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.

Four Years and Counting – Part One

Four years ago today, I actually exited.  I didn’t use the word ‘exited’ at the time, it would be a long time before I’d use the word ‘exited’ or realised it even applies.  For most of the last four years, I completely underestimated what I did that day, that night, I completely dismissed the magnitude and the seriousness of it, I completely dismissed the extent of it.  I didn’t understand what I’d done, I didn’t understand it at the time and I didn’t understand it for a long time afterwards.

I needed to distance myself from that knowledge, from that reality.  If I hadn’t, I would have broken down.  I was already breaking down, I had broken down.  I’d crashed far worse than I ever had before and far worse than I ever have since, even in comparison to the crash that came with the recent disability benefits reassessment; to add the knowledge and the reality of my exiting into conscious thought would have broken me beyond repair, it would have killed me.

I barely knew what I was doing at the time, really.  Even now, those hours, days, weeks, months afterwards are incredibly blurry.  But the events beforehand, or bits and pieces of them anyway, that last day, those last rapes, those last hours are etched so incredibly clearly into my mind.  Before that, though, everything was a blur again.

I’m going to start this post almost a year before my exiting, though, as that is where everything started to change, that is where I started the path into finally leaving, though it is a path that got progressively worse, first.

(Whilst it should be obvious by now, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, there are trigger warnings, there is graphic detail and there are incredibly painful things in this post so read ahead carefully.

Equally, if you haven’t realised by now, I have a distinct inability to be succinct.  This post may end up being in two parts.)


Before March 2011, I’d already partially exited.  Only very partially, but still, enough to have gained even a tiny amount of control over my own life.  I had moved out of my mother’s house when I was 16 years old, on my birthday in fact, for some reason I’d gotten it into my head that at 16 I could legally move out without a parent’s permission.  I don’t know where that ‘knowledge’ had come from, but it became my motivation, my hope, my dream and when the day came, I made no hesitation, I rang my dad, told him I was moving out and told him to come and pick me up.  My mum lost her shit, but that’s another story.

From that point onwards, I was sold on a much less frequent basis, what had been a several times daily experience grew into something that only happened the odd few nights a week and over the weekends as the years went on, it became something that only happened on the days I was dragged back.  Which yeah, still not ideal, but it was a massive improvement.  The freedom I’d gained for myself allowed me to go to college after I left school, something that had never been in the plan for me – once my mum had gotten me out of mainstream education without arousing too much suspicion, I was going to be trapped in prostitution forever and always.  Having the freedom that came with not living with her meant college, it meant friends, it meant potential relationships, it meant getting a job, it meant a future I’d never had before.  I was still being sold, still being raped, still being abused, still being drugged up, but I had a level of freedom.

I was actually happy with that level of freedom for a year or two and eventually, I started to realise I needed to be away from my mum completely.

I didn’t have many of my memories back then.  Dissociation can be both a wonderful and a terrible thing.  I’d completely blocked out any awareness of the trafficking, of the things she had done to me.  In fact, at that point in my life, the only thing I could clearly remember was being raped and abused by my grandfather and being raped and abused by my step-dad.  I didn’t even have any memory of what was still happening.  Dissociation can work in such a way where it completely splits your life into separate categories; one part of yourself dealing with life and school and work and whatever else, having no real conscious awareness of the atrocities you live through each night, another part of yourself dealing with those rapes and those abuses.  Dissociation meant I had little to no memory of what had been and what was happening to me; all I remembered was two abusers who (I believed) were no longer a part of my life.  However, I had a vague awareness that my mother knew about both of those abusers and that became my reason to avoid her completely.

I did everything I possibly could to cut her off from my life, even though parts of me were constantly and instinctively trying to reach out to her; partly out of fear, partly out of a warped sense of devotion and loyalty.  I was homeless for a good chunk of that time, so moving around constantly came with the territory, but it seemed that no matter what hostel or flat or sofa I ended up in or on, she was able to track me down.  I changed numbers frequently, I would beg and beg and beg that other family members wouldn’t pass it on to her, but no matter what I did, she’d always find me somehow.  But I did my best and I kept my distance and I was actually able to not see her for a good chunk of time, though I was still often being picked up by the men that worked with her and was still speaking to her on the phone whenever my ex bankrupted me and I needed to ask for money, which of course I had to earn.

In March 2011, I got a letter.  My mum didn’t have my number, I only ever rang her and I always made sure it was withheld, writing to me was the only way she had of communicating with me.  I can’t remember exactly what that letter said, but I do remember that she said she was sorry.  Sorry for what Paul had done to me, sorry for what she’d let him do to me, sorry for how bad a mother she’d been, sorry for everything and how she wanted to start again, wanted to meet up, wanted to have a proper relationship.  Asked me to come to her house on the 12th at 3pm.  As soon as I opened and read the letter, I knew I was going.  It was like there was no way I could possibly ignore it, I had to do what she said.

