Five Years Free

It’s been five years.  I don’t even know how to quite process that.  Five years.

For the first time, I’m not anxious, not really.  Usually, in the weeks running up to this date, I’m so hyper-aware of it, I find my anxiety is building more and more as it gets closer and the flashbacks get worse and worse.  But I have to say, this year, I’m just not really feeling it so much.  I’m aware it’s there and, as I said last year, there’s really traumatic memories involved, but I’m just not feeling the same sense of panic and emptiness and fear that I’ve felt in previous years around this date.

I guess, maybe, it’s because I’m doing better?

I know I’ve had a rough patch, the DWP will always throw me into a rough patch and I’ve really been suffering the past few weeks, but overall, I have been doing a little better.  Or, at least, I’ve been able to process a lot of trauma and do a lot of that whole ‘healing’ thing and as a result, I’ve been able to get a lot of things straighter and clearer in my mind.

I’ve found my voice, as a result, has gotten so much clearer too.  My voice doesn’t shake quite as much, my hands don’t hesitate when I’m typing quite as frequently when it comes to saying words like trafficking, rape, domestic abuse, incest.  I’m not hesitating, I’m not doubting myself.  For years, even if on some very logical, objective level I’ve known the words were real and relevant and applied to me, I’ve doubted myself so much.  I’ve always had that moment where a pit of guilt in my stomach bubbles over.  How dare I use those words?  How dare I say such horrible things about my family and people who (supposedly) cared for me?  How dare I take words away from real survivors?  I have no right to use these words.  It’s taken me such a long time to believe them, to really believe them.  To fully understand their weight and how they apply to me.

I guess, I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can truly put the blame and the shame and the guilt where it belongs.  I’m finally starting to reach a point where I can see that I was a victim.  That they victimised a child, a traumatised young woman.  That they did these things to me.  That I’m not the one that made them happen; either through my own actions or ‘bad’ behaviour or through some weird twist of fate that deemed me nothing more than a ‘whore’ and deserving of everything that happened to me.

I’m not there completely, not yet, I still have those moments of doubt, those moments where the guilt bubbles up inside me.  But I am getting there and I really have moved so far in the last few years.

I think, in all honesty, one of the most important things I’ve done in the past five years is focus on me.  Which is odd, considering how much of a class based theorist I am.  You’d think I’d’ve done more than this blog to try and reach out, do more for women like me.  But I couldn’t and it was right that I didn’t.  For a start, I crashed in a seriously spectacular way five years ago today and even if I wanted to do more for others I just couldn’t.  Immediately after exiting I was a mess (as I discussed a little in this post).

I was in such a severe dissociated state that I barely remember anything of those weeks, months.  I remember that I spent the first night just sitting in my friend’s flat.  Just staring, barely even blinking, at the wall.  I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep.  All I could think about was how much I wished I was dead.  That was a recurring theme for those months, really.  I was basically just an empty shell and I wished for nothing more than death.  Weirdly, I never actually tried to kill myself at that point in my life.  Which is odd considering how much I wanted it.  I’d like to say that there was some innate survival instinct in me that recognised the magnitude of exiting, the freedom and the potential life that came with that.  But to be honest, I was probably just so empty and running so much on auto-pilot that I barely had the strength to even just kill myself.

The one thing I remember more than anything was just how alone I felt.  I wasn’t alone, not really.  People who really truly cared about me had helped me escape, they’d saved my life.  I played a role, of course, I had to want to leave, I had to want to accept their help, but without them I simply wouldn’t be here now.  But, I still just felt so alone.  I had ‘support workers’, but I didn’t feel like I had friends any more.  I was hiding out in a hotel for the three weeks immediately after escaping and I just felt so alone.  I had a few friends come and visit me there, though they were distant friends, old friends.  Friends who had no real clue about what was happening to me, why I was really in that hotel.  I may have let a few details slip, but they didn’t really know.  My closest friends, the friends I considered to be my ‘family’, they were absent.

I understand, actually.  Dealing with trauma is never easy, even if it’s someone else’s and they were all young.  I mean, we were all in our early-mid 20’s and while they were all experienced workers, none of them had ever really dealt with anything like me.  I understand why they kept their distance, why they didn’t know what to say, how to talk to me.  I understand why my old ‘support worker’ had to take me to them, why they never came to me.  I don’t really blame them, I don’t know if I would have wanted to be around me either.  But, understanding doesn’t stop just how much it hurt.  I felt so abandoned.  They were a big reason why I escaped in the first place.

Before them, I’d never really had real friends.  I’d never had anyone that really cared about me or had taken the time to try and understand me and my life.  And while some of them were older friends and had been around for a long time and while it is possible I had people that cared about me before that point, well, frankly, I’d never felt the same.  Not because I didn’t care about them, not really, but because I couldn’t let myself.  I couldn’t let myself care about anyone or anything else and I couldn’t let anyone care about me.  I’ve had so many people tell me that they care about me, that they love me, but that always resulted in my getting hurt.  So I stopped letting people in.  Until them.  Until that group of friends showed me so much love and care.

It gave me a taste.  It gave me a taste of freedom.  It gave me a taste of love.  It gave me a taste of mattering.  It gave me a taste of things I had never, ever had.  And it was them I had in mind when I finally made the decision to leave.  I didn’t want to be alone and closed off and hurt any more.  I wanted friends, a family, I wanted to be cared for and able to care for others.  I wanted a ‘normal’ life.

