It happens a lot more than you think.
This story is republished from The Establishment, a publication that believes conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded and run by women, The Establishment features new content daily.
I picked up on something in his text messages and emails — they were demanding, bossy, and paternalistic. This was a client who had been attempting to contact me since October, but I decided to ignore him. The client kept contacting me. He was persistent. I’m a sex worker, and as such, I confront decisions regarding safety and sanity and money on a fairly frequent basis. The client’s vibe was just too weird, even for me, a veteran in the field of absurdity, social outcasts, and patriarchs desperately reaching for the touch of a young girl. Unsure how to placate his aggressive energy, I finally told him that I had left the business.
But he found my advertisements online. “Everywhere,” he wrote to me in a text message three months later. “It’s clear that you’ve returned to the industry.” In the lull of the Christmas season, clients were feeling broke and weighing familial obligations — with the holiday season’s moralism, I was left with an empty schedule and a hungry wallet. I agreed to meet with him.
The man was very old. How old, I couldn’t tell. He had crow’s feet in his eyes and a potbelly that threatened to pop the buttons of the Ralph Lauren polo that lurched over his waistline. Fine white tufts receded into his hairline; dandruff coated the shoulders of his black blazer.
He wrapped his arms around my waist on the suede sofa in front of the TV and offered me a glass of wine; he ran his fingers covetously between the small slice of space between my stockings and my naked upper thigh. As I drew closer to him, I smelled something rancid. His musky underarms combined with the smell of feet, urine, cum, a day of hard work at the office, and god knows what else.
In a feeble, but valiant attempt to hold back my disgust, I traced the surface of his crinkled khakis. He took my small hand in his, kneading it like the soft limb of a Raggedy Anne doll, and explained to me that he was a dominant. That I should call him sir. But that before we began, he would like to know what my limits were. I told him I was extremely open, but for now the most important thing for him to know was that I needed him to use a condom when we had sex.
“Well, as we explore the world of BDSM together, we’ll see what your limits really are and if I can convince you otherwise.” A chill went down my spine, but I left the hotel room that day in one piece, with several hundred dollars extra in my pocket.
* * *
On St. Patrick’s Day, he contacted me again. I remembered how unpleasant he had been. I had just spent an obscene amount on advertising, and in my unrealistic state of financial mania, I agreed to meet with him. I had survived once. I had survived a lot. I had seen a lot. No one had fucked with me yet. “You can handle this,” I told myself.
He sent me a text message with his room number, and when I arrived, I rapped my cold knuckle against the door cautiously. He led me back to the suede couch where he had sat on my face months prior and we chatted, I’m not sure what about. I asked him vague questions about his business trip and how he had been. I giggled at the right times and smiled at others, trying to hold eye contact without collapsing like a house of cards. He said he had been to Tokyo and London. He said none of that mattered now, that this was his last stop, and that he had been looking forward to seeing me for months. He was so happy to see me. I couldn’t say the same.
I swallowed hard, clinked my glass to his, and said, “Well, cheers to that,” and opened my painted lips like a broken toy doll. It was the only thing I could think of to say. I held my breath to avoid inhaling too much of the scent that my memory had done such a good job of suppressing until now. He pushed the hair out of my face and informed me that we were going to the bedroom. I tried to push away my nausea. I thought about the money at the other end of this, grabbed his hand, and with put-on girlish excitement, skipped to the bedroom, his sloth-like body in tow.
“Take off your clothes,” he said.
I quietly complied. Wordlessly I unbuckled the straps of my favorite sandals, shimmied out of my skirt, and took off my sweater. I paused when I got to my bra and panties. Staring like a hungry wolf, he sat opposite me, wet circles of sweat swelling beneath the armpits of his dress shirt. My eyes met his, his pupils dilated, his hairy arm snaked across the firm mattress, and with two stubby fingers he pushed my sternum backwards into the gilded Egyptian cotton.
As he fastened restraints onto my ankles and wrists, I inhaled deeply and meditated on all the possible violence that could occur at this moment. I made some jokes and made him laugh because I knew the show wasn’t anywhere near being over yet. He brought out a huge Hitachi magic wand and buzzed its circular surface up and down my pelvic bone, where he seemed to think my clit was located. I managed some soft whimpers and feigned arousal. “Oh, he’s getting excited now,” my client said, stroking the bulge buried in his gray boxer briefs.
Fair enough. Hopefully that meant we’d be done soon. I arched my back into the mattress and opened up my legs, scanning down my naked body to the bedside table, where I’d conveniently placed several condoms in varying sizes. He started humping me, holding my knees into my chest. I got breathy, hoping to eschew any opportunity to prolong the session. He thrust into me with all his force. His pinky-sized dick slid up and down the lips of my tragically wet pussy. With increasing aggression, he throttled my pelvic region, finally sliding his uncovered penis inside me.
I placed my feet on his soft chest and, with all the force I could muster, kicked him backwards. He stumbled back a few steps before falling to the ground. “That is not okay,” I said, breaking with my script. “This cannot happen without a condom.” I spoke as if I was scolding a small child.
