“It’s so hard because most people don’t want to accept that men, women and children are forced into this. The general public don’t want to believe [it]. They believe it’s a choice.When I was being filmed the man said: ‘You are setting a precedent. Someday what you’re doing now is going to be ‘normal.’ It wasn’t exotic…it was violent, ugly…horrible.” – 1970s sexual abuse trafficking survivor, Naideen.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR CONTENT WITHIN THIS PIECE – SEXUAL ABUSE, TRAFFICKING.
As a writer, I have found that the topics of pornography and the exploitation of women continue to be the most controversial and widely read issues I have written about. To date, my most popular blog remains my 2012 feature piece on Jenna Jameson’s far from glamorous life within the pornography industry.
It is no surprise that people are curious about sex, and in particular, the sex industry; however it is disappointing to see that a large majority of men and women still remain deluded about the links between the industry and sex trafficking. This is despite the fact that many former and even current performers have themselves shared about the abuse personally experienced.
Even at the recent XBiz Awards night, a male performer admitted what most porn-viewers want to ignore : that many female ”porn stars” don’t enjoy what they do. “The women don’t enjoy it. They have to take a load of painkillers. Yes, they just do it for the money,” he told author Julie Bindel, who was reporting on the event.
Recently there have been many news reports of Western women being trafficked in countries such as America, Europe and Australia, many of whom were made to work in the prostitution industry. One common argument by pro-pornography allies is that sex trafficking is most definitely not linked to prostitution, and that trafficking is a separate entity existing only in underground, illegal places. This however, is far from being true.
In a 2014 news report, it was revealed that a Jamaican man had trafficked two women (one of whom he married) across Australia, Dubai and Miami. Damion St Patrick Baston was not working ‘underground’, but had been ‘pimping’ the women from apartments and strip clubs. The women were coerced, forced and threatened until they relented into the industry, and all earnings were kept by Baston.
“In 2010, a 21-year-old Lithuanian woman, named as GP and who allegedly worked as a prostitute for Baston, told NSW police he hung her by her feet over a fire escape, forced her to remain in a scalding shower for several hours, and beat her relentlessly,” the report read.
In another case, The Providence Journal shared the story of a trafficking survivor named Lynda Marie Oddo. who was forced into prostitution at the age of 16. Again, she was not trafficked in secret, underground locations, but was instead exploited through a loophole in Rhode Island’s indoor prostitution laws, which allowed her to be sold in normal apartments.
Lynda was forced into the industry by two young men who she had befriended, one of whom raped and drugged the teenager, telling her that this would now be her way of life.
“‘You get paid for sleeping with people — what’s not to like?’ ” she remembered Fakhoury saying. “But I wasn’t sleeping with people”...She learned later how they’d been planning this move. Another teenage girl, whom Fakhoury passed off as his girlfriend, was the first one they used for prostitution. Lynda was the second.”
Another point that Lynda discussed, was the delusion held by many that prostitution is an empowering industry that women ‘choose’. This assumption that the majority of women are able to make an informed choice to enter prostitution, rather than it being a response to a lack of other alternatives, is privileged and insulting to the majority who have experience abuse within the industry.
“The way they make it out, like the girl is happy to do it and it’s her lifestyle. That’s not it,” Lynda said. “That’s the way you can survive. At the end of the day, you’re behind a door, but the people who are hurting you are also behind that door.
“Fakhoury set up advertisements for escort services on craigslist and backpage.com. Lynda was 16 but looked younger. She said he told her to lie about her age, to say she had a baby face.”
The rise of the internet has been instrumental in trafficking women throughout the sex industry, however it has been happening for hundreds of years, even before the rise of technology. Today I listened to the story of an older woman named Naideen, who bravely shared her story of being trafficked by her husband in the 1970s.
Like many before and since, Naideen was groomed from the moment she first met her husband. He was handsome, charming, confident, and she couldn’t believe he was interested in her. He showered her with attention and was nothing less than a perfect gentleman. When he asked to marry Naideen just a few months later she didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
At first everything was amazing. They shared a beautiful honeymoon and settled into life together, often spending time with his many friends. Naideen mentioned that she didn’t have many friends other than those she worked with, which again is a common theme amongst women who are preyed upon by traffickers.
Just after her 21st birthday Naideen’s husband suggested they have a party with some friends. While he was out of the room, a mutual friend began to show her around the house, showing her his video camera collection and secret rooms. It was at this point that Naideen began to get an ‘uneasy feeling’.