But then they backed off and I was alone and heart broken and hurting so much.  To have one of the biggest reasons you exited in the first place taken away from you so soon after actually exiting.  It really fucking hurts.  And it became my biggest reason to go back.  What was the point in escaping to a life of loneliness and emptiness and hurt?  I had that where I was and I also didn’t have incredibly violent people searching for me.  What was the point in trying?

I understand their reaction and distance, but it really did hurt.

Where was I going with this?  Oh yeah, the hotel and the months after.  The sum up is that I was a complete fucking mess for a really long time and even if I wanted to do more, do whatever I could to help and support other women like me, I simply couldn’t at the time and I wouldn’t have been able to for most of the last five years.

And the simple truth is, it’s good that I didn’t.

Now, I have so much fucking admiration for the exited women that throw themselves right out there.  Who have devoted their lives to helping and supporting other women to exit, to campaigning, to setting up safe houses, to setting up amazing organisations.  I just have so much respect for them and I’m so in awe of their courage and their strength.  But it’s not something I could have done straight away and it’s not something I should have done straight away.  And I have to say, that part of me does worry about some of these amazing women, I see how much they hurt and they struggle and it sometimes makes me so sad that they never had the chance to heal.

I’m not saying I did it better, I’m not saying I did it the right way, I’m not saying that these women are stupid (like I’d ever say that?) for putting their work before their own healing and recovery.  I’m saying that it definitely wasn’t the right thing for me and I’m saying that I do have some concern for my sisters who I see struggling now.

I’m not stupid, I know that not everyone was as lucky as me.  I know that not everyone has the chance of exiting and getting good therapy, with an experienced trauma therapist (or somehow, magically, even a therapist with a lot of experience in working with prostituted women) straight away.  I was very lucky in that regards.

Really lucky, actually.  Lucky because it has given me the chance to really try and process and heal from some of that trauma.  So many women have processed and healed from their work, but I just couldn’t do that.  I wasn’t strong enough to do that.  And now, now that I’m five years from exiting, I’m glad that I didn’t.  Therapy and healing and processing trauma has made me so much stronger and more determined than I was five years ago.  I know that as and when I’m ready to go into that kind of work, (Which seems almost certain to me, if not trafficking and prostitution directly then at least some support work around other women who have experienced trauma.) I’ll be in a much more stable and capable place than I’ve ever been before, I know that I’ll be able to do that work and do it to the best of my ability.

I’ve done similar work before and each and every time I’ve just ended up burning out and quitting/leaving because I’ve just not been able to take it, especially not with the weight of my own ongoing trauma.  Looking after myself first and foremost has put me in a position where I know I can spend the rest of my life doing what I can for other women.  My future plans belong to another post, though.

It’s been an incredibly long journey and I’m nowhere near done yet.  In reality, I’ve only had a handful of EMDR sessions (again, the detail for this belongs in another post) but already they’ve made such a fundamental difference to my life and I know that with more sessions and more of a focus on processing and dealing with trauma will make such a difference to my life and put me on track for that future.

I’m in such a better place than I was five years ago and not only because five years and one day ago I was still being trafficked by my family and having the crap beaten out of me by my ex.  I’m in such a better place, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  And for the first time in my life, I actually believe that not only is this gonna stay the case, but I’m gonna end up in a even better place.

RS.

Branded – Part Three

This post is so long overdue, in fact, there’s a number of posts that are overdue, posts that I’ve been half writing in my head but never made it as far as here.  My life has been… complicated the past few months.  Not all ‘bad’ complications, in fact a lot of ‘good’ complications, but I’ve just not had any energy leftover to try and come back here and write the things that I need and want to write.  A lot of those complications are for other posts, though.  Here, I’m planning on writing about my tattoo and just how much of an effect getting it has made on my life.

If you haven’t already read parts one and two and you’re too lazy to go back, then here’s the sum up (if you’ve read my writing before, you’ll know my version of succinct and summing up is about six pages):

At the age of five, my mum lost her shit with me and after throwing a glass at me and beating the crap out of me, she picked up a piece of broken glass and carved the word ‘whore’ into my thigh.  It was carved into me numerous times over the years, by my mum, step-dad, clients, the scars overlap one another.

Back then, those 22-23 years ago, I don’t think she intended it to be a branding as such.  If anything, it’d be a little on the nose if that was her intention, but it’s definitely what it ended up being.  Then again, being on the nose doesn’t exactly discount it.  My mum was arrogant, confident that she wouldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be stopped.  And you know what, she might have been right, despite several investigations into CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) in my home town (Which is now infamous in this country, you think trafficking, you inevitably end up thinking of my home town.) my mum and her ‘colleagues’ are still high and dry.  Whether it was her intention or not, it did become a branding, though.  Not just for myself, but for the other women and girls I was trafficked with, though, theirs came with numbers as well as the word ‘whore’.

It was perfect, not only was it a great thrill for clients, to see the word ‘whore’ carved out on the piece of meat they were about to rape, to see it in a place that only themselves and others that were raping her, me, would see, but it worked so well in destroying us too.

Waking up each and every single day, seeing the sum of what you are, what they made you, carved into you, knowing you can never wash it away.  You can wash away the body fluids, you can try and wash away the memories of what they did to you, you can dissociate so far away that you barely even remember, but you can’t get rid of a scar.  Each and every single day there’s a reminder right there, you’re a whore, you’re just a whore, you’ll never be anything more than a whore.  Your body isn’t yours, it belongs to them, the ones who sell you and the ones they sell you to.  Trafficking already has such a profound affect on the body, physically and emotionally, branding and in my experience, one that’s so on the nose, has an even greater effect.  How are you supposed to ever forget, move on with your life, deal with the memories and the trauma if there’s a permanent representation of it carved into your skin?