I got there at 2:45, I remember really anxiously checking the phone and the time over and over and over.  I didn’t want to be late, didn’t want to piss her off before I even got the chance to try and fix our relationship.  I equally didn’t want to be early, something I knew would piss her off just as much.  I stayed in a back alley near her house, the same alley I used to hide in when I was a child and far too scared to go home.  I’d always go back though, always.  And this time was no different.

I got to the door at 2:58 and she answered it before I finished knocking.  She came and sat on the sofa with me.  Right at the other end.  Not too close, making me feel safe, not crowded or threatened.  I can’t remember what she said exactly.  She kept apologising for what Paul did to me, apologising for being a bad mum.  Kept saying that she wanted to be a good mum but that I made it so hard, that if I could just do as I was told she knew she could be a good mum.  She talked to me for half an hour, I couldn’t get a word out.  Just as I was summoning the strength to try and talk to her, there was a knock at the door.  I was thinking too much on what to say in response to think of looking to see who it was.  Nobody spoke, but I heard them come inside and I heard the door lock behind them.

I panicked, then and turned around, seeing three men who I knew oh so well.  They were friends of my step-dad, men who had been involved in trafficking me for so many years of my life.  I remember feeling sick straight away, I knew I was in trouble.  I knew I couldn’t get out.  I watched as my mum put the key inside her pocket, watched her as she looked at me and smiled.  I still see that smile.  See it so clearly.  She looked so happy and so excited, like she’d finally won.  That smile makes me sick if I think on it for too long.  So many times I close my eyes and see that smile.  I just want to throw up when I see it.

Everything gets kinda blurry from there.  At the same time it seems to move so, so quickly but so, so slowly too.  I don’t know how, but I somehow went from sitting on the sofa, to lying on the floor, my clothes having been ripped off but somehow not torn.  My glass of water had been knocked over in the process, I could feel the puddle under me.  They took turns raping me while my mum recorded it.  Still, no-one had said a word.  They beat me, still using the same clever ways they’d used my entire life, making sure to aim for the places that no-one else, or at least no-one who’d care, would ever see.  Eventually mum made them stop, came up to me and whispered that this was because I put Paul in prison.

I didn’t care, it didn’t matter why, this was nothing less than I deserved, it had always been what I deserved.  A small part of me protested, I wasn’t the one that had gotten Paul imprisoned.  He was there because he’d raped the wrong girl.  He’d raped someone that mattered.  My case had fallen through completely.

It was her turn to rape me.  She’s been inventive over the years, finding whatever she could to assault me with, but that day she was just looking to punish me and hurt me as much as possible.  She’d raped me with knives before that point, and since, but that didn’t make that instance any less painful and horrific.  It was recorded, in the same way that the other rapes that day had been, I could see the men masturbating out of the corner of my eyes.  I didn’t make a noise.  I didn’t want to piss her off, I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to make it worse.  I just froze, I let her do it and I got as far away as I could so I wouldn’t make a noise.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, dissociation can truly be a wonderful thing.  I think I blacked out completely, though.  I can’t remember much for a few hours after that and it was dark when I came to.

The rest of the week was a blur.  I know I was kept there for 8 days in total.  I wasn’t allowed food or water or sleep or to use the bathroom until I was given permission.  My mum always had the keys, no-one could come or go without her permission.  One of the men, Martin, who was there that first day and who had trafficked me for many years, the one who had always called me his ‘favourite’ kept coming back day after day.  I don’t know how many times I was raped by both him and my mum (with whatever she could find).  The whole week became a blur, I don’t want to remember.

I do remember one specific point where Martin came back and raped me really viciously.  He put something in my vagina and raped me anally while choking me.  He kept saying ‘I love a girl with something to hold on to’ and ‘I like fucking girls with fat rolls’.  He said something to me which stuck with me ever since.  After he was done, leaving me lying there, he got the keys off of my mum and put them near me.  I was naked and bleeding and hurting and scared.  He challenged me to take the keys and run.  He started laughing then, said ‘you’re so fat, I bet you can’t even actually run.  It’d be funny to see you try.  It’d be funny to see someone so fat run.’  That was about the point where I massively relapsed with my eating disorder.  I swore to myself that I would never, ever be so fat and unfit and vulnerable ever again.

