers: New York. Buy the book here.
The 25th of November is the UN International End Violence against Women Day which raises awareness of the gender-based violence and discrimination that many women face and experience every day.
Violence against women is deeply and historically entrenched into society. Just one reminder of this is the Cross Bones graveyard. The unmarked graves of the Cross Bones graveyard are those women who were not considered ‘worthy’ of a proper burial: they are the women whose lives and experiences were negated, shamed, and judged by society. The nameless burials remove the individuality and the humanity of those women. The women become ‘others’ – disconnected and different from ourselves and the rest of society.
Women in prostitution are often seen this way: as different. Women in prostitution often experience even higher levels of risk of discrimination and violence than women on average. The abuse and hate crime directed towards women involved in prostitution is often justified by idea that these women are ‘prostitutes’ not individuals.
Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, said of the violent rapes and murders he committed “the women I killed were filth – bastard prostitutes who were littering the streets. I was just clearing up the place a bit”
These were women who were unworthy and judged. These were women who did not matter. These were women who could be discriminated against and despised. These were women who didn’t count.
We believe women matter. We believe their lives count for something. At Beyond the Streets we are working to provide routes out for women who have experienced violence and sexual exploitation. Our NOvember campaign is raising awareness and funds to fight against sexual exploitation and violence against women. As activists across the world take action today to say no to violence against women, why don’t you join them. We’ve got a few suggestions as to how you can leave your mark.
- Tell your friends you say no to violence against women by downloading our social media action. Print the poster, add your name and share an image of yourself on your social media pages. See our Facebook page for inspiration from our supporters.
- Support our work providing routes out for women by making a donation here.
Bread. The stuff of life. Flatbread in the middle of the table, a panini oozing with cheese at lunch with friends, crispy, fluffy baguette, hot dogs at a bonfire party, a late-night piece of toast with a cup of tea whilst you chat over the day with someone you love. Bread is great for sharing.
It can also be a handy and sometimes sneaky in between snack. I can order a pizza, or pick up a kebab or grab a quick sandwich whenever I want. I can pay for it, sneak it in on the quiet when I’m peckish an, if I want, omit to mention that I snuck it in when I sit down to a meal with others.
We can all be good at sneaking treats in to comfort, entertain or ‘satisfy’ ourselves, without necessarily mentioning it to those who care about us. It can be less shameful, less telling, if we keep some treats to ourselves.
That’s ok if it’s just a piece of pizza.
The trouble is that around the world, people are ordering women for themselves as a ‘treat’ every day, sneaking them in when they are bit ‘peckish.’
It’s not ok that women are trapped, coerced, beaten, controlled and exploited just so someone can order them like a pizza.
It’s not ok, that’s why at Beyond Support we offer women the opportunity to find another route in life. I talk with women on the phone for whom it is so hard to find another way. Our team seeks to be there, whilst women explore their own hopes and dreams and whilst they explore the idea that their personhood, honour and body are worth more than to be ordered as a snack. We point them in the direction of support so that another way can become a sustainable reality.
I’m saying ‘NO!’ to bread this NOvember Campaign as a way of saying ‘NO!’ to sexual exploitation and violence against women. Agree that women shouldn’t be ordered like pizza? You can sponsor me here.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
Miriam is saying no as part of the #NOvemberCampaign, a month of awareness raising in the lead up to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November. Help us to create more routes of sexual exploitation for women by giving to the campaign.
The eldest daughter of a simple villager, Kiron grew up too fast. At 13 she was told by her father that it was time to get married. They were poor and often didn’t have enough to eat and so one less mouth to feed would be better for the family. He asked her if she liked any of the village boys and on her wedding day thought she was marrying a boy she knew. With head covered by her wedding sari at only 13, she looked into her bridegroom’s eyes and saw an older man leering back at her…not the young man she thought whe was marrying. As is the custom, she was taken to her new home where life was dictated by her new mother-in-law. She tried really hard to please her husband and his mother but it wasn’t easy.