“This is not a joke. It’s my safety. There are condoms right there. If you would like to have sex with me, you need to wear one. I have absolutely no problem leaving.”
He looked at me, and then down at the floor, saying nothing. He looked back at me and kissed me. Pulling on the canvas restraints that held my ankles to my wrists, he flipped me over onto my stomach. I tumbled onto a heap of butt plugs that he had bought just for the occasion. Then I felt him on top of me. The long, yellowing nails of his hobbit fingers gripped my waistline, pulling me closer to his body, dragging my back into his sweating, hog-like body in hollow claps of slapping flesh. I felt something in my asshole. Maybe a finger or a butt plug. Something — I just wasn’t sure what.
Then I realized he was inside me. I realized he was anally raping me. I lay there looking at my nail polish, red like cherries in the spring on the white sheets. I stared beyond the ends of my long lashes and felt my nose crunch into the down pillow. I wondered if I was right — was he really inside me? Was this really happening? How could he be doing this when literally seconds prior, I had specified that under no circumstances was he to enter me without a condom?
I knew that if I wanted to, I could kick from behind. I knew I could get him on his back and even probably choke him if necessary. I had been taking kickboxing and self-defense classes and knew that the right calculated slither from beneath him could foil the violent desire of his pinky-sized, but all-powerful, penis. Completely clearheaded, I envisioned the exact movement of my limbs that would render him powerless. I knew I could push him off the bed, choke him, and throw a fairly decent punch.
But if I resisted, I mused, what would happen? If I was going to get him off me, it might mean injuring him. What would happen to me, a young girl working in an illegal trade, if I hurt this man? Scratches or marks were courtroom collateral that could be held against me. If I fought, I would be leaving without compensation. If I fought, he could retaliate and rape again, or worse. If I fought and ran into the streets, soaked by green beer, I could be followed by civilians seeking to save me from sex-trafficking, or worse, vigilante justice seekers looking to avenge my John for his injuries.
If I fought, I could be arrested. New York state laws explicitly exclude prostitution from rape protection laws. I didn’t think today was a day I would lose my life, and had I been at real risk of being murdered, I thought to myself, the situation and the risks incurred by my potential resistance would carry a far different weight.
I remembered the expressions on the faces of the doormen as I entered. Everyone knows what it means when a beautiful young girl in a trench coat and red lips walks into an upscale hotel room for exactly one hour and then leaves. I remembered the silence of the middle-aged tourists in the elevator, how they had looked at me, the ambient tension brought to the surface by a whore’s presence.
I had no choice but to summon my most convincing performance of clueless high-school girl and as I emitted the perfectly crafted moans of fake pleasure, I prayed to whatever god does or does not exist that my client would cum quickly and that all of this would soon be over. It was only a few seconds before I felt his hot cum inside me. After his final gurgle of exhausted ecstasy, he rolled over beside me. The liquid trailed the inside of my ass, and slowly drizzled down my perineum.
Without pause I hopped off the bed and flew as quickly and gracefully as possible into the bathroom to wash myself off. “Wow, that felt great,” he exhaled into the comforter. I wondered if he was aware that he had just raped me. “I love fucking girls in the ass. It’s almost the same as the other way; it’s just a little bit tighter. I don’t have the right size dick that’s ideal for ass fucking, but I sure do love it.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah that felt really good,” I half yelled from the marble bathroom. I looked at my naked body in the mirror. What the fuck was happening? I didn’t have time to think about it. I only had time to make sure I came out of this alive. “Sweetie, can you bring me a hot towel, while you’re at it?” he called.
“Sure thing!” I pushed away his moldy bag of toiletries and turned the hot water on. I took a deep breath, putting the fluffy hand towel under the lukewarm water.
“Here you go,” I said, sweeping off the remaining cum from his crotch with the white linen. I smiled because I felt like I had no choice. I giggled girlishly when he asked me to lie down and snuggle. I looked at the digital clock on the bedside table. We still had 40 minutes left of session. I sighed and laid my head on his heaving body because I felt like that was what I had to do. I didn’t have anything to say and I wasn’t in a position to make pleasantries. I waited for him to speak. He pinched my nipples and told me about his wife. I tried to keep breathing.
He went off about how he likes to take girls to Atlantic City for long weekends. He told me he liked playing with me, and he would write a review of my services; he would take me out to dinner. “That sounds nice,” I said, sweetly, smiling and batting my eyelashes as if it was possible to speak to god through the performance of beauty and perceived feminine purity.
I have never felt so powerless as I did within this moment. I cannot explain to you how it feels to have all of your human rights and physical and emotional strength eclipsed by the existence of bureaucratic structures, which quite literally do not recognize your personhood. At some level, I’m not upset that this happened. I’m not fazed by the fact that sex workers get raped, and that this time, I was one of them. I know this happens. At some level, I expected it to happen to me at some point. For me as a sex worker, the prospect of rape is a fairly mundane factor in the extremely dangerous and illicit work I do.
