From porn and prostitution, to purpose and healing.
CW: The following story is an extract from Jas Rawlinson’s new release: Reasons to Live: One More Day, Every Day (Volume 3)’ – it contains references to child and sex industry abuse, and suicidal thoughts. Originally published via news.com.au.
“Don’t be a baby, Deanna.”
Those are the words that were spoken to me, at just five years old, as I was called into a bedroom and forced to watch pornography for the very first time.
It’s a day I remember so vividly, even more than three decades later; like the way my throat burned as I screamed and begged to ‘make it stop.’
And most of all, the way that my mother’s hands gripped tightly around my face as she forced me back toward the screen, laughing at my horror and inability to understand the ‘normal’ things that she was trying to show me.
Sadly, this is just one of many traumatic moments that I experienced as a child growing up with an alcoholic mother diagnosed with depression.
Whether she was forcing me to watch horror movies and pornography, or screaming at my sister and I to come and clean up after she’d self-harmed again in desperation, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. As a result, disease, death, and dysfunction never seemed abnormal to me.
Unfortunately, ‘talking’ was not enough for me. I also wanted to walk the talk.
So, one day, I decided to take part in a ‘strip show’ with some of our neighbourhood kids. With no supervision and only a vague idea of what we were doing, I joined in on acting out some of the things I’d seen in my mother’s videos at home.
“OK Deanna,” called out one of the older girls, as she pointed a polaroid camera at me and a kindergarten boy named *Mark. “You guys can start making porn now — just like in the movies.”
I hate to admit this, but I was very unaware at that time if what we were doing was actually wrong. I had been brainwashed for so long that I wasn’t sure who to believe about human sexuality. We didn’t know what we were doing; we were just kids trying to mimic the things we were being exposed to.
And all I could think about was how proud my mum was going to be.
It sounds shocking, but how could I have known any better as a girl growing up in a home where her mother used sexuality as a tool for getting what she wanted? (Usually, used as a weapon for keeping my stepdad from leaving her.)
Divorce, it seems, was something Mom was always preparing for. But while she was preparing not to get left behind, no one seemed to notice what was happening to six-year old Deanna. I seemed to be the one no one cared to lose in all the dysfunction.
Though my dad did try to stand up for me a few times, the wedge it created between him and my mother was too much for him to bear. As a result, I was left to fend for myself.
Unfortunately, death got my mother before divorce, and she passed a few weeks before my eleventh birthday. The toll this took on us all was devastating — particularly for my older sister.
It wasn’t long before I began to follow her lead, disappearing into a world of stripping, drugs and addiction.
‘Deanna’ was slipping away, and with every year, I fell further and further into a world of objectification, sexualisation, and toxic choices.
The Illusion Of Empowerment
Worst of all, I was facing real jail time.
It was in this moment, as I was literally minutes from being transported to the detention centre, that my agent ‘swooped in’ to save me.
“Deanna, I can help you get out of this and cover your charges,” he said. “If you want to start over, I can get you a job in California working as a porn star. You’ll be making way more money than you are now. Honestly, it’ll be great.”
It took me only moments to make a decision.
I’m already selling my body — why not do it in a safe environment where I don’t have to worry every night about being murdered by strangers? I thought. Plus, I’ll have the chance to become famous too!
I turned to my agent and smiled. I was about to be a porn star. It was all I’d dreamt of since I was a girl.
Living The High Life
For a while I definitely felt like I’d ‘made it’.
I went from streets and motels, to having my own chauffeur, to living in a mansion and being photographed at red carpet parties.
As a porn performer who was starring in ‘award-winning’ movies, I soon got used to being treated like a celebrity. I had fame. Fans. Status. And most importantly, I’d gotten rid of ‘Deanna’.
As I would later find out, however, it doesn’t really work that way. There is only so long you can suppress your true self; there’s only so long you can put a mask over the pain and trauma that you’ve experienced.
