“I didn’t feel empowered working in the sex industry. For me, this was an empty word. The attraction to the huge amounts of money caused me to feel like I was getting even with life. It was kind of empowering, but I could not tell anyone how I got this money so there was no power in such a deep secret. When you go from never having money growing up, to suddenly having large amounts of money easily available to you, it gives you a false sense of empowerment. It didn’t give me more power, it only made me sink deeper into my anxieties and fears of not being loved enough, not being recognised enough, not being successful enough…” – Genevieve, former sex worker and founder of Pink Cross Foundation Australia.
Note : This interview can also be read in Mandarin here.
Recently I have had the pleasure of getting to know an amazing woman by the name of Geneviève Gilbert-Quach, who volunteers her time to women and men in the sex industry in need of assistance, helping them to build a new life. As the founder of ‘Pink Cross Foundation Australia’, Genevieve aims to have an active presence in the Victorian sex-industry, visiting brothels with gift packs and support for women who need it most.
In Part 1 of our interview, Genevieve gives an insight into what it is like in the sex-industry, the myths surrounding ‘sexual liberation and exploration’, and gives advice on how to transition out of the industry.
I encourage you to put aside any prejudice or pre-conceived ideas you may have regarding the sex-industry and those trapped within it, and take the time to read my interviews with Geneviève. So many of us take for granted the opportunities, the education, the emotional freedom and peace of mind that we have – basic things that we forget not all men and women get to experience as often as they should. Sex industry workers are REAL human beings, with passionate feelings, who face challenges on a daily basis just as the rest of us. Just because someone has made mistakes in their life does not mean they don’t deserve love, respect and assistance to be allthey can. Please consider becoming a part of the solution. Contact details and additional information can be found at the end of this article.
JS: Your story is one of both hopelessness and redemption, one which has brought you all the way from Québec to Australia. Despite having grown up in a dysfunctional family with an absent father, your childhood and adolescent years were fairly innocent. However, when you started studying at university you made a decision to start escorting on the side whilst completing your degree. What circumstances lead you into the sex industry?
GGQ: On the outside it did look like I was fairly well adjusted, but you can see that something went wrong somewhere. I hated men (because of my father’s absence as a child) and believed I was ‘taking my right for sexual pleasure’ by obtaining sex on demand, any way I could.
There are numerous studies about sexual addiction, and I guess I was in denial all this time. For example, just switch the word ‘sex’ for ‘cigarette’, ‘beer’ or ‘cocaine’, and people will be able to relate. The first time I was paid to do full intercourse, I had been considering it for a while already. I had heard of it from a woman I met in a gay bar. I remember feeling sick in the stomach when this young mother told me about what she was doing, but I’d already had sex with women, and that was unusual enough, so I thought that I could give it a go.
It was 1999 when I began my downward spiral of living a double life. There was a lot of guilt involved in hiding something like this, and it lead me into a state of trauma. To mask trauma you need to lie.
I finally stopped living this lie in 2009 and now I want to tell the whole truth about what happened to me.
JS: In your autobiography (which is currently being edited) you mention that you had struggled with loneliness, financial depression and bitterness towards your father for leaving when you were younger. All of these factors left you with a deep-seated need for financial gratification, revenge against men and a need for control. Why do you think fathers play such a huge role in how girls develop, and the choices they make?
GGQ: In my last few years in the sex industry I started to realise that all of these things might have been the reason I entered this lifestyle. I wanted to quit and it was not possible; the money was too good. The security of this income sucked me in relentlessly – over and over again. I began trying to read everything I could about psychology and my behaviour, and many publications lead to this conclusion: your relationship with the man who raises you, or doesn’t, is paramount in forming your view about men.
JS: A common argument I hear in relation to female sex workers, is that ‘no one is forcing them’, and ‘they love what they do’. Do you believe this is true?
GGQ: No, I don’t believe this is true. In a legal setting it appears that yes, women ‘choose’, as they decide to call a brothel or start working there; it appears to be a personal choice. However, after reading publications such as ‘The idea of Prostitution’ by Sheila Jeffrey’s, as well as other literature about sexual violence against women, I came to realise that I actually didn’t choose to go into this world. I discovered that it was my past, which was forced upon me, which chose for me. I was an innocent young girl who lost my father’s love and it had a huge impact on me.
