Branded – Part One

I’ve been writing this post on and off basically since I started this blog (on another platform), each and every time I’ve found an excuse to not write it and even when I have I’ve done so in the lightest way I possibly could, I’ve done so in a way that doesn’t really say anything at all because to do so would hurt me too much.  This is a topic I’ve struggled with, well, for as long as I can remember.  It’s one that’s always caused me so much pain, shame, turmoil and to even just think about it leaves me feeling sick.

I decided to write this post today for one reason and one reason only.  Tomorrow, I won’t be able to write this post.  Or at least, I wouldn’t be able to write it from the same perspective that I have now.  Tomorrow, it will be gone, hidden.  Tomorrow I’ll no longer have the permanent reminder of trauma and pain and hurt etched into my skin.  Tomorrow, at least this one aspect of my trauma will start to heal.

My life as a five year old wasn’t easy.  I’ve been told five year olds should have it easy, but that certainly wasn’t my experience.  By this point, I was already being sold to men, but nowhere near to the same levels that I would experience later on in life.  My main concern at the time was my mother.  Each day, after school, I would have to pick my younger sister up from nursery, before long, they stopped questioning where my mum was, they got the usual response of ‘she’s outside having a cig’ each and every time and eventually just accepted it.  Whether they suspected that I was my sister’s primary carer at the age of five or not, I don’t know, but otherwise she would have been there all night before my mother remembered so it was much easier for me to take her.  Upon getting home, I had to both take care of my sister and clean the house to perfection.  My mum’s levels of perfection were beyond anyone’s I’ve ever known, and I’m a pretty huge perfectionist myself.  If things weren’t done to her standard then that meant trouble for me.

This one particular day, after picking up my sister, taking care of her all evening, feeding her whatever I could find and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning my mum finally came home.  I was kinda proud of myself, I knew I’d done a good job on the cleaning, I knew I’d done everything she’d expected.  She went to inspect the house as she usually does.  After a while, she came back downstairs with a glass in her hand, a glass I had apparently missed.  Now that I’m older and now that I understand my mother a little more, I think I hadn’t missed that glass at all, I think she had hidden it somewhere in her room so as to set me up, so as to give her ‘justification’ to punish me that night.

She threw the glass at me and then proceeded to beat me for not having cleaned properly.  She beat me with her fists, her feet, a plank of wood she always kept near the back door for this exact purpose.  The wood had nails hammered in one end.  Thankfully on this day I hadn’t done enough to deserve that end.  I dissociated.  Completely disconnected myself from my body so I couldn’t feel the pain.  I went as far away as I possibly could.

At some point, she took off my pants and sat on top of me.  She picked up a piece of the broken glass and started cutting into the top of my right thigh.  The sharpness of it drew my attention, a different pain than the one the beating had given me and breaking me out of the dissociation.  It hurt so badly and I panicked, trying to push her off of me, but I had no chance, the weight of an adult on a five year old body is not one that can be easily moved.

She laughed at me, said ‘it’s not going to stop until you learn to behave or you’re dead.  If you want it to stop so bad you should just kill yourself.’

When she got off of me, I clearly remember already knowing what it was that my leg said, leading me to think that this wasn’t the first time she’d done this and just merely the first time I remember it happening.  I knew that she had (once again?) carved the word ‘whore’ into my leg.

As she walked away, leaving me lying on the kitchen floor, my leg still bleeding.  She threw the first aid kit at me, stocked full of painkillers and nothing else (my mum got a lot of hangovers), she said again, ‘if you want it to stop’, I knew what she meant and I can say I seriously considered it.  At five years old I knew what it was to want to die, to want to take my own life.  It’s my earliest memory of having suicidal thoughts, but certainly not my last.  I spent most of the night on the kitchen floor staring at those painkillers and wanting more than anything else to just make it all stop.  There have been so many nights since where I wish I had taken an overdose that night, knowing that if I just had I would have saved myself seventeen years worth of pain and the pain of living with that trauma since.  Though, I know now, that I would have missed out on so much good, too, even if that is only recent.

‘Whore’ was carved into my leg repeatedly over the years.  Either as a punishment, whilst I was being raped or simply because it had faded to an unacceptable level.  Mostly it was my mum, but occasionally my step-dad/mum’s boyfriend and sometimes even clients.  The scars overlap one another, now, but I can still clearly see it.  Can still clearly see what they always deemed me to be.

I’m ashamed to say there were times where I carved it in to myself as an act of self-injury.  At times I just became so overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed with shame, guilt, self-hatred, disgust at what I was, what I did, what my life was.  Where I would just be so disgusted, hated myself so, so much that I would carve it into myself in anger because that was what I was, right?  That was all I was worth.  That’s what my life was and I hated myself for it, I hated myself more than words could ever say.  Even this paragraph seems so empty compared to how I felt at those points.  I’ll never be able to put into words just how much I hate myself at times, especially back then, especially when my body was being used each and every single day by gross, disgusting men.

It’s a little on the nose to be a branding, but that’s what it ended up being.  I don’t think that was the intention, really.  It started as a way for my mum to shame and humiliate me, to make sure I knew exactly what I was worth.  But as the number of clients increased, as the trafficking of me became more and more organised and as my mum became involved in a trafficking ring, it became so much more.

I was, in a way, different from the girls trafficked alongside me.  I was owned by the same people, but I was more exclusively a possession of my mother (and at times her boyfriend, depending on her mood and whether she was pissed at him that day or not) and I was treated differently as a result.  I was simultaneously more special and worth less than the other girls.  I belonged personally to one of the traffickers in the ring, but was deemed public property for all, deemed most worthy of some of the worst punishments because I was worth less.  I don’t know how to explain this, I don’t know how to say this.  I’m not gonna say I had it any better or any worse than the other girls, but at the same time, I was in a different position.