I didn’t look at my body for years.  Every time I did, I saw their hands, their bodies, I was reminded that my body wasn’t my body, that I had never had autonomy.  Even after exiting, so close to five years ago now, believing my body was mine was near impossible.  I hated my body, every single inch of it, but especially my thigh, especially those scars.  Even after they started to fade and reading the word became harder and harder, I couldn’t help but hate it, I couldn’t help but want to throw up each time I saw those shiny strips of skin.  Being able to read the word or not made no difference, knowing it was there was enough.

And that was where Survivor’s Ink came in, those wonderful, amazing and so caring women do so, so, so much to help women like me.  They fund tattoos so women can get their branding covered and that’s exactly what they did for me.  Despite being at the other end of the world, despite having never met me, these women reached out and gave me a level of love and care and understanding that I had so rarely seen before.

They found an amazing woman based here in the UK who was so kind to me, who did everything she could to support me, to find someone who would be willing to cover up my scarring as part of a charity project, to make sure she found someone who would do it right and not leave me with a sub standard tattoo.  She also offered to give me a voice, to get my story out and was so compassionate and understanding when I said I wasn’t ready.

That amazing woman found an amazingly talented tattooist and artist.  I have to admit, I was wary and on edge at first, I have not let a man touch me, especially not anywhere near my thigh in more than five years.  I wasn’t comfortable and I was incredibly anxious at the thought even though I trusted the women who had helped me so far to not put me at risk and I knew that my girlfriend would never let anything happen to me.  However, he was so gentle and understanding and professional that my fears were eased almost straight away.  Which is a pretty impressive step for me.  I can’t usually even cope being in a room with men without freaking out, never mind actually letting one touch me at all without freaking out.

I got the first half of my tattoo done on the 5th Nov. last year and from that point onwards, my life started to change.  I think I maybe underestimated just how much of an effect getting it done would have on me.  I knew how much of an effect the scars, branding, being there had on me, but I don’t think I truly understood just how much of an effect them not being there would really have.  I think, well, I think I’d just gotten too used to things not going right for me, for things not changing for me.  Part of me didn’t even really believe it was going to happen, I was partially expecting to turn up there and for it all to just be an elaborate prank because of course I don’t deserve things like this.  And even when I get things like this, it’s so easy to believe it won’t make a real difference because what can really heal the pain and trauma of having been raped for the majority of your life?

I seriously underestimated it, but even from just having half of my tattoo done, where not even all the scars were covered had such a profound effect on my life.  I found myself not hating my body quite as much.  I couldn’t stop looking at it, even though I’ve spent the majority of my life conveniently pretending my right thigh doesn’t exist, letting my eyes just slip over it, but all of a sudden I had a new part of my body, a part of my body that was really feeling like it was mine, like it belonged to me.  I even wore shorts that revealed part of that area in the hot weather recently.  Something I have basically just never done before, if I’d ever worn shorts in the past, it was always with tights or leggings, I never just wore shorts, especially not ones where even just a small portion of my thigh would be visible.

My body, even with only half the tattoo, was starting to feel like mine again.  For a start, my mum would fucking hate my tattoo.  Even before I actually started looking like an ugly dyke, she said I looked like one and my tattoo will just emphasise that for her.  Strong women?  Pfft, not something my mum even slightly appreciates.  (It’s much harder to prostitute and abuse tough women, right?)  It’s kinda almost like a little ‘fuck you’ to her, to all of them.  Not only have I covered their branding, but I covered it with something that is me, because despite what I feel, despite what I believe, I do recognise that on some level I am strong because hey, I’d probably not be here now if I wasn’t.  It’s a sign of me healing the damage they did, it’s a sign of me getting stronger, it’s a sign of me valuing my body as my own and not theirs, it’s a sign of me taking my life back as my own, it’s a sign of me deciding that their rules have no place in my life any more.

And I truly believe that she (the tattoo) encompasses all of that, there’s such a quiet strength about her and I’m just so happy, she’s just so perfect.

Now that she’s complete, I’m in love with her even more.  I finally, for the first time in my life, feel like my body is mine.  If I could have a bath yet (I can’t for a little while longer), I actually would and I wouldn’t care, I wouldn’t care that I was able to see my thigh, I wouldn’t care that it was right there in front of me.  It’s mine, it’s supposed to be there and now all I can see is me, I can see my own strength, my own healing.

Getting this done was a decision on some level.  It was a decision to not give up, to not go back.  You’d think five years being exited would mean I’d already made that decision, but I hadn’t, not really.  Whenever things go wrong, whenever my independence and freedom is even slightly threatened, my mind goes back there.  The DWP threaten me and I potentially may lose all my income, my head goes there.  Whenever my mental health takes a turn for the worse, my head goes there.  When you’ve spent your entire life being a ‘whore’ then it’s easy to believe that that’s all your worth, all you deserve.  Especially when it’s been beaten into you, carved into you.  Especially when everyone around you has reinforced the idea over and over and over and over again.  How are you supposed to fight a lifetime of conditioning?  How are you supposed to ever believe you’re worth anything more?  And when your freedom is so fragile, as it always is because us exited women don’t exactly have it easy – mental and physical health conditions from trauma, low incomes, relying on benefits, no or very little work experience, no or very little education.  I’m actually one of the lucky ones, I have a partial university education, I was able to get placement and paid and voluntary work experience throughout university.  My mental health is fucked, my physical health not exactly great and I am relying on the DWP not trying to kill me, but as and when I’m able to work again, I do have a bit of a footing that not all other exited women have.  Though, then again, who looks favourably on a five year employment gap because you’re so bat shit crazy you could barely look after yourself?  But yeah, our freedom can feel so very fragile.  The risk of homelessness, not being able to find a legit job, loss of income because the benefits system is fucked, our own mental health (and the subsequent lack of care) and not being able to shake the feeling that we’re worth anything more.  Yeah, it’s easy to go back, it’s easy to believe it’s your only option.  Our own personal hells are also our own personal safety nets.