A few months into her new life, she was told to go to the field that the family owned. There she saw a group of young men who quickly gathered round and she began to fell intimidated. One spoke up and simply said…your mother – in-law has sold you to us for the afternoon….Gang-raped, she hid until dark and then fled to her uncles home, too ashamed to go back to her own immediate family, let alone her husbands home. Her uncle took her in and cared for her. After a few days he sat down and talked with her and said it would be better for the family if she left the village as this had brought shame on them all. He promised to find her a job in the city of Kolkata where she could start a new life.
Her own uncle, whom she trusted, sold her into a brothel to begin her new life.
Trafficking must be stopped, young girls need to have a choice of freedom… your part in NOvember will help… it will tangibly give hope – a hope for a better future for those most vulnerable in the rural districts of West Bengal, India.
This NOvember you can say no to exploitation and contribute towards routes out for women by shopping online at Global Seesaw. All Global Seesaw products are made by women free from trafficking and exploitation in West Bengal. By using the code BTS2016 during November, you can get a 10% discount AND Beyond the Streets will get a 10% donation. It’s a Win Win Win!
Given up shopping for NOvember? You can make a donation directly to Beyond the Streets instead here.
Words by Annie Hilton, Co-Founder of Freeset (Global Seesaw being the UK trading name for Freeset) and friend of Beyond the Streets.
I am a person of privilege. Born to parents who wanted me and loved me, even in my worst days I have never known what it is to be excluded from that support. From childhood to adulthood, I have been loved, valued, nurtured, protected, empowered. I was told things were possible and was privileged to believe it. Enriched with the power of choices, I was privileged to be able to make them. My parents were poor but spiritually rich and emotionally wise. I never had to question my voice, my choice, or step aside because I am female. I was taught to understand the human condition, its virtues and vices, and not to become anyone’s slave. I am truly, deeply free.
I am incredibly privileged. Privileged to love and be loved by a man who has never done me violence, suppressed my speech, stifled my freedom, or sought to exploit me in any way, ever. He esteems our daughters, loves and prizes them, in the same way he does our son. He is not so much gender blind as comprehensively attentive. Would that all men were so.
But sadly it’s not the case. In homes, on streets, and in cultures around the world, maltreatment of women is accepted. Would that they had the support of their peers and families in rejecting violence against them. Would that they had the means to make a living, without others exploiting their bodies. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes the agreement and effort of whole societies to reject sexual exploitation and violence against women.
I don’t have a problem with privilege, at least not with privileges like mine. The only problem I can see is the idea that what I’ve described really are privileges. These are not life’s privileges, these are life’s achievables. The cost is making it true for you and the women in your life. The gain is changing futures for women around the world.
Words by Madi Simpson, a Writer, Speaker, Friend and Supporter of Beyond the Streets.
“Britain’s five richest families worth more than poorest 20%”- Guardian online headline, 17th March 2014.
Top of my ‘Most-hated Zeitgeisty Phrases that You See in the Media’ list (apart from the overuse of the word Zeitgeist) is ‘S/he’s worth £000,000,000.’
The idea that a person’s worth should be measured by the contents of their bank account/offshore investment/amount of tenners under the mattress may be just lazy journalism, yet it speaks into the heart of the day by day experience of someone who lives with prostitution as their means of income. It speaks into the heart of how someone looking to pay for sex might rank the ‘worth of the commodity’ that is the human being he is paying for.
How can a young woman deemed attractive enough to command £200 a night be ‘worth’ more than a woman who works on a dark street because no parlour will take her any more? There is a truth that we at Beyond the Streets want to shout from the rooftops: each woman, each person affected by prostitution is worth more than money can buy. The feeling that she has little worth because she has sells sex, whatever price she can command is often high up on the list of things that keep a woman doing it.
One of our workers has been talking on the phone regularly with a woman for several months now. When she first started calling, she felt suicidal, like it wasn’t ‘worth’ living any more. This is what she had to say recently,
“I have started to look after myself and feel much better now. Calls every two weeks show the progress I have made, as I have got more respect and take care of myself and now got more social life, its great having someone that cares who will listen to me, and made me realise I’m worth more than what I was putting self through.” (Quoted with permission)
That makes it all worthwhile. These subtle revelations of self worth are the small steps along the journey that with time, allow women to gain sight of the possibility of a life free from prostitution.