Before my mother joined that ring, it was really small, just a handful of girls and no branding in sight.  It was barely even really a trafficking ring as such, it was more a group of paedophiles and violent men who were sharing out girls to rape amongst themselves.  It was more for their personal enjoyment and less about profit.  It was her influence that made it grow, that victimised more girls, brought in more clients and therefore more money and introduced branding to the group.  My ‘whore’ scarification was repeated on the other girls, though theirs included numbers.  Despite my not having been the first girl trafficked there, I was considered number one, zero even.  I was the prototype.  Years of abuse and rape and conditioning at the hands of my mother meant I was considered the best example of what a whore should be, a training regime to be modelled.  I didn’t fight, I didn’t kick up a fuss, I didn’t cry unless it was expected, I could dissociate well enough and far enough away to take un-imaginable amounts of pain.  Once again writing any of this sounds like I’m bragging, sounds like something that I’m proud of.  I’m not.  It’s not something I wanted, it’s not something I worked for.  It’s what I was made into.  My being the ‘perfect whore’ (as I was so often told I was) was purely the result of repeated rapes and beatings and pain and conditioning from my mother.  I became what they wanted so I could survive.

Again, it seems really on the nose for a branding, but the clients lapped it up.  It was private, the top of the thigh where only they could see, only if you was raping one of us would you see that part of our body.  It suggested pain, having a knife digging into your leg isn’t a pleasant experience and the clients got off on it, knowing what we must have gone through to be their ‘whore’ for the night.

More than anything, it was a sign of our ownership.  When I was thirteen and pregnant, I went out looking for my own ‘work’.  I was convinced that if I could just make enough money, I could run away with my child and start a new life.  This lasted all of thirty seconds.  I found myself in the back of a local take-away with men who have since been arrested for running a trafficking ring in the same town my mother ran hers.  They had agreed to rape me and were willing to give me a good chunk of money for doing so and were willing to let me work from there if I proved good enough.  One of them saw the scarification on my leg and freaked out.  He’d recognised it and had decided he did not want to fuck with any of my mother’s property.  He gave me £50 and told me to leave and not tell her I’d been there, that he didn’t want any trouble.  I don’t think he knew who I was, he just knew I belonged to her.  There have been times since where I’ve realised I could have gotten significantly more than £50 if he’d known I’d been her daughter.  Seeing a grown man actually scared made me realise just how much power and influence my mum had.  He’d given up the chance to rape a vulnerable, pregnant teenage girl because of her.  I belonged to someone else, I was not his to rape and definitely not his to sell.

This is the bit I don’t want to write, the bit I’ve been avoiding writing fully for so many years.  You see, those scars are still there.  They were last carved into me on the 3rd May, 2012, the last time I saw my mother, the day I exited.  And each and every single day I have to live with them.  And trust me when I say they’re not easy to live with.

Every time I have to change my clothes, have a shower, even just sitting on the loo, those scars are right there staring up at me.  Right there reminding me just how little I’m worth, reminding me of all the pain and the trauma and the rapes, reminding me of everything I’ve had to live through.  They feel me with such shame and guilt and humiliation, each time I see them I get flashbacks and memories pushing their way into my head, reminding me of everything I’ve been through so as to live up to that word.  Reminding me of everything that was done to me because that’s all I’m worth.

I’m a trafficking survivor, so finding a comfortable space within my own body is almost impossible as it is.  Each part of my body has been touched, hurt and violated by waves and waves of men.  Each part of my body holds a memory.  Each part of my body remembers the trauma that was done to me.  But this?  This just adds a whole new layer of pain and hurt that I can’t even adequately put into words.  It’s one thing knowing just how little you’re worth, but having it quite literally carved into you is a whole new layer of pain.  Having to see each and every single day that you’re nothing more than a ‘whore’.  Knowing that that’s how you’ve always been viewed.  Being scared that that’s how you’re always going to be viewed.  I can barely look at myself and especially at those scars without feeling so disgusted with myself, so ashamed of myself and all the things I ‘allowed’ to happen to me and my body.

I can barely allow myself to be naked, to look at my own body (what kinda body-positive feminist does that make me?).  I can’t shower without getting panic attacks and flashbacks.  I can barely touch that part of my skin.  I can’t even have a piss without it being right there in front of me.  When I was younger, I used to wrap bandages around it, so I could hide it from myself and others.  Now I just opt to never wear shorts that don’t cover it.  To never let others see it.  I don’t swim unless I’m wearing trunks (and swimming used to relax and calm me so, so much).  I still flinch and freak out if anyone touches my thigh, remembering all the clients that used to stroke and lick it as a part of their own sick pleasure.

But it’s not just about comfort, either my own or other’s, it’s about me.  This is supposed to be my body, but whilst their word, their views, their ownership is carved into me, it can never be mine.  It’s always going to be ‘theirs’.  And I can’t live with that constant reminder any more.  I can’t live with it always right their in front of my face.  I can’t live with seeing it each and every time I undress or shower or go to the loo.  I can’t live with the reminders every time the scars itch.  I can’t see ‘whore’ every time I look at myself – I need to see something else, something of my own choosing.  I want to be able to reclaim my body, reclaim myself – or well, my body has always belonged to them, so it’s less about reclaiming and more about finally making my body mine.  For the first time in my life, having my body belong to me.  I don’t want to be their ‘whore’ any more.

The thing is, as of tomorrow, I won’t be!

But more about that in my next post as this one has already been rather wordy!!

RS.

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