“I regret not telling anyone I was raped at the age of five because that is what set me up for my lack of worth in my life,” Katarina Macleod says in a low yet firm voice.
At the age of five, Katarina Macleod was sexually abused daily by her older brother’s friend. Sometimes she was raped twice a week and sometimes weekly; this went on for three years until her parents divorced and the family relocated.
The abuse didn’t stop there, she was raped again at the age of nine and maintained unhealthy, abusive relationships. These early events of abuse were the catalyst that led her to a physically and emotionally degrading life, in the sex trade industry.
“I quickly learned that men will take what they want and I figured that was sex. I became very promiscuous,” recalls Katarina.
In a sexual abuse study conducted by the University of Hawaii, it was discovered that the majority of prostitutes have been victims of sexual violence. Additionally, more than 90 per cent suffered childhood sexual abuse. The Australian Centre for the study of sexual assault suggested that an intense fear of death and disassociation are natural physical responses to sexual abuse.
In Katarina’s case she explains how abuse became a normal part of her life and she quickly learned how to disassociate herself. When she serviced clients, she recalls feeling so violated that she again disassociated herself from the situation. In the study “Cycle of child sexual abuse,” Professor Kolvin states, “Child sexual abuse victims are at a higher specific risk of prostitution as adults regardless of gender.”
“Sixty-five per cent to 95 per cent of women who are in prostitution were sexually assaulted as children. Whilst, 85-95 per cent of those in prostitution want to escape, but have no survival options,” according to Prostitution Research & Education.
“When women are abused, they conceptualize the abuse as that being all they’re good for. It’s a reaction to how the person deals with trauma,” says Chicago School of Professional Psychology Masters student, Javano Thompson.
Katarina bitterly recalls her first boyfriend, who continued a pattern of abuse.
“My first boyfriend was 18 and I was 12, he constantly beat me. But what I remember the most was him throwing a screwdriver at me and the screwdriver getting stuck in my head.” Reflecting on her silence, Katarina reminisces about becoming so accustomed to being abused and threatened that she eventually learned to be quiet.
Relationships like this paved the way for an unforgiving life in the sex trade filled with haunting memories that even time cannot erase.
When Katarina was 17 she married an abusive man. Her husband was in and out of jail, so he would ask a friend to keep an eye on Katarina and her two kids. This man would play a pivotal role in her eventual career as a prostitute.
Her husband’s friend, Mike* treated the family as if they were his own and he was genuinely nice to her, a feeling she wasn’t accustomed to. Her husband being in jail proved to be a blessing in disguise as the absence of the abuse rebuilt her confidence and fueled her decision to leave her husband.
This decision however proved to be costly, as her husband constantly stalked her, eventually breaking in her house and raping her.
Afraid to press charges, because of the thought of what he might do to her, Katarina agreed to go on a weekend trip with Mike to clear her head. She left her kids with her mother with promises of returning. When she returned, she discovered that her husband had taken her daughter and refused to bring her back. With the situation quickly escalating the police became involved.
It was then that her story took an even more bizarre turn.
The next morning, Mike took her for a ride to clear her mind. He admitted to killing her husband the night before and explained they were on the way to bury him. Over the next three years, Mike held her hostage using brutal cruelty.
As part of Mike’s plan to deter the police, Katarina attended a women’s abuse group, where she met a woman, whom she eventually found out was Mike’s father ex-girlfriend. This woman offered her a job and Katarina accepted believing she could save money and escape. Under the belief she would work to save money and eventually escape, she voluntarily accepted the job. It wasn’t long until she found out that all the events were a part of Mike’s plan to brutally torture and control her.
Studies show that women who “choose” prostitution do so out of immediate necessity – debt, unemployment and poverty. They consider resorting to prostitution as temporary means of making money and assume as soon as the debt is paid or a certain sum is earned, they will go home.
At the age of 21 after being a stay at home mom for several months, Katarina entered the sex trade voluntarily. She remembers feeling worthless, as if the only thing she was capable of doing was sexual deeds. She thought that the sex trade would help her provide for her family.
“I remember my first day working as a prostitute, my first client stunk of cologne and his breath smelled of stale cigarettes. I was so nervous that he asked if I was okay, after explaining to him this was my first day and he was my first client, he told me not to worry as he would be gentle.”
A single mother struggling to survive, she could not have known that this life wasn’t something you get out of easily. No one prepared her for the amount of abuse she took and witnessed, even if they did, everything she had experienced in life reestablished the thought that she belonged in the trade.
“When you work in a brothel, they accommodate you but you are responsible for cleaning and your condoms,” said Katarina.
The brothel Katarina describes was low end and dirty, there was a waiting room for clients and five or six rooms for services. There were no showers or sinks and sometimes the girls had to sleep in the same bed they serviced clients in.
Working as a prostitute proved to be no easier. “I always felt violated, it truly felt like rape again and again. I learned to disassociate myself from the situation by counting the holes in the ceiling or dreaming that I was somewhere else.”
For workers of the sex trade, prostitution is much like sex trafficking. Public Safety Canada defines human trafficking as the act of depriving people from their normal lives and forcing them to provide their labour or sexual services through a variety of coercive practices, all for the direct profit of their perpetrators.
Human sex trafficking is modern slavery in the form of manipulation. The victims are all robbed of their basic human rights and exploited for profits. A prostitute generates between $300 and $1500 daily for her john, only receiving 5 per cent of the profits, according to the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.
“I was moved around by my pimp to a lot of different cities and cheap hotels. It was tiring and I was forced to sleep in the same bed I serviced customers in,” recalls Katarina.
Manipulation is just one method of coercion to keep these women working in a trade that is neither profitable to them nor their bodies. Continued abuse also plays a role in the manipulation process of these women. Women are severely beaten and abused as a control mechanism.
“My first two weeks in the sex trade, I was anally raped – I had been punched, choked, had my hair pulled out, spat upon and my jaw was dislocated. All because I had refused to do certain things, “Katarina bitterly recalls the memories.
Victims are chosen for various reasons. However, studies show that women and girls who are poor, uneducated and naïve are targeted more because they are easy to control. In addition, girls from the middle class who have been sexually abused until they no longer have the will to resist abuse and exploitation are also targeted.
“Traffickers and pimps search for vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem, lonely women and girls that crave attention. They hang around group homes, shopping malls, bus stops and use Facebook and dating websites,” says Katarina.
It is almost as if abusers can sense the insecurities and self-hatred of these women to use it for their gain. Women that are subjected to sexual abuse are so accustomed to disassociating themselves that it becomes a routine, never allowing themselves to separate from the constant abuse and shame.
A study on Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries states that 95 per cent of women in the sex trade business in Canada want to leave prostitution; whilst 82 per cent want treatment for drug or alcohol addictions.
There’s a continued representation that the sex trade is volunteer and women are free to go at any time. As this may be the case for some women, the abuse received by the majority of women suggests that the ability to leave is lost within the feelings of self-worth.
While there are no statistics to suggest how many women leave the sex trade, it is clear that attempting to leave the industry results in a number of formidable barriers. Women who have been abused and mistreated by people who they once trusted will have a hard time trusting anything that anyone says about exiting. These women require intensive support and encouragement to break free from prostitution.
Katarina recalls getting out as being the hardest thing she ever did. “The money was the biggest hold and having to live below the poverty line was tough.”
“The mental and emotional damage it has caused me is unbelievable. I suffer from Collective Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something I will have forever,” says Katarina.
Names were changed at the request of Katarina
Photo Credit: Patheos,