But, I think, I think I’ve decided I’m not.  Getting my branding covered up, it was a decision to not go back.  It was a decision to go forwards.

It’s weird, how a bit of ink can seem to change your entire life.  But then, I guess I knew that, not all brandings are scarifications, most are tattoos.  But this little bit of ink, it has completely changed my life.  It’s changed my life in so many ways and in such ways that I can barely even put them into words.

This body is mine now.  This life is mine.  And I could never put into words just how grateful I am to the people that made this happen.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the words.

The words I do have are this, please donate to Survivor’s Ink.  I know I’m not especially good at putting into words the effect that they have, but they do so much good and tattoos aren’t cheap, travel isn’t cheap but the effect that it has, the fundamental difference it’ll make to the lives of women who have been prostituted is immeasurable.  I can’t put into words just how much they’ve done for me, just how much of a difference this has made to my life, but they really are just so amazing and do such important work.

I’ve not included the names of the individuals who helped me because I don’t know how comfortable they’d be with that and I’m too lazy/out of it to text/email and check.  But know that I truly appreciate everyone involved, from the amazing women at Survivor’s Ink, to the wonderful woman and journalist over here who helped me so much and offered me a voice, to the amazing tattooist who so kindly designed and tattooed this wonderful piece of art and my wonderful girlfriend who stood with me and supported me every step of the way – even when I was crushing her hand during the tattoo!

RS.

Oh, whoops, I almost forgot to share my beautiful art work!!!

Before

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Halfway There

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Done!

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Any name suggestions would be greatly appreciated!  She’s a Valkyrie so a Nordic/Valkyrie name would be great, but I can’t decide!!

RS.

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.

 

A Fresh Start

I am ready to have the upcoming
year bring me new life.

Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? – Lundy Bancroft

This is another one of those kinda things that I just scorn at.  I don’t do self-care, I don’t do mindfulness, I don’t do hope, I don’t do future.

The thing is, when you spend your life being prostituted, abused, raped, used, manipulated, controlled; when nothing is yours, when you have no choices, no freedom, no rights, then you kinda give up on the whole ‘future’ thing.

I spent my life barely expecting to see the next sun rise, never mind the next month or the next birthday or the new year.  I didn’t plan any further ahead than I had to.  When I was forced to plan further ahead, I either made it up, not holding on to any real expectations or I just nodded along, not really expecting to be here when the time came, not really daring to hope.  I knew that at any moment I could come across an extra violent client, that my mother could completely lose control, that Dom would kill me, that I’d just give up, that I’d just become another statistic.  I never expected to see the next day, so I never planned any further ahead.

I lived my life in a way that reflected that, even after I exited.  I made sure that my flat was reasonably clean, that I never owned too many things, so once I was gone, there wouldn’t be too much for others to handle.  I always had my important paperwork organised so, again, it wouldn’t be too much for others to handle.  I made sure I always had a bag packed, ready to go, either back home or to just up and leave here if I needed to.  I had the number for the Cat Protection League in my phone, so I could ensure my cat was taken care of.  I always had a stash of pills on hand so I could check out any time I needed.  I’ve nearly always lived in a way so that if I don’t see that next sun rise, I’d never be too much hassle to anyone else.

I never made New Year’s Resolutions.  I never made plans for my birthday.  I never actively planned future career choices.  I refused to play ‘in five years time…’ style games.  I refused to engage with my therapist when she tried to get me to plan for the future.

It’s just not really a skill I have.  It’s an alien concept to me.  So often, it really does just feel like I come from an entirely different world; a world where futures don’t exist, a world where career options don’t exist, a world where needs and wants don’t exist and when it comes to engaging with this world I just feel lost and confused.  Plan for the future?  Why the fuck would I do that?  I’m probably going to die today.  It doesn’t matter anyway, this is all I’m ever gonna be.  I’m never getting out of here, so what’s the point?

I’m still slightly bemused each time I see the sun rise; even more bemused when I see a New Year come in or I reach another birthday.  I don’t quite understand how I got as old as I am.  I should have died by now.  Statistically I shouldn’t be alive.  Medically I shouldn’t be alive (I have technically died before now).  I just shouldn’t have made it this far and it’s always a little bewildering when I realise I have.  I’ve been free for nearly four years and I’m still utterly bewildered when that sun rises.  I’m still so surprised that I’ve somehow managed to survive another day.

So yeah, when it comes to hopeful little messages like this one, it’s hard to just not laugh.  A year?  An entire year?  Ha, like I’ll make it that far.

But then, I guess things are different now.  There’s no more pimps.  No more punters.  No more abusive boyfriends beating the crap out of me each day.  There’s just me.  And my girlfriend.  And my cat.  And the biggest risk out of those is, well, me.  (Though, the cat does have a tendency to try and trip me up!) 

My life has changed a lot, recently.  There’s the obvious, having escaped prostitution and escaped Dom, but it’s changed in so many other ways, too.  I built closer and stronger connections with my friends, I made new friends and allies, connected with my sisters – both survivor sisters and not, engaged more and more with radical feminist theory, started to find some level of joy in simple things, started a really healthy and positive relationship.  And all those changes have meant that, for once, I am actually planning for the future.  At least for the short-term.  I know where I want to move to.  I know what I want to go back to Uni. to study.  I know who I want to be with.