On the day that this happened, I was put in a room with four very large men. I remember it so vividly. In the words of production, they were to ‘degrade’ me. And not just that; they were to degrade me for being ‘little and white’.
Before I could stop it from happening, tears began sliding down my face and my body became non-compliant. In an effort to hide both the physical and emotional pain, I turned my face away, trying to bury it in a pillow.
Suddenly, one of my male co-stars took a step backwards, walking off set and shaking his head.
“I can’t do this,” he said.
To me, this was such an unfamiliar experience that I couldn’t make sense of it at first.
In the world of porn, no one shied away from ‘harder’ content. I’d once even seen an award-winning director point to a woman on set, before turning to the male performers and telling them to “Step on her neck.”
“Get the reaction you need,” he’d noted. “But only film her face because we can’t sell content like that.”
For a long time, I sold myself to this character. Someone to help others escape from their own forms of brokenness. But after so many years, I finally realised I could no longer keep on playing this version of myself; I could no longer deal with the abuse, dysfunction, and addiction.
By this point, suicide was beginning to feel like my only option. I needed a way out of this industry, but I had no idea how to make it happen.
My whole life had been about being exploited and objectified — what other ‘experience’ did I have?
It was around this time that I found myself in a local church, and on that day, I found something I’d never before experienced: a sense of community.
For the first time, I began to see a snapshot of what life outside the industry could look like; specifically, people who genuinely wanted nothing from me, and who were instead interested in my goals and supporting me to achieve them.
It was unfamiliar and completely new territory, yet, it got me thinking. What if I could have people like this in my life daily?
Slowly, I started to make inroads to change my life — including leaving my then-partner — and as I attended more networking and community events, I grew in confidence and began exploring my entrepreneurial skills more deeply. Eventually, I got my own business off the ground, and for the first time in my life I became a productive member of society.
Yet, I still felt broken and hollow.
After a decade of being sold from one human to another and constantly being reinforced daily that my entire worth was in my sexuality, it’s no wonder.
The problem, however, was that I had no idea how to move beyond merely surviving. Once again I fell into a dark space, with no idea of how to get out.
If it weren’t for a phone call I received around this time, I’m not sure I would be here today.
On that night, as I spoke with the director of an organisation named Refuge for Women, I began to consider that, maybe, just maybe, life really could be different.
Somewhere that I could heal from my trauma instead of running away?
The more I allowed myself to ask these questions, the more possibilities began to well inside of me.
So, on that night in 2011, I packed everything I owned into two suitcases, zipped them tightly, and slipped into bed; anxious but at the same time filled with a flicker of hope. For the first time in my life, I was about to run towards something instead of continuing to run away.
The next day, I left for Kentucky. I’m elated to say that it was the day I chose life. And although it was the first of many hard decisions to come, ultimately, it led me to a life that moved beyond addiction and struggles, and into a space where I could learn how to make decisions that kept me living free from trauma.
Finding A Way Out
Today, I’m a Certified orthopaedic Specialist, an author, the manager of a global non-profit, and a wife and mother to two twin girls.
After years of wondering if I’d know how to be a good mum after all the trauma of my youth, I’m proud to say I am.
I believe the reason for this, is that long before I even became pregnant, I made a decision to commit to my healing journey by connecting with every part of myself — even the ones I still found shameful. Through this process I was able to identify lies and belief systems that were holding me back.
I wrote letters from my infant self, toddler self, and every season of life that came afterwards. Once I’d finished writing out the things I’d seen, heard, felt and experienced, I was finally able to hear parts of myself that I’d suppressed for so long, and write back as my adult self.
With the help of my faith as well as my counselor, I became my greatest ally. I could offer understanding, compassion, and validation — all tools that I didn’t have as a young woman.
You often hear that hurt people hurt people. While I have found this to be true, I also know that healed people, help people. I practice compassion for others while also using wisdom to put boundaries in place that protect my family.
Life is truly worth living and there is freedom on the other side of pain. Find your tribe, lean in, and live free.