"I am a survivor of prostitution in the UK and of being trafficked overseas. Since escaping the sex trade, I have spent over two decades supporting other women to exit prostitution. As well as my own experience, it is from listening to hundreds of other women exploited through prostitution, of witnessing the violence visited upon their bodies and minds and of helping them to exit and rebuild their lives, that has formed my views and convinced me of the legal approach we need to take.
Arriving in London in my late teens, I found myself greatly misled about the circumstances I was coming into. Soon the money ran out and the pressure began; my new ‘friends’ were now less friendly. I ended up way out of my depth and surrounded by older people who realised they could make a lot of money out of me. Not just madams taking a cut, but people pretending to be my friends who recognised my vulnerability and chose to cultivate controlling relationships with me.
It’s sad that someone saw a need in me, went about meeting that need and used it as a way to exert control. Control doesn’t happen overnight, grooming is a process. I went from being a happy trusting girl to finding myself standing in a penthouse being looked over by a madam. It was like watching it happen in slow motion to someone else.
"I remember the constant stress, anxiety and feelings of dread whilst being in prostitution. I used to unplug the phone just enough so that it wouldn’t ring, while still appearing connected. I’d feel so relieved that a’ job’ didn’t come through but highly anxious that those around me would figure out what I’d done and make me pay."
I ended up being sent overseas as part of an organised prostitution ring sanctioned by the authorities. One night the head of security at a hotel showed me his gun, told me he used to be a mercenary and that he liked it, and asked me if my mum knew where I was. She didn’t and I was very far from home and from her.
He said he was going to have a ‘freebie’ - this was his terminology for rape. I didn’t struggle, I even smiled and pretended not to care. This took me years to get over; I understood in my head that I was trying to survive but I felt such a sense of self betrayal I because I wanted to fight back. I understand now of course, that it wasn’t my fault.
When the people paying are famous, in government, royal, civil servants or have diplomatic immunity; you don’t have any confidence that you’ll be believed or protected if you report violence or rape. Unfortunately, the best education and opportunities didn’t preclude these men from degrading and violent behaviour which is intrinsic to the misogynistic and oppressive system of prostitution. The sense of entitlement some men believe they are afforded if they pay crosses every section of society.
The better wallpaper and a mini-bar doesn't dilute what it feels like when someone has a gun and asks if you want to see your mum again. Being in a penthouse suite doesn’t soften the blow of rape or having someone leave bite marks all over your face.
I was fortunate to eventually escape and it has been the privilege of my life to have spent over 25 years supporting other women to get out too, and to contribute to policy and frontline service development for women exploited in prostitution. My heart and soul is dedicated to all victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
We need a model for Scotland that ensures victims are identified and supported, and where the burden of criminality is shifted off victims and on to pimps, punters and pimping websites.
I urge the Scottish Government to put into action its policy that states unequivocally that prostitution is violence against women. The Government must make good on its pledge to develop a model challenging demand for prostitution by decriminalising victims of sexual exploitation, wiping previous soliciting convictions from their records, providing them with comprehensive, resourced support and exiting services and criminalising pimping websites and paying for sex. It will be for the benefit of some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland – and for society as a whole."
After escaping an abusive marriage of six years, Hannah’s ex-husband continued to harass, threaten and abuse her, including by attempting to vandalise and break into her property and by using his family members to abuse her. He also created and distributed leaflets in Hannah's neighbourhood stating that she was selling sex, much to Hannah's distress. This abuse was having a significant impact on Hannah’s mental health and wellbeing. Hannah had various debts and bills to pay but the trauma resulting from the prolonged domestic abuse had severely impacted her ability to take on employment. Hannah felt that she had no choice but to become involved in online web-camming and off-street prostitution via the advertising website Adultwork to financially support herself.
* Please note that the name and some personal details have been changed to protect the confidentiality and safety of the individuals.
Eva is a young woman from a small town in South Eastern Europe who was tricked by a man she believed she was in a relationship with to move to a neighbouring country with him. As soon as she arrived, Eva was forced into prostitution in a flat by two other men. She was kept in isolation, assaulted and drugged into cooperating with her traffickers. Eva was forced to have sex with up to ten men each day. All payments and arrangements were made by the traffickers who did not provide Eva with condoms. After some time, she was taken to be sexually exploited on the streets in a different part of the country before being transported to a Scottish city in the back of a lorry, where she was forced to have sex with up to six men each day.
Precious grew up in a large city in West Africa. During her childhood she was physically and sexually abused and trafficked into domestic servitude on two occasions. When she was 15 she was trafficked to the UK by a woman who told her that she would be given a job there. False identity documents and tattoos were arranged for Precious to make her seem older and she was told to maintain a ‘legend’ if authorities questioned her. When arriving at a house London, she was raped and told she would be prostituted for three years to pay off her debt. Precious and the other women in the flat were taken to parties and clubs across the UK to be sexually exploited.