“I felt uneasy, but he was my husband’s friend. Then there was a shot in my arm and I collapsed. Some really really horrible stuff happened. That one I remember almost all of. The man who filmed me, he used drugs, paralysing drugs so you were awake but couldn’t feel, couldn’t move, and painblockers so you could do stuff and wouldn’t have a pain reaction.
“The man who filmed me, he was born in Germany and was a teenager during WW2 so I believe he got most of his inclinations toward violence from that time. When he came over here, I think he kept his friends. There were lots of women from Europe… Sweden, and the north, being brought over. He said he was flying them over and then back home. I now know that he didn’t take them back.”
For the next few years, Naideen was made to engage in despicable acts so horrendous, I will not describe them. I will say however, that even now as an older woman, the emotional scarring is evident in her voice. At times Naideen breathes jaggedly, struggling to get her words out as she rubs her aging hands.
Years later after escaping her husband, she later found out from a friend that her husband was the editor of these films. All this time she had thought he knew nothing about what his friends were doing. It was heartbreaking.
Many who are unaware of the links between trafficking and the sex industry, often use knee-jerk arguments such as, ”The women get paid and are having a good time – what’s the problem?” As trafficking and child-abuse survivors will attest however, conditioning is part of the abuse they suffer. Learning to ”play the part” is vital in order to survive the abuse they are currently experiencing, and often, all the victim wants is to get it over with as quickly as possible.
“I learned how to smile with my mouth and my eyes. They condition you. Everything is conditioned,” explained Naideen. “So sometimes I complied…to get it over with.”
As horrible as her story is, Naideen still has a sense of humour, occasionally breaking the tense silence in the room with funny stories. When explaining how she escaped from her husband, she recounts writing a note and then running back to pack her expensive hairdryer.
“Anyone that age knows you had those big bouffant hairdryers – you couldn’t go anywhere without them!” she laughs. “These days… I don’t give a rip! But back then that was important,” she says chuckling; the audience breaking into welcomed laughter.
Her story stuck with me for many reasons; especially her bravery given the fact that the PTSD and emotional scarring are very evident.
“What’s it like now for me? I have a lot of PTSD….a lot of anxiety…I absolutely hate and dread when I have to throw up [due to former abuse]. Don’t ask me to make a decision about something. I don’t know how to make a decision about stuff, it’s horrendous…I have trouble in large crowds. I don’t know how to talk to people.
“I have a problem with large animals…snakes, dogs, cats.It’s just horrendous.
“Now I say prayers for all the others who are being filmed against their will and don’t have a choice. You have wives, even some husbands, who are filmed against their will. Nobody will believe them – they don’t know about the degradation, the ripping out of your heart…and then you see a picture of it coming back at you.”
For people such as Lynda and Naideen, what is most important to survivors of trauma and abuse is having people believe you; to have your voice heard and not pushed aside as that of a bitter woman who had a bad ‘consensual’ experience.
“In the course of this I sent an email to Dawn [Director of National Centre for Exploitation] – and she believed me and accepted it,” she says emotionally. “It’s so hard because most people don’t want to accept that men, women and children are forced into this. The general public don’t want to believe [it]. They believe it’s a choice.
“When I was being filmed the man said ‘You are setting a precedent. Someday what you’re doing now is going to be ‘normal’. So I’ve watched with an ache in my heart, an indescribable dread and fear, as this stuff has seeped into television and music, and video games. The violence…it’s common place now. The man who filmed me was part of an underground network between US and Europe. So this stuff got sent out underground, in the mail – which now is illegal – and it still went out [without phones or internet]. I was not portrayed in exotic pornography…it was all hardcore, ugly, violent….”
The above was the part that really got to me. That these vile, ugly acts which were so out of place in that era, would one day become accepted as ”normal” mainstream pornography. This is why I fight to raise awareness of the damage done to so many in porn, because today, we have become so desensitised that many place the worth of their orgasm over the human rights of a stranger.
We care so much about whether our eggs from the supermarket are ”free range”, but are porn allies and users even stopping to consider whether their porn is ethical?
There are those who are pushing for more support for the generation of ”ethical porn”, but I don’t believe that we will ever achieve this. While in theory it sounds ideal to many, the sale and consumption of women’s bodies as a ”right” for (predominantly) male pleasure, remains one of the fastest growing options for financial gain; something the most depraved will justify any way they can. And when we live in a world where the only way for those in financially vulnerable situations to survive is to give men access to their bodies in exchange for money, there can be no equality or empowerment.
My final note, is for anyone reading this to think more carefully about the women, men and children who are currently, or have been, victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. We owe it to them to continue speaking out about this. We owe them the dignity of believing their stories.