I might initially have enjoyed fulfilling my sexual addiction in the sex industry (and my need for money, which is separate altogether) but what really happens through the months and years you work as a sex worker is that you make yourself believe you ‘like’ the sex a lot. You do this in order to survive these experiences, which are actually ‘rapes’. This is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at its best. We make the clients believe we LOVE sex, just to keep them as regulars and make money.
Lately there was an article posted about a 52 year old woman who ‘loves’ her job as a sex worker, published in none other than our national Women’s weekly magazine. Exposure and stories such as these can make young women want to start this sort of work, and this is totally wrong. An article like this also gives a very one sided view. It can entice the reader into thinking, ‘It really must be the best job in the world!’ The article does not discuss the physical, psychological abuse that we in the sex industry go through. It also does not divulge what her childhood was like – and as research has shown, many women (including me) came from dysfunctional backgrounds. People need education on the damage that sex work does to a person. Some women are just not aware of the links between abuse – such as parental abandonment or sexual abuse – and the choices they make in their lives following this.
Also, I need to add that some women work in legal parlours to pay off their debts from their traffickers. They willingly go there but in fact they are coerced by men or women, who brought them to Australia with or without knowledge that they would work in prostitution. If they don’t pay off their debts the traffickers often threaten to hurt their impoverished families in their home land, so they have to go willingly. Kathleen Maltzahn has written a book called ‘Trafficked’, which explains the reality of these sorts of circumstances.
So my answer is this: people who think that sex industry workers love what they do have been blinded to believe the fantasy of porn. Prostitution IS porn…without lights and cameras on. It is private and secure porn. It is awful.
JS: What would you say to men and women who defend pornography/the sex industry as creative exploration and self-expression?
GGQ: Some people think they can feel liberated when they can explore the world of sexuality through sex-work. They wrongly feel a sense of freedom. Exploring this world leads to addiction to pleasure. Any addiction can be destructive,and often these pleasures are not necessary to our survival. For example, no one needs McDonalds or Krispy Kreme to survive. Likewise, no man needs to purchase sex to survive.
What else is prostitution or sex work but consensual ‘rapes’? Who wants to have sex with someone you’ve never spoken to before, who is 70years old and walks with a cane? I am sorry, but this is nothing more than men wanting to fulfil their uncontrollable sex drives (which CAN be controlled but they haven’t heard how yet) and desire for power over you. They also don’t understand the damage they do to you. They give you money but they are not helping you.
Sex work leads to the trafficking of women and children for sex purposes, because a society that says yes to legal sex work actually says yes to the abuse and degradation of women and men. If you are able to legally treat a human being as a sexual slave then you do not respect human life. People who pay for sex have an illusion of control.
Self-expression can be exercised in any profession. Be it in the fashion industry, or working for a large organisation, you can always find a way to express yourself while at work. Prostitution has been labelled as ‘work’ to make it more palatable. When a huge percentage of the population were smoking in the sixties, no one understood the damage this was doing to our bodies or the weight this was going to have on our health systems. It was trendy to be a smoker. Big movie stars were smokers and they were influencing scores of people who wanted to follow what was trendy. Our society is so liberal about sexuality. However, what we want is not always what we really need. We want to ‘self-express’, because it is permitted and legal in our state or country. Yet, anything is unhealthy when abused, whether it be alcohol, caffeinated drinks or other ‘legal’ substances, and they don’t always allow us to make sensible choices. The same goes for pornography. Sex is a drug.
JS: Whilst working in prostitution, did you ever get a chance to speak with other female workers, and to find out what their lives were like?
GGQ: Many women came and went from the Melbourne brothel I worked at. There were only two women I really spoke with, but I remember one who thought that she would enter prostitution for fun. Her reason was that she ‘just wanted to give it a go’, as she had recently become single. I didn’t ask her in detail about her feelings or motivations – this is not exactly a question you ask someone: “Hey X, have you been forced to do sex work? So are you enjoying the sex you’re having now?” There is stigma even between sex workers, as no one wants to be seen as enjoying the sex. It is weird! And the answers are not always the truth either. Nothing is real in prostitution. When you open up and are the nice, caring, generous person that you normally are (well, that you think you are!), making yourself vulnerable this way can lead you to being attacked and hurt by other women in there.