I spent most of that week or so either trapped and bound or being raped or tortured or hurt or beaten.  On the last day, after I’d been alone for a few days with just my mum, she came at me with a knife.  She held it to my throat and said that she could kill me right now if she wanted to.  That she’d never have to worry about my leaving again.  I thought she was going to do it.  I wanted her to do it.  I prayed for her to do it.  It felt like we were there for hours with her holding the knife to my throat.  She didn’t.  She forced me to get dressed then called Martin, got him to drive us both back to my flat.  Dom was out.  She forced a load of pills down my throat and left, I didn’t fight her, I still don’t even really know why she did it.  I ended up being sick and spent the next few days really ill.  I survived it, though, even if it wasn’t what I really wanted at the time.

On the 26th, I had to go to work for the whole weekend.  A residential.  I was sharing a room and I just didn’t sleep at all, I didn’t feel even remotely safe or able even though I was with women I knew and trusted.  I got changed in the dark, super early in the morning so the women around me wouldn’t see my injuries.  My ankle had gotten really hurt at some point.  I was so scared someone would find out why.  So I had to lie.  But lying about injuries was something I’d gotten very, very good at.

After that week, my mum came round to my flat on a regular basis.  Always managed to time it for when Dom was out.  I later found out that they’d arranged for him to be gone, he knew what she was doing to me, knew she was selling me again.  In the November of that year, Paul got out of prison and everything got progressively worse.

From March 2011 till May 2012, my life had become what I had just about managed to drag myself out of when I was 16.  I was being raped on a regular basis.  I was being sold on a regular basis.  I had lost all sense of freedom, all sense of hope, I had lost everything.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I was dragged back permanently and I knew that I would never, ever have as much freedom ever again.  I knew that I would be dragged back and I knew that I would die there.

I was in a stupor most of the time.  Part of me was so, so aware that something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I was dissociating and forgetting almost constantly and living a life of confusion as a result.  I was waking up with injuries I couldn’t remember getting and I couldn’t possibly have done to myself, even during a dissociated bout of self-harm.  I was waking up to find my bin filled with used condoms.  Finding semen all over my bed even though I knew Dom hadn’t been there.  I didn’t know what was happening to me.  I still didn’t clearly know what had happened to me, though I was starting to remember in tiny little pieces.  Older things, not the things that were happening and I was forgetting instantly.  I was remembering being raped by my mother as a child.  I was remembering being trafficked as a child and a teen.  I was remembering a lifetime of abuse and rape, but I couldn’t put that together with the gaps in my memory for the last few days and weeks and months.  My brain couldn’t quite get there and  I was scared, confused, lost and so, so alone.

Except I wasn’t alone, because I was starting to reach out.  The people I worked with, the people around me, the people that cared for me (though I didn’t really believe that at the time) were starting to notice that something really wasn’t OK, they had noticed the massive weight loss, how withdrawn I was, the fact that I was appearing with injuries – broken fingers, broken ribs, a black eye and I was so dissociated and so out of it and so barely aware of what I was doing that I started to tell them some of what was happening.  They offered their help and their support but for a long time I wasn’t able to really accept it.  They said that if and when I was ready, they would help me leave.  But I wasn’t ready, I still didn’t really believe what was happening and I saw no reason to leave.

It wasn’t just that, though.  I didn’t believe I deserved that help.  I saw myself as nothing more than a worthless whore.  I didn’t believe I deserved anything other than what was happening to me.  I couldn’t see how it wasn’t just my fault.  I’m the one that opened that letter, even though I recognised the handwriting.  I’m the one that went to her house.  I’m the one that let it happen.  I’m the one that let her back into my life.  I’m the one that started the process till it got as bad as it did before I left at 16.  I’m the one that had no strength, no willpower, no will to live, no energy to say no to her, no energy to keep the door locked and refusing to let her in.  I was what had caused it all.  But it was getting worse, so much worse and I knew that if it didn’t stop soon it was going to get to the point where I was just not going to survive.

I half made plans with those people so wanting to help.  I looked at flats that they would help pay for.  I let them help me quit uni. as I couldn’t deal any more.  I let them make plans for me, things to distract me and keep me safe through the day.  I let them get me into therapy (the same therapist I’m still seeing now).  I let them do what they could but I wouldn’t make that final step of letting them help me leave, not yet.  I wasn’t ready.

Making those plans ended up being what made me leave, though, in a roundabout way, or at least I think it was.  I’d like to say it was knowing there was a safety net, people that cared and would help me as much as they could, but it wasn’t that at all.  My mum knew something was different about me, I think she could feel her control over me slipping.  I think she knew I was starting to remember and starting to get a clearer picture.  I think she knew I was planning on getting away.

And that was when everything really got worse.

RadSurvivor.