Please don’t make yourself read this if you are already struggling with shockwaves from the Savile enquiry, or any other abuse issues.

I walked down to vote today,  for a new police commissioner. On the way back, I had my camera out as I was taking lots of shots of lovely foliage and flowers, and realised a woman ahead of me was quite bothered about that. She was wearing  an expensive full length coat, but open, over a skinny fit label t-shirt, and then the penny dropped: she was the early shift of the prostitutes who walk the top road…better than when I lived on the other side of Mansfield Rd and the girls were underage, in see through raincoats and lingerie, but still…difficult… As a feminist, I know it is more complicated than first glance would say. Some choose the life and say they have other options, but some, male and female, have been groomed to the work; are working, feeling completely without other options in order to pay for drugs (used to drown what pain? a need acquired by forced addiction?) or to satisfy pimps they are terrified of; have been kidnapped from other countries and simply don’t know where they could get help. Knowing the statistics on abuse survivors working in the pornography and sex industries, I always ache a little when I see prostitutes. Those who feel they have freely chosen the work have the ability to cut off to do the work, and that demands a self selection of  people who either can engage their bodies with others without emotionally engaging their own likes and dislikes, but to suit what the purchaser requires; or can ‘split’ and disown what is happening to their bodies, if this client is unwelcome in any way. I used to live next to a single mother who was a prostitute, and hearing her cry after her regulars left on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays was heartbreaking. I used to worry for her, and her little girl, who she would hide and I think drug to keep her quiet. Yes, I phoned Social Services, no, they weren’t very bothered…could I hear the child being abused, no, then what was the problem? Phone the police. But I didn’t want her punished, I wanted help for her. She was very careful to avoid me and the other neighbours unless her man, possibly her pimp, was around, so a conversation was never possible. I put leaflets through her door for some women’s projects and soon afterwards she moved, hopefully to a new life.

Will the new police commissioner want to harass the prostitutes to satisfy the property owners who feel their values are dropping? Or seek out the gang bosses and paedophile rings? What, if anything, can or should be done about the many who feel the sex industry is one like any other? If mandatory rape covers underage young people who are not deemed capable of consent, can a prostitute be deemed capable of full consent? If s/he is a ‘high class’, well protected call girl/boy, maybe s/he is fully happy with the choices s/he is making. Plenty of young people (the majority?) are having sex below the age of legal consent and quite happily, with full mutual consent, but criminally. Lots of people are comfortable with anonymous or ‘meaningless’ sex. Lots of people like rough sex or sexual release involving pain. But when  bought sex involves a power imbalance, the  trouble starts. Because if duress is involved, whether by pimp or drug dealer (and detoxing is very hard to get on the NHS); if a person has come  to the street after grooming or kidnapping, how can consent have been freely given? And why is it the victims who are being criminalised? Someone who was being abused through their school years may excel as a way to escape, as a way of asserting control over one area of their life, but is just as likely to fall  behind and be left with very few work options. Someone surviving abuse may be super controlled or shockingly obscenely violent, lashing out at anyone they feel able to take on, in an effort to free themselves from the involuntary mental replaying of the abuse. Personality “disorders” often build up this way… I hate that term, what is the correct response to being raped till you bleed several times a month?

And another part of me is angry: while human bodies are on sale, though what prostitutes sell is a faking of intimacy, a way to be physically close to and use another human body without making respectful connection (how disconnected is the desire for anything less?)  there will be those who feel this is a commodity like any other, and steal it. But stealing in this case is rape and/or coercive abuse of those who do not give permission, cannot give permission because a knife is at their throat or threats have been made that are real to the victim, however unlikely these may seem to others. Pornography is considered acceptable and desirable by many people with advanced views on freedom, but the industry is extremely ugly…people dying of AIDS, because who wants to see people using condoms? (check out this link :   http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/19368744 ) people dying because some people do want to see extreme mutilation? people dying because they don’t know how to live in their own bodies any more after servicing so many others? And there has been research showing that many convicted rapists are genuinely confused by what they have seen and read in porn magazines, that when they describe the attacks that caused their incarceration, they see themselves in a story where all will come right and the victim will be reconciled to the attack and the attacker. Who of course won’t get pregnant…sorry, that’s another rant…