I also met a very clever young woman who was studying law, still had both her parents together and seemed to be very close with her father. As the days can be long, sometimes if there are not many clients coming in we do share with each other. That woman seemed to have her head on her shoulders, but then again, I thought I was the same. She was lying to her boyfriend though; no one knew what she was doing. She looked like she had an emotionally healthy, stable and supportive environment and it appeared that she was ‘choosing’ to enter this lifestyle; though you can never really know the bottom of the story. There might have been elements she’d chosen not to disclose. People tend to protect themselves; I presume that anything you lie about is in an attempt to hide a huge personal issue in your life.
JS: Did you ever feel empowered when you were in the sex industry? If so, do you think it was a false empowerment?
GGQ: First we need to ask ourselves what the definition of empowerment is. Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender, or economic strength of individuals and communities.
I didn’t feel empowered working in the sex industry. For me, this was an empty word. The attraction to the huge amounts of money you can make caused me to feel like I was getting even with life. It was kind of empowering, but I could not tell anyone how I got this money so there was no power in such a deep secret. When you go from never having money growing up, to suddenly having large amounts of money easily available to you, it gives you a false sense of empowerment. It didn’t give me more power, it only made me sink deeper into my anxieties and fears of not being loved enough, not being recognised enough, not being successful enough…
I wasn’t the natural me anymore, I became someone else who looked like she had it all together, but again this was all a fantasy. Personality wise, one of the things that changed within me during those first few months in the industry, was my assertiveness in telling stories or talking to strangers. I became very confident walking into a room full of people (dressed up with almost nothing mind you) and introducing myself. I became the queen of conversations and empathy. I was playing a role. I loved the drama arts so I thought I was thriving! But no…
Money is rarely truly, deeply empowering. Neither is sex for money.
JS: I’ve read a lot of testimonies of ex porn stars, and I’ve found that there seems to be a predominant pattern amongst those who have managed to exit the industry. In a lot of instances the women and men who once worked as prostitutes, porn stars and strippers have explained that the one thing that eventually helped empower them to leave, was God. In your book, you describe how you were once an Atheist, and it was eventually God’s love that pulled you out of that hopeless world you were trapped in. How would you explain the role that spirituality has played in your transformation, and perhaps the lives of others?
GGQ: Well, I can’t speak for everyone involved in the sex industry but for those who do not believe in God and are reading this, all I can say is that wherever you are at, whatever you have done in your past, however bad or selfish or guilty or angry you might feel, there is someone who knows your past and your future, who will always love you no matter what you do. When I started believing this, that there was a God who loved me unconditionally and that I could trust him as my Heavenly father (because our earthly fathers fail us sometimes), then my life started to change. We live in a permissive society where we have the freedom to choose, and we often choose the wrong things. This is our demise and this is why we need to come back to core and essential values!
I do not want to generalise, but the legal industry here in Victoria is not a very caring one; although looking in from the outside they appear as though they care for you as an individual. I am sure most organised prostitution business is NOT there “… to prosper you and not to harm you, […] to give you a hope, and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
The brothel or escort agency owners are akin to the ‘pimps’ in the USA: they use the women to become rich. And rich they are. Billionaires. Imagine eighty women in a brothel bringing revenue of $400 a day each, 20 days per month. This gives the business $640,000 dollars a month, and more than $7 million a year. $400 a day is a very conservative figure. Some women can make up to $1500 dollars a day. There are around 100 brothel owners in Melbourne. I was a contractor for one of the best agencies in town, so this was one owner’s lucky business. But again, he would also get ostracised if he ever mentioned the type of business he was in. No one ever wins in pornland. It destroys your heart and soul…there is nothing nice about the porn or sex industry.
I presume this might be why people turn to God, for comfort.
JS: Since leaving the industry you have gone on to become a wife and mother, using your past experience to help others to leave the sex industry. You now run the Pink Cross Foundation in Australia. What is the mission of PCFA?