Words By Miriam Hargreaves, Support Worker and Clinical lead for Beyond Support – our free call-back support service for women exploited through prostitution.
This #NOvemberCampaign we’re reminding the world of women’s worth by saying no to sexual exploitation. Inspired by Miriam’s words on worth? Join the campaign here.
Family; can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Isn’t that the truth? Killing my spontaneity by insisting I let them know if I’m in for dinner. Uploading photos of me asleep on the sofa to social media. Using the Christmas dinner table as a platform to air their political views. For all of their faults, there has been times that I couldn’t have done without them. Like the time my Dad came to rescue me when my car broke down at 3am, only to discover that I was trying to do a hill start in fourth gear. Or the day before my graduation when my brothers visited every H&M store in east London, searching for the sold out dress that I was adamant I was going to graduate wearing. These grand gestures are good, but it’s the daily details of doing life together that I appreciate the most: the coffee that appears by my bedside every morning, the cheering on, the listening ear, the way my Mum treats a sniffle with the sympathy of the flu.
I can’t live with them, but despite my best efforts, I can’t live without them either. Until November, that is. When I’ll have to.
At the start of the year I joined Beyond the Streets to look after the Door of Hope project in east London. Door of Hope supports women who are sexually exploited through prostitution, women who became involved in street prostitution as a result of complex vulnerabilities- a last resort response to insurmountable struggles. Most have been pushed to the very edge through poverty, lack of opportunity and social exclusion.
As I travel around the capital, sharing stories from the streets, the question I’m often asked is “Where are their families? What happened to their friends?”. It’s a complex question to answer. For many, those relationships didn’t exist in the first place, with up to 70% of those involved in Prostitution having grown up in the care system (1). For others, accounting for 64% of women in prostitution, their exploitation began when they were children and they’ve fled the communities they were part of to escape it (2). For the majority, the lifestyle that results from prostitution has driven those closest to them away.
That’s the tragic irony of sexual exploitation: it is a corrosive force that destroys the support networks of those most in need of support. It disrupts families. Derails communities. Destroys lives.
This November, I’m standing in solidarity with the women I’ve spent the last year standing on street corners with- giving up all contactwith my immediate family to say no to sexual exploitation and violence against women.
Why give up my family this November? Because when trouble knocks at my door I know that it will have to get through my family, friends and church community before it gets to me. For me there’s always someone to call. Always someone to lend. Always someone to pray. Tonight, I know that a woman my age, in my town, will get into a car with a man she doesn’t know as a means of survival… because when trouble knocked at her door, there was no one to answer but her. I’m saying NO for her. Join me?
This November, Beyond the Streets invites you to support Rebecca in join saying no to sexual exploitation by sponsoring her, you can give towards her goal here.
 Bindel, J. Brown, L. Easton, H. Matthews, R. Reynolds, l. (2012) Breaking Down the Barriers, Eaves and London South Bank University (LSBU)
[2 ] Marianne Hester and Nicole Westmarland, (2004) Home Office Study 279, Tackling Street Prostitution: Towards an holistic approach’ University of Bristol, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate quoting Pearce and Roach (1997).
The phone is an odd place to be intimate with someone. Yet every week we take calls where women ask us at Beyond Support whether they can tell us something they have never told anyone else before.
Maybe it’s the power of being able to put the phone down at any time. Maybe it’s that you can say something you would never say face to face. Or maybe you feel that someone won’t judge you if they cant see you.
So what is disclosed? Often it is abuse by someone they trusted, maybe a crime they were involved in and were frozen into inaction by, something they did as a child that was unforgivable. Sometimes it’s a really tricky safeguarding issue (We communicate our confidentiality and need to break it i.e. significant harm to yourself or others or safeguarding at the beginning of our series of calls and on our website.)
The key theme is that they blame themselves. Its often so palpable:
‘It’s my fault I shouldn’t have said yes’
‘to what’? I ask
‘to getting in that car with that man’
‘How old were you?’
‘So, you were still a child then?’
‘Yes I suppose so…but still…I should have known better..’
‘Possibly. But did you know what he was going to do? What he did to get you there?
‘No. I never imagined he would make me sleep with other men, give me drugs.’
‘So, maybe the fault was with him; that he mislead you and hurt you…?’
