Based on the interview and research carried out by Ruth Jacobs.
~In Memory of Q~
When Ruth asked me to review this publication I was immediately interested. The denigration of sex workers does not sit well with me. I have found that in many discussions about sex work there is a lot of theorising and moral posturing that does not involve men or women working in the industry and does not take their views or experiences in to account. Ruth’s publication goes a long way to bringing one of those hidden and subjugated voices in to the arena.
When I think about sex work I do not have visions of high-class hotels and Pretty Woman-esque japes in Harrods. When I think about sex work I feel torn in two; as a woman and as an equality activist. I have no right, and no first-hand experiences, that would ever make it OK for me to dispute the stories of sex workers who describe their experiences as empowering and fulfilling and sometimes as one-upmanship over the men (and women) they work for (with?).
But, at the same time I feel that sex-work is an extension of the commodification of women’s bodies in everyday life that they are punished for and ultimately put at great risk for and can be a form of abuse against some of the most vulnerable women in our society. I ask myself, why is it women that primarily sell sex (Home Office 2004)? Why is it that sex-workers are at greatest risk of death, disease, alcohol and drug abuse, and mental and physical ill-health (ibid.)? Why is such an ancient profession, made reference to in the earliest human records circa 4000BC (Clarkson, 1939), not accepted and respected as legitimate work?
Part of me (perhaps bizarrely) relates sex work to mothering, housework and marriage, which can be seen as ‘natural’ and proscribed functions of a woman. A registered child minder can charge for his or her services whereas the mother of a child can legally claim no recompense for the thousands of hours she will spend caring for her child(ren) and her home. Can it be argued that wives are compensated for sometimes unwanted sex with their husbands by having an ‘easier’ life physically, emotionally and financially? By having their husband stay with them and in some cases have his help in paying the bills and other finances. Why is this not sex-work? At one time when a man married a woman it was generally a financial and political negotiation between men accompanied by a dowry where the woman would then become property of her Mr (i.e. Mr’s, now Mrs). Let us also not forget that the ownership of a woman’s sexuality by her husband was not made illegal in the UK until rape in marriage was criminalised in 1991 following the case of R v R. So, what I am saying is the ownership of, and right to a woman’s body, in marriage without recompense was legal in this country until 1991! Yet sex-work is so enmeshed in law that it might as well not be legal. It raises the issue again of ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ sexuality.
As I read through ‘Qs’ story she expressed many conflicts in the account of her experiences. It is full of contradictions and confusion she offers self-justification, explanation and self-reassurance whilst detailing the horrors and struggle she faced in her life. These fluctuations emphasise a deep inner struggle and turmoil that her inserts of supposed “fun” are unable to gloss over.
“I love it. It’s fun now. But sometimes I can’t stand it. Sometimes I really hate it. But a lot of the time, I like it.”
She sways from resistance, anguish and abjection;
“[…]when I first started doing it, I cried my eyes out every day and just scrubbed myself in bleach and…I felt like I’d been raped. It was just…it really screwed my mind up.”
To resignation, numbness and a purported sense of power;
“eventually that feeling goes away, and that feeling…you don’t get that feeling anymore. It gets less and less and less. And you become hardened in your like…your heart and your soul to it”
“It’s not the money as much as it’s a power trip.”
“Now it’s like all I know and I find it easier to be with a client than a boyfriend. It’s…it’s more fun for me now. I buzz off it.”
Sex-work can be viewed, discussed and experienced on many levels.
1) As a woman asserting her right to be paid, and therefore validated as providing a legitimate service, for something normally seen as a natural function and a man’s right over a woman’s body,
“Sometimes when I pick a guy up from a club, if I had sex with him, I’d feel like I’d been raped and not been paid for it. It’s like they’ve invaded me then…I feel used then. It’s like…really weird”
2) As the height of patriarchy, abuse, and the symptomatic presentation of the lack of respect for, and value of, women other than as sexual objects,
“And…and you see yourself, sometimes you…sometimes I see myself as like an object, as a sex object. Like that’s all I am. That’s all I’ll ever be ‘cos that’s all they want is… They see me as sex, and I portray myself as sex”
“I have got hardly any respect for my body anymore.”
3) As a reflection that women see their body as the only thing left of value,
“I use my body more like an object, like something for getting me from A to B. Not like something personal that I give to someone because I care about them.”
I urge anyone to read this woman’s story even if you feel well-informed in this area. Q’s words and the feeling behind her words are moving, violent, graphic and painful. They come from a place of lived-experience and honesty. Too often are voices such as hers ignored and marginalised.
To move forward I truly believe that women’s lives have to be changed from the grassroots. It is not as simple as purely ‘releasing’ women from prostitution. As Q states, “[b]ut now, it’s just like that’s all I know and I can’t stop it. Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t stop it.” Issues need to be addressed in the care system, in poverty, in drug and alcohol abuse, in child abuse and neglect, in the culture of femininity and the representation of women in the media, in women’s access to quality therapy to name but a few. The issue is extremely complex.
I hope that I can have further discussions with Ruth Jacobs and that there will be more articles to follow on this subject – one that greatly affects me emotionally and ignites a fire in my belly politically.
Sadly, since her interview with Ruth, Q passed away. All royalties received from this publication are being donated to a charity called Beyond the Streets which helps women exit prostitution. From making this publication available Ruth hopes to change the stigma some of society has against women working in prostitution.
You can download the publication by clicking the following link.
Or you can make independent donations to Beyond the Streets using the following link.
Out of respect I use the inclusive term ‘sex work’. If asked to use a different term by a person in the sex industry I would use that at their request.
Home Office (2004) Paying the Price: a consultation paper on prostitution. Home Office Communication Directorate. London, UK.
Jarvinen, A. Et al. (2008) Violence against women: hard knock life. New Philanthropy Capital. London, UK.
 R v R  1 A.C. 599, House of Lords
About Ruth Jacobs
Ruth Jacobs studied prostitution in the late 1990s, which sparked her interest in the subject. Her series of Soul Destruction novels dispel the ‘happy hooker’ myth and expose the dark world and the harsh reality of life as a call girl. She draws on her research and the women she interviewed for inspiration. She also has firsthand experience of some of the topics she writes about, such as posttraumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addiction.