GGQ: Our mission as a faith-based organisation is to support sex workers and strippers/exotic dancers transitioning out of the legal and illegal adult entertainment industry in Australia. Our work takes roots in obeying the command of Jesus to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. It is a significant way that we, as compassionate people, have decided to act on Isaiah 1:17 (ESV): “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”.
We reach out to adult industry workers offering emotional, financial and transitional support. We also reach out to those struggling with sex addiction; offering education and resources to assist them with their recovery.
Pink Cross Foundation Australia also works to combat community deterioration due to pornography and prostitution, through attempts to influence the industry’s health and safety legislation. The aim is to protect adult industry workers from sexually transmitted diseases and other job-related abuse, to counteract the negative effects of pornography and sexual addiction on the general public, and to toughen laws to protect children from accessing online pornography.
JS: Do you feel that our governments are doing enough to assist sex-industry workers with transitioning from the industry?
GGQ: No. As an ex sex worker myself, I am outraged that when I needed the most help I was left without any resources. The different governments in place over the last twenty years have done NOTHING to offer transitional support to those involved into this lifestyle, although they had promised to do so towards the legalisation of sex work in Victoria. I want to be as visible as possible so government officials can take action!
JS: In some Australian states it is illegal to sell sex (SA), yet in others it is decriminalised (ACT, NSW , WA, NZ ), and for Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania it is legal to sell sex services. Do you know of any alternative to the current sex work model which prevails in Australia?
GGQ: Yes, there are very effective sex work models in the world; many studies have shown that decriminalisation has often made this lifestyle safer for women. Since its implementation in 1989 the Swedish ‘Nordic’ model has proven effective in decreasing prostitution both on the street and in brothels (which as a result become redundant). Denmark, Iceland and Korea have now adopted this model for sex work and see their societies flourishing. Women are completely rehabilitated because the government pays for everything relating to their studies, counselling, and ongoing support after they exit sex work.
JS: How has the Nordic Model improved social attitudes towards women, and women in prostitution, in Sweden?
GGQ: Sweden is one of the most progressive societies in terms of managing violence against women, and being supportive of their career path. The population has been very well educated about the damages of sex work. Citizens who see a woman still prostituting herself -if she does it on the street- feel that it is detrimental to her mental health and may cause her various harms. As a result, prostitution is now seen by these societies not as ‘work’, but rather a lifestyle which damages you immensely and should NOT be practiced. Hence, when a woman is still trapped in this lifestyle, there are many systems in place with social workers and support groups to help these women be removed from such a damaging environment.
The best part of the law is that women ARE NOT criminalised for offering sex services, but instead it is the men, or the purchasers, who are criminalised for buying sex. This is also due to the very effective public campaigns they run against the purchase of sex. The police are heavily involved in the process, and there have been many successful prosecutions. There is now an increasingly negative stigma on the idea of purchasing sex in those countries, which is very different to the attitudes that Australian men have towards women.
The implementation of the Swedish Model and the way it is designed, has seen a general increase in respect towards women, better human rights laws, and overall a more well-balanced society. It has also seen a decrease in violence. Parental leave is so well accepted in Sweden that a friend of mine who recently visited the country recalls seeing more men than women out with their children, and pushing prams around shopping centres.
I need to also mention a program which is very successful in New York. The NYPD has created the ‘Johns School’ (initiated in San Francisco by an ex sex worker), a slang term which refers to prostitution diversion programs for clients of commercial sex workers. The main purpose of prostitution diversion programs is to use the authority of the courts to reduce prostitution crimes, by providing ‘treatment’ instead of punishment to offenders — both clients and sex workers’ (Hope-Ditmore, Encyclopaedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, A-N, 2006). In Love is a verb, (a documentary and resource DVD from Church Urban Fund) you can see first-hand what goes on within a ‘Johns School’ session. My first thought when watching this was, ‘Wow! An sex worker coming to talk to men about how sex work has damaged her life?’ I could not believe it when I saw it! ‘Finally, men can hear from their own ears the real scars that their behaviour leaves on us!’ I thought.