The huge coming forward of victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the moment, the growing momentum for a clear out of old thinking and setting straight of old crimes, would be best served if there was a rethink of so much more. Rape and attack trials are still judged so much on who the victim is and whether their evidence is consistent enough to overcome the common defense of mutual agreement gone wrong. Yes, there are malicious accusations, but not nearly as many as there are predatory abusers. Judith Rowlands wrote a magnificent book ‘Rape: the ultimate violation’ in Pluto Press, back in the 1980s, calling for the introduction of expert witness testimony to help clarify in the minds of judge and jury what effect extreme trauma has, and how it may affect the witness’ ability to report what happened. This was tried in California for a year, but reversed as so many men were being convicted. (Yes, it was TOO successful…) This is also the book containing the research on convicted attackers.

The levels of corruption, coercion and collusion involved in the Savile paedophile networks and the Welsh children’s homes are becoming shockingly clear and more and more people are having to admit what was considered unthinkable by far too many then, that predators will twist and turn anything and everything to suit themselves and keep on destroying the lives of their victims long after the initial attack.

It needs to be remembered during all this, no one is yet calling for a massive injection of funds into ChildLine, Rape Crisis/Victims No More (female/male counselling projects), addiction and detoxing programs, healthy parenting skills classes, free adult education for all survivors who missed out due to trauma through their schooling years…every city should have a survivors centre with outreach projects to meet survivors where they are, which often is in deep water, on the street, on the mental health wards, using drugs, homeless, in prison due to poor impulse control over violence and alcohol. And then all the survivors who are keeping their heads above water, but struggling with poor health due to night terrors, high anxiety, fear and panic on levels unthinkable to those who have never experienced it. If 1 in 3 or 4 has experienced attack, and 1 in 4 of those is experiencing life challenging difficulties (which would be a very low estimate) that is an enormous number : 4 – 5 million? Isn’t this worth sorting out? With love and respect for all and the understanding that abuse derails people, not because they are weak, but because it is a massive trauma to the whole system of the person, an ultimate violation. Yes, murder is worse for those left behind, but believe me, living with multiple post traumatic stress disorders is hard enough that many commit suicide rather than face another night. It never stops, you just get better at managing it. Because if you don’t, you go under, into suicide or addiction, drugs, work, sex, food/hunger, self harm (cutting) whatever maintains denial or dulls the pain. After over 20 years in recovery from this, I still struggle. But I make art, I make a life worth living. And I want that for the prostitute I saw today, if that is her story. I want it for a dear friend who can barely sleep at the moment because the night terrors are so bad, I want it for every single person who has come forward and everyone who wants to, but feels they can’t, for whatever reason, I want less judging of victims and more funding, I want this to be the scandal that changes things for the victims and survivors. Yes, round up the predators and stop them abusing, but seize their assets and use that as the seed money for centres to support the people they hurt so badly. Otherwise the scabs have been torn off for 5 million people, and those who love and support them, and for what? Victim support is one of the things the new police commissioners are supposed to be  in control of, but without recompense from perpetrators to survivors, there is no justice. Criminal trials of rape are crimes against the state, where the victim/survivor is the key witness to the attack. The downside to this is that, while imprisonment of the perpetrator can help the victim feel safer, it cannot undo the act and the ensuing trauma or comfort for the anguish caused. Justice is done for the state, but not the individual. This is a hangover from when when women belonged to their fathers or husbands, and the crime was damage to that man’s property. And still applies in some Islamic countries. Women didn’t own their own bodies for a very long time, depending on what law you choose to define that by – myself, I use the Married Women’s Rape Act of October 1991 (21 years ago) though given another woman has just died after being refused medically necessary abortion to save her own life in Ireland, perhaps I should be re-thinking that.

Abuse comes up anywhere and everywhere, like walking down to vote on a lovely sunny day, and feeling invaded without my permission by a huge debate, that I hate to know so much about. I do what I can, and I try not to judge any other survivors, unless they are collaborators or perpetrators, in which case, yes, let’s judge on the cost to human wellbeing, the loss to human happiness, a debt so huge the perpetrators need to give all their assets to even make a start on addressing their crimes. Justice will take several generations to sort out.
Lives are lived one by one. The choices that shape this society are made one by one. Can we start choosing better?