‘….yeah….maybe…I want to believe that..’
At Beyond the Streets we believe that women can’t consent to their own abuse. Often the journey from the negative to the positive is a long, spiralled journey. Our job is to reflect back the constraints we see; her strength in fighting them and her bravery in keeping going in tough situations. We don’t take for granted the intimacy that it takes to trust someone with something you have carried for a long while.
So if you are looking for change or just some support, or you want to tell us something that you haven’t been able to tell anyone else you are in a safe place with us. We don’t have the all answers but we know that you will.
Our Beyond Support service offers free, confidential support for women in the sex industry. Visit our website to find out how to get in touch with us. If you want to talk we are just a phone call or email away.
Last week saw the launch of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Prostitution report following a review of the current UK laws and a reflection on how prostitution is dealt with in other countries. This has generated lots of media coverage in the last few days and a range of opinions being shared. Arguments have been put through in agreement and against the report and it is obvious to see this is an issue that divides opinion.
Our initial response:
As a charity working both with women currently selling sex and those who have stopped, as well as those who have been trafficked into prostitution, we daily see the negative impact and harm that prostitution brings. We hear stories of violence, exploited vulnerability and stolen youth. We hear of the struggles many years on, the scars and the unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. We hear of the ongoing cost that is being paid by women and their families.
It would be dishonest of us to pretend we can respond to this report with a short blog and quick answer. It is widely agreed that there are a wide range of stories behind those who find themselves involved in prostitution. No one person can talk on behalf of every facet of the sex industry. In a world awash with social media, soundbites abound and communication skills are honed and it can seem that sides are created and some people are looking to win a ‘war of words’.
In the midst of the responses to this Inquiry, we at Beyond the Streets reflect on what we should say and how we should engage. Whilst legislation no doubt can make a difference, laws alone will not be enough to stop the harm created. Further conversations are needed and as a country we need to be honest about the harm that buying sex can create and our responsibility to those left vulnerable and exploited. Aside from legislation, how can we care about those we may not understand and how can we remove the stigma and misunderstanding that women regularly face who have sold sex? How will we treat the “sex worker” who is trying to survive and to come to terms with the exploitation of the past?
What we do know is that there are hundreds of women we engage with who are looking for change. Not just a change of legislation, but a change of opportunities. Not a change of rules by the powerful, but a change of thinking. Not a just a change from lawmakers but a change of all our attitudes.
There are many women today who are facing hardship due to the lack of resources available to them. We can live with the idea that legislative change will bring some hope but we cannot be fooled into thinking that legislation alone is the answer. Alongside any legislative changes there must be a commitment to sufficient support for those exploited and in need of help in building their future.
For more information on the Home Affairs Select Committee report, visit here.
Most of ‘Susie’s’ (not her real name) family didn’t know that she used to work as an escort. She hasn’t done so now for several years. It was at a time of financial crisis for her nothing else seemed available. She got in touch with us at Beyond the Streets when she found herself at another difficult juncture, this time wanting to do anything she could to find a different path.
Now nearly 2 years in (to supporting women on the phone and by email with our Beyond Support service), we at Beyond the Streets have been surprised by the number of women who get in touch having stopped selling sex some time ago. As of June 2016, out of the 45 women we have walked alongside, 20 were looking for understanding and expertise around the issues that they face as they build and sustain a lifestyle away from selling sex.
Most people who call don’t want to have to explain themselves from scratch and do want a confidential chat away from feeling labelled or judged. It’s been about keeping the past as the past in the areas like: employment, relationships, bringing up children and reputation. This is easier said than done, for example, DBS checks currently show soliciting convictions from when a woman was under 18. One woman asked, ‘Am I a victim or a criminal?’
Many contacting us who have left prostitution still feel that their past weighs heavily on their family relationships and friendships. A woman’s sense of isolation can be both acute and chronic when she doesn’t feel at liberty to share her past with those close to her.
‘Susie’s’ family found out and it was tough. But some have been wonderfully supportive and she is now at the stage where she feels our phone calls are no longer needed. We could plug a bit of the ‘isolation gap’ for a while and now she is moving on.
For more information on our Beyond Support service, visit www.beyondsupport.org.uk