Many of us working and lobbying in the field of human rights believe that Australia needs to make DRASTIC changes to the current laws surrounding sex work. We need everyone to read and share this article. We need people to overtly push government officials to create special programs that support those trapped in this lifestyle. We need governments to create funds that will instigate change in the current legislation. We are talking about the health and safety of thousands of men and women!
JS: What are some ways in which you like to see the Pink Cross grow in 2013?
GGQ: I would like to be invited to speak at churches as well as in secondary schools and universities. I need a greater public presence in order to, God willing, bring changes into people’s hearts. I would of course adopt age-appropriate language depending on the audience.
I also need a website so Australians can be transformed, educated, and find resources to recover. This would cost approximately $3000 to set up. So we really, really need financial provision – it can start with a small regular donation such as $10.00.
I have been doing everything alone with no pay for the last three years; mainly visiting brothels and attending Melbourne Sexpo’s. I don’t mind giving my time for this, obviously, but I can’t pay for everything that is needed to educate and support men and women in the sex industry.
To break it down for you – there are 33 million people whom I want to educate about the violence that is done to women in sexual slavery, so the government can take measures to eradicate it. Anne Summers, in an article in ‘The Age’ in March 2013 wrote that, ‘violence against women is a global pandemic’. The enormity of this is absolutely heartbreaking.
Please ‘like’ our page on Facebook – this is where you can keep in the loop about what we are doing, find out about how you can help, and read educational articles about what is happening in the sex industry.
How can the community help the PCFA to continue what they are doing?
The public can get involved by helping us in the following areas:
- Organising video interviews and using social media to raise awareness.
- Offering to pray for us, that we will be able to continue helping women and men in need
- Donating your services to help us with setting up a website
- Assisting us with copy-writing to help with the publishing of articles and interviews.
- Donating goods for gift packs. Even if it is only small quantities it still helps! If you live in Victoria you can come to our office in Melbourne to put these gift packs together.
- Visiting brothels; sitting down with girls and listening to them with compassion
- I will soon need help to host a screening of Nefarious, Merchant of Souls: ‘A hard-hitting documentary that exposes the disturbing trends in modern sex slavery’. From the very first scene, Nefarious ushers you into the nightmare of sex slavery that hundreds of thousands experience daily. You’ll see where slaves are sold (often in developed, affluent countries), where they work, and where they are confined. You’ll hear first-hand interviews with real victims and traffickers, along with expert analysis from international humanitarian leaders’. I need a tech and welcome team, as well as maybe a graphic designer and social media guru to help me spread the word about the screening.
JS: What advice would you give to young women who are thinking of entering the industry?
GGQ: My advice is this: I know you need money to survive right now, but you are not doing what is good for your mind and soul. The men who give you money are the real ones who are doing wrong. We know that you might have chosen to start sex work, but that your life history mostly chose for you. Here at Pink Cross Foundation Australia we do not condemn you for what you do, yet we know this is not good for you either! There are many, many publications on the subject. Nevertheless, if you are about to start or are already providing sexual services, here is what I can tell you:
- Firstly, NEVER compromise on the services you offer. You don’t like men kissing you? Don’t let them kiss you. They offer $500 to have unprotected sex? Remember that you can die of Aids… is your life worth so little? You feel uncomfortable, or afraid, or the guy is hurting you? Tell him to stop. No means no. Your body is your business. Be strong, be firm, you are the boss when with a man.
- Get paid before you do anything. Put away the money in a VERY SAFE PLACE. If you are escorting and your money goes into your handbag, always make sure you see where you bag is, particularly if you go in the shower.
- Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs while working: it will impair your senses and lead you to make decisions you will regret. If you need a drink or any mind altering substance to do the job, then that means you should not do the job!
- If you are making a lot of money, pay all your debts first. Do not brag about the money you make. Save it all. One day you’ll decide to do a course towards another type of job and you won’t be earning as much. You’ll need financial support to help you when you decide to leave.
During my first two years in the industry, I could not stop praising the ‘amazing’ organisation in which I worked, because they had groomed me to believe I loved being there. They psychologically groom you to believe that you really ‘enjoy’ work. Remember, YOU make them lots of money.
JS: What steps can women/men take to get out of the sex industry – especially those who don’t have a support network?