I enter every room ready to be killed. I meet new clients and I imagine what they can do to me and how I am going to escape. I look at everything they do. I watch their grip on glasses of wine and the way their eyes flicker from my body to the bed. I think about every word they send me in text messages and emails. I look at the speed of their wrists when they unsnap my suspenders or unzip the flies on their pants. I listen to the tone they use when they answer the door and when they suggest that we “get more comfortable.”
I reach for their dicks when they are halfway inside me to make sure that they haven’t slipped the condom off. I do this even with my regulars who I see on a weekly basis. I do this with clients who have told me their whole life stories, who I know everything about, clients who I actually enjoy seeing. I want to trust them, but the sad reality is that, due to the systems in place, I can’t afford to relax into the illusion of trust and safety.
Sex workers are soldiers. We never, ever get to turn off. If you don’t understand this, then you are fundamentally misunderstanding what makes sex work “work” rather than play. Period.
I most certainly don’t show up to work thinking that I’m about to have a great time. I’m providing a service at my own risk. No one even has to say that to me for me to know it’s true that women get raped every second of every day, and that even those who aren’t sex workers have trouble achieving justice. From day one, women are told that there are good girls and bad girls, and bad girls have it coming to them. The parameters of our existence as femme-identified people and women are strictly policed with ambient threats of persistent violence.
Though I am emotionally equipped for the plausibility and total likelihood that I will be raped or even murdered at work, there is no amount of conviction, physical strength, or intuitive savvy that can protect me as a person who leads a criminalized existence. Because I am a sex worker, even though I am a fairly privileged sex worker, I do not have the basic rights that all human beings should. Yes, assault is assault and rape is rape, and the stakes are high for every single person who encounters abuse and assault. We can acknowledge that all women experience these things, but it’s simply not true that sex workers have the same experience with sexual violence that other women do.
The part of me that walks away from this rape scenario knowing that it was a matter of time is, yes, deeply fucked up. My stone-faced blasé-ness in the face of this violence is an internalized victim blaming. But more than that, it’s the result of systemic injustice that is applied to all victims of sexual violence, and especially to violence against sex workers.
I know too many women who have been hurt. There’s a serial killer who targets sex workers in Long Island, there’s a serial rapist who calls girls to his house in New Jersey to then rape them. I’ve heard stories of police actually laughing in the face of workers who report violence on the job. I’ve been to vigils full of crying women and trans people and LGBTQ providers, many of whom are acquaintances or friends of mine. This happens, and it happens fairly frequently. I see the stories in my email inbox, hear about it from my loved ones; I see it on the news. I know that it happens, but more importantly I know that, in the majority of cases, no one gives a fuck.
Why? Because we’re whores. Because everybody knows we had it coming. Because we could have chosen a less dangerous profession like a retail job or a waitress position in lieu of sex work. Because a whore is a woman who has plummeted from her celestial virgin state to the rock bottom, to the sewers of despicable human existence. A whore’s life is meaningless. She and the pain she carries are irrelevant, save for the moment when her soft lips cradle your hardening dick. These ideas are hundreds and hundreds of years old, and they need to change.
* * *
Serial rapists and murderers often target sex workers, with full knowledge that those workers are the most vulnerable due to their lack of protection under the law, before moving on to target other women. It’s almost impossible to get real statistics on the subject of sexual violence against workers due to the criminal nature of our work, but estimates say that those in the sex trade have a 45% to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence on the job. There are numerous examples of murderers and rapists who target sex workers — but what’s troubling is that, more often than not, we don’t take this violence seriously when it is recounted by those who experience it first hand. What’s troubling is that we know this information and have known it for quite some time, yet the powers at large begrudgingly refuse to acknowledge that it is necessary for serious change to occur.
I don’t feel like I can afford to be silent. As a person with privilege, I worry about the hundreds and thousands of sex workers who will be murdered and raped in the remainder of 2016, and I know that we are very, very far from achieving justice — even if decriminalization happens, that does not compensate for the fact that I will be living with this for a long time.
I will be thinking about all the women I don’t know who will be meeting with this man. I will be wondering about all the other women he says he has met with and wondering if they were also raped. I will be wondering if he has killed anyone before. Even as I write this I wonder what the consequences are of speaking out — what happens when my mother googles my name and finds this? What happens if my rapist finds this? What happens if the police see this? What happens when I want to apply for some normal ass job and this article pops up? What happens when x y z?
I don’t have any answers or brilliant ideas. I can’t sit here and allow myself to get tangled in a web of criminal paranoia while other, less privileged members of my community get abused, threatened, killed, raped, and jailed. What I can do, however, is seek healing in telling you my story, and hope that within it, you see some refraction of humanity’s struggles and joys that are worth fighting for. I can hope that you will understand that I am a person whose pain is real, and that there are millions of others just like me, and that this will encourage you to re-examine your ideas about sex work and join us in the fight for our rights.