If I’m being honest, I think I’ve already had my ‘fresh start’.  It started the moment I decided to exit and simultaneously get away from Dom.  But I was so trapped in flashbacks and memories and trauma and pain that I could barely have that real ‘fresh start’.  I was stuck in a limbo.  No longer being prostituted or beaten or abused, but not healing or moving forwards, either.  I was just stuck in a limbo.  Constantly teetering on that edge.  Constantly on the verge of returning to my own life, because whilst it might have been so horrific, beyond what words can describe, it was at least something I knew.  And this world?  This isn’t something I know.  I understand the language of abuse and threats and violence and trauma.  I don’t understand the languages of love and compassion and care and freedom.  But I’m learning.  Good Goddess, I’m learning.

It’s only really been the last year or so that I’ve been able to make any real changes at all, that I’ve really had something that resembled a ‘fresh start’, that things have actually been getting better for me.  I can’t really remember what it was that changed.  I know I was working on an incredibly hard memory; a memory that left me with so much guilt and shame.  A memory I couldn’t deal with and I was more than prepared to just kill myself over it.  As far as I know, the people around me had no idea how badly I was doing.  I was hiding my suicidal ideation from everyone.  It was so far past suicidal ideation.

I don’t know what got me out of that.  I honestly don’t.  I somehow managed to forgive myself for Nicky’s death, which is surprising considering I still blame myself so, so much.  I at least stopped holding myself quite so accountable.  Honestly, I don’t even know, I don’t know what got me out of it.

But things changed quickly once I was out of it.  I was really engaging in therapy, in healing work.  I was building more and more connections.  Making new friends; friends who would persuade me to stretch out even further and build even more connections.  I started a relationship (which is something that I never, never would have been able to do before).  I even started doing things like travelling.  Meeting up with large groups of people.  Going away for the weekend with people I barely knew.

I already had my new start.  Whilst last year was filled with terrible, terrible things.  With so much pain.  So many flashbacks.  Even though I barely even made it through that year, considering how close I was to either killing myself or going back.  Despite everything, last year was quite possibly the best year of my life.  (Holy fuck, I have low standards.)

I still might not really believe in the concept of ‘futures’, but I think I might actually kinda have hope, this year.

Who’d’ve thought it possible?

RadSurvivor.

Your Family Isn’t Good For You – Part 1

I’m going to be on guard when he says
he’s trashing my family to ‘help’ me.

Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? – Lundy Bancroft

For a while, I didn’t really have an idea what to write when it came to this entry.  I am very aware of the tactics that abusers use; isolating you from your family and friends so you have no real support network, no strength and making his abuse easier.  But frankly, Dom wasn’t wrong when it came to criticising my family – they are the people that trafficked me, after all.

But even if it was a good idea to be away from my family, the reasons he tried to distance me from them were not in my interest, they were only in his.

He always made it sound like it was for my own good, which yes, it was, but that wasn’t his motivation, it was never his motivation.  He didn’t give a shit about me, he didn’t give a shit about my well-being, about the fact I was being trafficked and abused, about the way they treated me, he only cared about himself and my being isolated, about my not belonging to anyone other than him.

I had to be his.  I had to belong to him and only him and he knew that as long as my family were around that they would always have the most control over me; that I had been so conditioned and groomed and abused that I would always refer to them before him.  He approved of their abuse of me, I knew that, especially as it made me more pliable, more vulnerable, easier to abuse and manipulate without fighting.  I know that’s exactly the reason why he picked me, because I had been severely abused before, because he could get more violent more quickly without facing resistance.  But whilst he admired and appreciated the abuse from my family, he still wanted me to be his.

When I was nineteen, I was pressured by numerous people to press charges against my mum’s boyfriend, but the majority of that pressure came from Dom.  He repeatedly told me it was the right thing to do, told me I needed to do it, told me he’d stand by me no matter, told me I needed to get out from under his control (ha), repeatedly guilted me, playing on the one thing he knew would push me into doing it – that if Paul abused other girls it’d be on me (this was a message repeated to me by numerous people – including the police).  All the pressure meant I ended up doing it, I ended up pressing charges, but it was mostly Dom’s influence that got me there because there was no way I was doing it without interpersonal support, even if it did come from an equally abusive man.  I don’t want go into all the details of that case, that’s definitely another post, but Dom spent that entire time trying to chip away the control and gas lighting that Paul had over me and replacing it with his own.

He repeatedly told me he’d never treat me like that, that I didn’t deserve to be treated like that, that I deserved to be away from my family.  And I believed him, believed that for the first time someone was actually on my side, completely unable to recognise that he only wanted to take that control for himself, completely unable to recognise that he was treating me like that.  As I’ve said in other posts, I never loved him nor wanted to be in a relationship with him, but during those months, he was my main support; I became incredibly dependent on him and really trusted him and needed him.

I was deliberately ignoring the things he was doing to hurt me.  I ignored the beatings, the rapes, the criticisms, the violent words.  I ignored every time he called me pathetic and stupid when the pressure of the case got so much I ended up self-harming.  I ignored the times he told me I must be lying about Paul.  I ignored the times he said I was pathetic for letting it all affect me so much.  I ignored the times he poked holes in my memories, making me doubt myself and the abuse.  I ignored the times he took advantage of me, raped me, whenever my mental health spiralled because of the case – the times he raped me when I was too drunk to know my own name, the times I passed out from drinking, the times I was too dissociated to know what was going on, the times I was so stuck in flashbacks and so triggered and not wanting to be touched at all and he forced me anyway.

All I could see were the times he was ‘there for me’.  The times he came with me to give my video statement.  The times he sat with me in hospital so they could stitch me up once again.  The times he rang into college for me because I was too ill to go in, too ill to call in myself.  The times he cooked for me and cleaned for me and cared for me when I was too ill to even move.  All I could see was the support that he gave me throughout the case – completely unaware that he didn’t care about me, didn’t care about the case, didn’t care about my well-being, was only seeking the ways to gain more control over me.

Even whilst writing this, I’m doubting myself.  Maybe he really was just a good guy, maybe he really was just trying to help me?  How dare I accuse him of being abusive and having ulterior motives when he put so much effort into supporting me during those months?  What if I’m wrong?  What if he genuinely just wanted to help me?

Logically, I know I’m not wrong.  I know he only helped me so he could transfer that control over to himself.  I know he wasn’t helping me cut off my family, press charges, gain freedom for me.  He didn’t want me free, he just wanted to secure his ownership over me and he knew he’d never have full ownership over me when my family still had so much control, so much prominence over my life.

I know how that can seem odd to others, maybe hearing it from another perspective is what’s making me doubt it myself.  I know other survivors will recognise and understand the two crazy sides of him, though, can understand exactly how this worked.  Abusers don’t work with much logic; they work in a way that is beneficial to them, that leaves their victims feeling the most crazy and the most dependent.  Stopping someone else being abusive to me, pushing me to cut ties with my abusive family might sound great on paper, it might make him sound like an amazing guy, but his intention was to never give me freedom, it was to take control himself.  If my family hadn’t actually been abusive, he would have found some other way to try and force me to cut contact with them, it’s just the way abusers work.  Dom just had a legitimate reason to get me to cut contact with them.

After that police case was dropped, after Paul violently raped me in retribution, all of Dom’s care, all of his support disappeared instantly.  He accused me of ‘cheating on him’.  Said I was a whore and I obviously wanted it anyway.  That I was lying about Paul ever having had raped me and that I was the one that sought it out, that I was in a relationship with him and always had been.  The next day, I attempted suicide but was stopped.  Dom got angry at me because I didn’t ring him first, said how worried and concerned he was, how hurt he was that I didn’t reach out to him when he loved me so much.  The entire time I was in the hospital and then recovering in my room at the hostel, he was texting me, calling me, constantly.  Then he switched violently, called me an attention seeking little bitch and went on again about how bad my family was for me.  That I only did it because I felt so disgusted with myself for having sex with my own family again.  Those following days were filled with him jumping from one extreme to the other.  Caring and loving and concerned.  Violent and abusive and criticising.  His overall message, throughout, was that I couldn’t ever contact my family again – that I’d fucked up so much that none of them would ever want anything to do with me.  That he was all I had left.

There were, however, family members who were ‘nice’ to me, or at least appeared to be and for a long time I would have argued that they were absolutely not abusive and separate from the others.  I now know that’s wrong and that they were equally abusive albeit in different way, but at the time, I considered them to be safe, amazing people, people I actually wanted a connection with, people who I saw as a support system.

These people, mostly, were my dad (at least, I always assumed him to be my father and he thought he was my father), my half brother (although a child, he gave me a lot of emotional strength and support) and my grandma and by extension her new husband.

Dom did everything he could to try and cut my ties with those people, too.  In hindsight, I needed to cut contact with them long before I did, but once again, Dom’s motivations were not for my benefit, they were for his.  It was not something I wanted.  I believed them to be the only family I had left after mostly cutting ties with my mother and her boyfriend, after my granddad/father had finally dropped dead, after mostly cutting ties with my sister and I didn’t want to lose those last connections with my family, regardless as to whether or not they were good for me.

Dom was constantly criticising them, pointing out every little thing they did and often twisting it.  He repeatedly said it was for my own good.  He’d make it impossible for me to see them.  Insist we have to do something else on the days I agreed to meet them.  Insist on coming with me whenever I saw them.  I didn’t see any of my family alone for all of those five years – which ironically possibly worked out for me, it was the most peace I ever got because both Dom, my dad, his girlfriend and my grandma completely toned down their behaviours towards me around one another.  But again, that wasn’t Dom’s intention, his intention was to make sure I didn’t say anything, that I didn’t try and reach out to them.

Always, always, always it was for my own good.  ‘They’re just going to put you down, they’re just going to criticise you.  You do so much better when you’re not around them.  They just want to control you.  My family would never do that.  They don’t want you to be happy.  They don’t support you – I do.  You’re going to turn into them if you keep spending so much time with them.  You’re better off without them.  You only need me.’

He was trying to drive a wedge between me and my family and it was absolutely a wedge that needed to be there, which makes this even harder to process.  I needed to be away from my family.  They weren’t safe for me.  They were awful to me.  And I did need to cut off those ties.  Which makes it so much harder to view him in a bad light because ultimately, it was for my own good.  But he didn’t have my ‘own good’ at heart, he never did.  He drove a wedge between myself and my family for his own intentions.  To secure control over me and to ensure no-one could interfere with that – either by splitting us up or by securing control over me themselves.  My mind, my trust, my compliance, my submission was a battlefield.  So many people wanted it, so many people never wanted me to have it myself – I didn’t even know it was something I could have myself.  Dom just wanted to take it for himself; he never wanted to free me from my family.

RadSurvivor.

Christmas. Bah Humbug.

Yes, yes, I know it’s January, almost February, but this has been weighing heavily on me and I felt the need to get it out, write it out.

There’s something so alienating and soul destroying about being alone for Christmas.  Even for someone that is an atheist, that recognises the commercialisations of the holiday, for someone that logically knows that not every family is celebrating and not every family is happy.  No amount of logic or disbelieve or anti-capitalist thinking is going to stop just how lonely and empty you feel, though.  Not when it seems like the entire world is screaming their happiness at you; not when you turn on Facebook and you see all your friends with their families (and even those that aren’t with their families are at least not alone), not when you turn on TV and you see crappy film after crappy film after crappy film of happy families spending the holidays together.  It all just becomes so painful and no amount of logic is gonna save you from the very simple fact that you are alone on the day that what feels like the entire world is celebrating family and love and togetherness.

Each little thing starts to bug you.  Friends complaining about their families – simple little things like not knowing you well enough to get you the perfect Christmas presents or being woken up early by younger siblings or being criticised for what you’re wearing (I’m aware that last one could be definitely seen as somewhat abusive, but if it’s all you have to worry about?).  It just leaves me feeling so resentful and so annoyed.  I just want to scream ‘AT LEAST YOU HAVE A FAMILY TO SPEND THE DAY WITH!‘  I know some of those people may be spending the day with genuinely abusive families or being in spaces where they were previously abused or having to deal with horrific homophobia/lesbophobia or something equally harmful and my heart really does hurt for those people, but for those who I know have good families, good lives, good relationships, who are complaining about petty, small things?  My sympathy ends and my resentment kicks in.

I rarely saw anything offering love and kindness and support for those alone.  A couple of pop up’s of the Samaritans number on TV.  Everything else targeted at the elderly.  A few posts on Facebook telling me I’m not really alone, that God is with me, which is very little comfort to an atheist who was brought up in a Catholic household, who had God and faith and religion used continuously and abusively against her.

It gets especially harder when you’re alone and filled with flashbacks and memories.  Christmas was never a fun time for me, in reality, I never really had a Christmas before 2011, when I was twenty-two years old.  Prior to that, my Christmas days had been filled with nothing but abuse and neglect.  I suppose in theory, it wasn’t that bad until I hit about nine years old.  Well, at least it wasn’t from my perspective, many people only know what my Christmases were like prior to that and they seem genuinely horrified, so who knows?

My Christmas was generally spent as the house slave.  That’s all I was worth, it’s all I was ever gonna be worth.  I would have had to have had the house spotless prior to going to bed on Christmas Eve (which would inevitably be to my mother’s bed, so she could abuse me a little more), regardless of my age, I’d always been responsible for the housework, all of it and if anything was not up to my mother’s high standards I was beaten and abused until I learned my lesson.  Christmas was no different, except maybe her standards got a little bit higher.  Each morning I had to be up before everyone else.  I was responsible for cooking and cleaning throughout the day.  I learned to cook early on.  For the first few years of my sister’s life, my mum was always out drinking and ‘working’, when she was home she was either hungover or still high.  Caring for my sister became my responsibility, including cooking.

I had to time everything perfectly.  My mum’s coffee had to be perfectly brewed moments before she came into the kitchen, their breakfast had to be at exactly the right temperature, my sister who early on learnt she was equally entitled to such high standards demanded her orange juice to be an exact temperature, cold, but not too cold.  Considering I spent most of my life this way, it became second nature.  Waiting for the slight creek of the floorboards from my mum’s room and knowing how much time she took from that moment till she came downstairs.  Equally listening from my sister’s room for tell tale signs she would be down, soon.

After breakfast I was responsible for washing up, I wasn’t allowed breakfast, I was never allowed to eat, I was already far too fat according to my mother, I was only allowed coffee, which after so little sleep whilst my mother raped me, I desperately needed and wanted.  I’ve been drinking more coffee than humanly possible for as long as I can remember, now mostly to fight off sleep and nightmares and flashbacks and keep me vaguely functioning.  Whilst I washed up and did more prep. for Christmas dinner, they opened their presents.

After opening their presents, my mum would call me in.  There was a tiny pile with my name on, pitiful compared to that of my sister’s and my mum’s.  Presents from people who didn’t know better, people who didn’t know I’d never get them anyway.  My sister was the one that got to open them.  I was only there to sit and watch, to be tormented with them.  After she was done opening them, they’d take their pick of the things they wanted.  Anything that was left over was split into two piles; one pile that was worth something and my mum could sell and pocket the cash, the other pile that were so worthless to them but meant so much to me.  My mum would destroy anything in that pile.  Burn it, tear it to shreds, rip it apart with scissors, smash it.  Just completely destroy it, making me watch in the process.  When I was younger I used to cry.  Used to hold on to broken shards of what was left as some kind of comfort.  As I got older I watched stone-faced, no matter how much it still hurt.

The only things that survived my mum’s destruction was books.  My sister never read them, she never had an interest in reading.  It was the bane of my mother’s life that I was the intelligent, academic reader and my sister just never showed any interest.  She was supposed to be the perfect one, but of course, the standards of perfect changed to fit who my sister was.  I quite often used to sneak those books and read them myself, if I felt I could get away with it.

Later on in the day, after spending the day cooking, other family members would turn up.  Namely my grandma, my granddad (and my biological father) and for a few years, my mum’s boyfriend.  I’d serve them their food, I still wasn’t allowed to eat and start cleaning while they ate.  The first year my mum’s boyfriend, Paul, joined us, when I was eight, he messed with the status quo and I could see my mother fuming, but refusing him something was as bad as refusing her something, so I reluctantly gave in, knowing I wasn’t going to win anyway.  I think I was mostly disappointed because washing the pots meant I got to sneak leftovers off the plates without anyone noticing.  He invited me to join in playing Monopoly after they ate, saying that the pots could wait.  My mum made a joke about him not being able to wait.  I knew without a doubt that everyone at the table, barring my sister got the joke, they all laughed and Paul winked at me and had me sit between him and my granddad.

I don’t remember much of the game, it was the first time I’d ever been allowed to play, to join in, but I couldn’t concentrate.  Paul and my granddad were taking it in turns to put their hands up my dress, stroking my thigh, molesting me under the table where no-one else could see.  They both firmly kept eye contact and maintained conversation, mostly with my mother who even I could see was enjoying what she knew was happening.  They kept missing each other, totally unaware that they were both doing the same thing.  They jumped when their hands met, then grinned at each other over my head, silently agreeing to work together to abuse and humiliate me.  I wished more than anything that the game would just end, that it’d just be over, that I’d just be able to go back to my jobs as I was supposed to.

After my grandma and granddad left each Christmas and after my sister had gone to bed, that’s when ‘my’ Christmas started.  Mum always bought me ‘special’ presents each year, each Christmas and each birthday, that she’d give me in secret.  Always in her room, so she got to use them straight away.  They were always, without fail, something she used to abuse me with.  She’d sit in glee, watching me opening them.  Me knowing without fail that they were gonna be used to hurt me and knowing there was nothing I could do about it.

I still can’t do presents.  I panic, instantly.  I know the people in my life now would never think of getting me such things, I know they’d never do that to me.  Yet still, I panic.  I panic when things are wrapped, I panic a little less if they’re in a gift bag and I can peek and assure myself they’re safe.  I trust the people in my life, but that doesn’t make the fear and panic go away.  If I’ve learnt anything in my life, it’s that presents = things that are used to hurt me and that opening presents is instantly followed by rape and abuse.

I did slightly better this year.  Each year, myself and my friends celebrate our own Christmas, a few days after the fact and presents are always invariably a part of that.  I picked a quiet corner in the room with all my friends.  One friend gratefully suggested all opening at the same time so there was no pressure on anyone (thank you <3) and it left me able to disappear into the corner and open them in peace, able to focus on my breathing and staying grounded.  My friends understand who I am, they understand that I don’t do well with presents, that I might not always respond favourably, even if I am actually grateful for their gifts.  With them, there’s no pressure, there’s no need to sit there and look insanely happy and grateful at what I’ve gotten.  Every time I open presents, I still have the same memory of my mum, eagerly watching me open something I knew she was gonna abuse me with, knowing I had to sit there and be happy and thank her, despite knowing what was going to happen next.  I usually completely run away when it comes to presents, open them alone and away from prying eyes.  It takes me a long time to be able to thank people because I’m just so on edge.  It usually takes me an incredibly long time to put gifts away; I’m constantly waiting for someone to change their mind and take them back, to destroy them in front of me, to say they were never meant for me, that I’m not worth that, that I’m not worth anything, that I’m not deserving of anything other than things used to hurt me.

I don’t even know how I really got through Christmas day this year, honestly.  I had wonderful people to reach out to, to talk over the phone.  But I still ended up breaking down badly.  I cried myself to sleep on Christmas morning.  Cried over the flashbacks and memories.  Cried over feeling so horribly alone.  Cried over my family.  What my family never was.  What they actually were.  I just cried and I cried and I cried.  The rest of the day is pretty much a blur.

As I got older and more involved with the child prostitution ring, my Christmases changed for the worse.  I’d work the entirety of Christmas Eve.  Right through the day, right through the night.  I wasn’t taken back home till very early Christmas morning where I’d be allowed an hour or so of sleep before I had to make their breakfast.  An hour or so later, I was picked up again, taken back there, was working again.  So many people seem to think that the johns just don’t come out over Christmas, that they’re at home with their families, with their loved ones, that of course it’d be the one day of the year they wouldn’t do that.  They’re wrong.  How many times has your dad or uncle or brother or husband gone for a Christmas Day walk?  Wanted a few hours away from the kids? (Fucking shame on him for leaving a woman to do the emotional labour, as if she doesn’t fucking do it the rest of the year)  Gone to the pub with his mates to see in Christmas?  How sure are you that that’s really where he’s going?  Christmas was one of my busiest times.  Client after client after client.  With barely any rest in between.  Some of them would bring me gifts.  Disgusting, horrific things.  Lingerie, drugs, alcohol, sex toys, porn, erotic novels.  I remember really clearly one of them buying me The Sleeping Beauty Quartet because he knew I liked reading.  I was utterly disgusted, I was fifteen and I understood exactly what he’d given me.  I felt sick, but then, I always felt sick while I was there.  I did this every year, every year from the age of nine until I was sixteen.

I remember, one year, one of them brought a present in, it was for his daughter.  A dress.  He wanted my opinion.  Asked me if he thought his daughter would like it, that she was about my age.  I just agreed, said of course she would.  But what did I know?  I didn’t know what normal girls my age liked?  My world was pretty simple.  Man pays for me.  Man rapes me.  Man leaves.  I didn’t know about dresses or fashion or what nice, normal girls liked.  I wasn’t like them, I was never gonna be like them.  After he got my approval, he smiled and put it away.  Said thank you, that I was the only other girl her age he knew.  Then he raped me.  Me, a prostitute the same age as his daughter.

Yeah, men don’t stop just because it’s Christmas.  They never stop.

Rad-Survivor