GGQ: If you know someone who is thinking of starting sex work, please give them our number to call – even if it is just for a chat. If you have exited a long time ago and feel that you haven’t been freed from the damages it has done to you, we meet once a month to share with other women who are ex or current workers. It feels really good to know someone else has been through the same as us!
At Pink Cross we are not judgmental about the reasons you started or have stayed in this lifestyle. In order to see changes in your life happening, you first need to want these changes yourself. Surrounding yourself with people you can trust is the first step. Call me so that I can meet up with you, and help you decide how Pink Cross can give you practical support.
Every woman has a different situation and different needs. We know you want to exit the industry and that it is financially difficult to do so, so we will place you with a support worker to help you revise your resumé and look for jobs. We will assess your career prospects and desires and will find ways for you to get specific skills for mainstream employment. We will help you get interviews and can also help you obtain new clothing when you start a new job, without any cost to you. We can attend appointments with you, be it for your health or legal. We can help you find clothing and food for your children, as well as accommodation if needed. We can connect you with a debt coach to assess your financial situation and help you become debt free. If you feel that you have a substance habit and need to attend a detox program, we will walk with you those steps to help you live a fully fulfilling life without those crutches. All these steps can be taken for you if you are totally honest with us.
I also highly recommend if times permits, for you to start volunteering at a chosen organisation. You can check out www.volunteeringaustralia.org, which will help you to expand your horizons. You might want to only volunteer once every forthnight, and that’s okay. From personal experience I found that many women involved in the sex industry actually have a limited social life. Stepping into a ‘real life’ work environment can help you put into perspective the meaning of giving to others, and help you gain better self-esteem. I know how this feels as I have been through it! It pays to volunteer and oftentimes you will gain more than what you would have expected by giving your time to an organisation which matters to you.
JS: What help can the Pink Cross Foundation Australia offer for men who struggle with sex addiction?
GGQ: If you are a man who is struggling with addiction, we would love to arrange an appointment to meet and talk with you. We want to hear your story and help you through your struggles. From this side of the adult entertainment industry, I find that people in a situation of addiction need to avoid, at all costs, any contact with the source of their addiction. Sometimes it is about downgrading your mobile device to a phone that has no Internet connection. So firstly, I would recommend that if the Internet is not essential in your work or at home, you may need to make the decision sell your computer or cancel your Internet connection, or perhaps install an accountability program which helps you (and your accountability partner) to know which sites you log into. The XXX church website has one of those very effective programs. An important step for a person addicted to porn is to admit that they feel powerless over those forces and need help.
The second step is to call a person you trust. You can contact us and we will pray for you. We will direct you to different publications that can help you. We also have a list of very informative YouTube videos that explain how porn affects the brain; oftentimes when we understand how our addiction operates, it can be easier to overcome it.
JS: It is great to see so much support available for men and women struggling with porn addiction. Can you explain what some of the symptoms and signs of porn-addiction are?
GGQ: Certainly. Some signs of porn addiction can be:
- Leading a double-life
- Frequently seeking out sexual material
- Compromising your personal relationships
- Seeking explicit sexual adventures
- Getting into trouble with the law
- Having negative feelings about your behaviour
Many people who are addicted to porn tend to have difficulty in their personal relationships. As I suggested earlier, a good way to alleviate this is to possibly get involved as a volunteer. We can also connect you with groups of people with whom you can meet with weekly and share a meal.
Maybe you find yourself isolated and delight in this? Or you might be in between jobs at home or a busy professional who escapes his stressful life by viewing porn or engaging in illicit sexual activities? What is important to know is that you will not overcome this problem by keeping it to yourself. We can walk with you in this journey and help you find a safe place to share your concerns. You are not alone, and certainly not the only one with this problem.
Transitioning out of the sex industry and overcoming porn addiction is not gender biased. We know you can be on either side of the fence, regarding your gender. We mostly found that more women are sex workers and more men tend to have an addiction to porn, yet these roles can be reversed in certain situations. We just want you to know there is hope.
Proverbs 8:17 is a great verse to remember in challenging times: “I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me”. God really does love you.
To continue to Part 2 and find out more about how you can be involved with PCFA’s upcoming ‘Shine convention’ please continue to: