I vividly remember one particular night.
As silent as a thief he entered my room, my bed. I was five. I remember being so terrified that I couldn’t move or scream. No sound left my lips. I froze, too scared to even shed a tear.
My fragile little body felt like I had bugs crawling all over me, yet they were not bugs, they were my uncle’s tongue working its way up my body from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.
I whimpered ever so softly; his hand now placed over my mouth while he whispered in my ear, “Shsh. No-one will believe you.”
How sad that I instantly knew, even at that young age, that he was right. No one would believe me.
I knew I was different, an olive child in a white family.
I was an outcast, or, as my grandmother’s ministry called me a ‘half-caste child.’
I was three when my head was pushed down over an older boy’s penis. Already it was becoming ingrained in my young brain that this behaviour was normal, accepted.
Sitting in the playground with my only friend who was also a ‘half-caste child,’ the other children would hurtle names at us like spears – piercing our hearts. Names like smelly, half caste, stinky. Questions like, “Do you know how to wash yourself or are you that poor you can’t afford soap because you are still brown and dirty? Maybe you need to scrub harder.”
I remember walking through my school yard alone.
Boys as young as nine asking me to pull my knickers down, popular boys… Oh I was so desperate to be accepted that I complied – after all men had been taking my undies off since I was three. This was normal, right?
All it would bring was more teasing, more name calling as word got around that I was easy, that I put out… If I said no, they would push me around, the girls would tease me… They would steal my bike, throw stones at me. I hated school, hated being there. No one heard my cries, no one helped me. No one was there for me.
I felt so bad I couldn’t lift my head. I would walk staring at the ground, words like no hoper, loser, liar, ugly, engraved so deep into my soul even to this day. I am still trying to sand them out.
The sneaky thieves that came in the night kept on coming, so many I lost count. My grandparents belonged to a church where sexual abuse, rape and assault on young girls and boys seemed to be an epidemic.
But as a still very young girl I didn’t understand.
I knew it didn’t feel good, but it was normal, right? I quickly learnt the only thing men wanted from me was sex.
I was a young woman when my baby girl was taken away from me as my adopted parents didn’t believe in single women raising children. I was already in huge debt, thanks to a violent ex-boyfriend.
I was pretty much homeless, alone, and terrified of my life and the world around me. I had nothing. My baby girl was gone, my adopted family now wanted nothing to do with me. I was on my own.
It was at this time that a friend approached me, about a way out. A way to pay my debts, and have somewhere to sleep and the support I needed to move out of the place I was in. This is where my journey into the world of prostitution began.
It was 1993 and I was 21 years old.
It began in a small residential house, in a classy quiet suburb on the outskirts of town. As I walked to the front of the house, I had to check I had the right number as it looked like every other house on the block. No red light out the front as I’d imagined. Just a quiet off-white weatherboard home with a picket fence, driveway, and letter box. It looked like all the other houses, and it was quiet. It was run by a man of Asian descent who seemed to be quite caring and nice. When I began that first night, I was in high demand, new to the scene, quiet, vulnerable, timid, petite, pretty and extremely naïve.
I wasn’t there for long though because the manager explained he was taking me to the city to meet his friend. He said I’d be taken better care of, looked after, protected, and I could live and earn money on the premises.
It was a massage parlour in a quiet street in the city amongst seedy adult video stores. It wouldn’t be long before I found out exactly what went on behind those closed doors.
The entry to the massage parlour was lit up by the light shining from inside, and the flashing name sign outside the door. Inside there was a long, straight narrow stairwell. The stairs were covered in red carpet and as I took my first step, I noticed they were worn and dirty like they’d never been cleaned. Walking up the stairs behind the Asian man who had bought me here my head hung low. I was scared, ashamed, embarrassed. My gut was telling me to run, to turn around and run fast. But where would I run to? Who would I run to? I had nowhere to go.
I was alone.
Feeling faint and woozy I reached out to the wall to get my balance. The pink cream coloured paint was peeling off the walls. I pulled my hand back quickly and a lump began to form in my throat. There was a distinct smell in the air that I would later recognize as stale cum mixed with rubber and dust.
As I reached the top of the stairs, I noticed there were more stairs that led to another level. I was ushered through the door of the level we were on. In front of me was a huge desk… A long, black glossy reception desk. Sitting behind it was a man who was introduced to me as the receptionist. As he looked at me almost like a hungry wolf, another older gentleman walked in. This was the manager, the Asian man’s friend.
The receptionist had girls draped all over him.
His crisp light blue shirt was slightly undone. He wore tight black jeans and as he leaned back in the high backed black leather chair his creepy grin, gave me chills – cold, freezing chills that I still can’t get out of my head even today.
I was ushered into another room that was dark except for a lamp in the corner that released a slight golden glow. As my eyes adjusted, I could see a lot of girls sitting around – most were Thai, Pacific Islander or Maori. The Thai girls were very young and petite and I soon learned they didn’t speak English apart from a few basic words. There were a couple of blonde girls, one tall and busty, and another who was heavily pregnant and didn’t look any more than 16.
This room would become my second home. This is where I would spend most of my days and nights – although at first the manager asked me to sit out at reception. He wanted all the men to see me as they came up those stairs and through the main door. I was the big money maker that night, the virgin in the city – untouched, vulnerable and naïve to the life that was about to follow.
My very first client was obese and sweaty. As we walked in the room and he got undressed, and stepped into the shower, I had to stop myself from gagging. The smell, the sweaty, crusty stench filled my nostrils, and as I took a breath in, I could feel my stomach contents hit the bottom of my throat. Not long after he was out of the shower, he picked me up and threw me across the room, yelling I was nothing but a useless black bitch, who couldn’t even get him hard. He slapped me with so much force, the sting on my skin bought me to tears but I fought them back, not wanting to show any weakness.
This was the first physical abuse that would occur, but not the last.
More than 20 men were brought to me that first night. One man after another, over a period of about 24 hours. No money passed through my hands. It was all paid to the receptionist beforehand.
That first night I was beaten and forcefully sodomised while being told by a white socially respected man that that was all I was worth, and I should be grateful he was paying me. Men would try and stick their entire fists into my vagina and then get angry because I was too tight – yet an hour before another man would be whining that I was too loose, because he was so drunk it had shrunk into his body.
Not that any man cared because they had paid for the right to rape, sodomise, degrade, beat and abuse me. And this was how all men treated women, right?
Better I get paid to be raped than just be raped, I reasoned.
After the last man left, I curled up on my bed, tears streaming down my face uncontrollably. My body hurt so bad, I was bruised, broken, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and as I looked down at my breasts and at my body, I didn’t recognise myself. My vagina was burning like it was on fire. My bottom was so cracked and so torn my sheets were covered in blood. I felt ashamed, alone, afraid, broken, worthless. All the years of being abused as a child did not compare to this – it was worse, so much worse. I don’t remember falling asleep that night, but I do remember waking up and realising it wasn’t a nightmare, this was now my reality.
There were six rooms down that dark, seedy hallway – each fitted out with emergency buttons, showers, and a bed. All the rooms had old carpets and peeling walls, and that distinct smell that would eventually become normal, and less nauseating. The buzzers hardly got used, there was never time, and if we did press them – well no one would come.
The nights would now start to pass in a blur and I would become a robot.
As money flowed in, most of it went to the manager – for living expenses as he called it. What was left I spent on new clothes, shoes, lingerie, as I tried to fit into this life and feel like I belonged somewhere and I was worth something… See I was popular then, I was wanted. It may not have been in a healthy way, but I didn’t know any better. Funny how I felt like a princess as I was dressed in designer gowns. There was no limit to what I could buy… But there was no trade off really… Even as I bought the things I dreamed of, it never covered the feelings of uselessness and worthlessness.
My entire life I had been sexually, emotionally, and physically abused. A life of abuse was all I knew. The only life I knew. The only normal I knew. So it felt comfortable.
Attention came not just from clients but from everywhere – bouncers, bar managers, men – and I loved it. But it was not healthy. I craved any kind of attention. I craved acknowledgement no matter what form that took. Spreading my legs was now a habit, an addiction. Before I knew it, I was in so deep that I could not see any way out. It was like being lost in the darkest of forests, where the sun never shone.
But like any addiction it is not long before that high wears off and I started drinking to numb the pain, the shame, the life. When that didn’t work anymore, I turned to drugs.
As my popularity dwindled, the violence and abuse from the men around me got worse. I would be locked in my room and would only be let out to see clients. I was watched constantly – they knew my every move.
Before long I found a light within me, and I started to use my voice.
But this was met with more abuse, as they fought to regain control and keep me quiet.
I am grateful I am alive to stand before you all and share a part of me that haunts me to this day. I am grateful I have found my voice. Some are not so lucky. One of those being my sister, not biologically, but spiritually. I met her on the street when she was broken, 14 and pregnant. She stayed on those streets in New Zealand until 2010. We remain close, but as I learn to heal, she still drinks everyday to forget, to block out the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, shame. Every now and then she returns to the only place she knows, because as she says even though the streets destroyed her, she knows no other way. This way of life is her ‘normal.’
Men would see me as an object they could do anything they liked with; anything they had seen in the latest porn film; anything any way they wanted. They felt it was their God-given right because they had paid for it. Perhaps I had a choice when I walked through that door and up those stairs, but it wasn’t my choice to be beaten, raped and sodomised so many times every day.
There are so many stories I could share from the sex trade. I could write a novel, maybe even a Netflix series that would make 50 Shades of Grey look like a fairy tale. But I am not here to discuss the legal side of things or even really the politics. I am here to share with you my truth, my story, my experiences as a native woman, in my native country, New Zealand; to share with you the journey of a girl who had grown up believing exploitation, rape, abuse, and violence was normal.
‘Sex work’ is a glorified term for paid rape.
Those men never paid me for my time or company. They paid to fuck me in every single hole they could find, even when I said no. Getting fucked 20 times or more a day is NOT Work. This is terrorism against women. A sustained international attack on vulnerable women, girls, children.
They may not blow up buildings or themselves, but they blew up my mind, my body, my soul. They sent me to a torture chamber that I would never escape from. Because even today I fight to survive, to live, to feel worthy, to be loved, to dream.
So many of my sisters have been murdered, some slain to death as a jilted ex-lover ran through a brothel with a sword, taking everyone out that he came into contact with.
I hear women saying this paid rape brings them empowerment, feeds their children. I hear them speak as they protect the only road they know, the only life they know, the only life they have lived. I see them, because I too was once them, once the woman who protected my normal and the only life I knew, the only life that supported my children. I am grateful that they have their voices, their loud, strong, beautiful voices.
But I am here to speak for my sisters who have lost their voices, who don’t have the strength to speak, who have lost their fight, along with their belief in love and humanity itself. I am here to speak for the children, who from as young as nine are being sold on the streets of Auckland, and who from the age of 12 are being sold in licensed massage parlours. I am here to speak for the women and children who are the vast, vast majority. I am here to speak for them. The most vulnerable in our society, in our communities.
This is my story and I don’t speak for everyone in this trade, some may have been lucky enough never to experience this form of violence, and sadly some may have experienced much worse.