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Some of the following testimonies, delivered with precision, calm, anger and exasperation, by survivors of the prostitution and porn industries, are horrifying.
The women’s experiences and expertise, at the Nordic Model Now! (NMN) conference in London recently, sat alongside presentations from experts in social work, charities and academia.
There is a sense of burn-out from all, but there is never resignation; enough is enough, and the focus is on radical change.
It’s clear that the term “misogyny” is not enough here. The behaviour of many men towards vulnerable women shows contempt, yes, but more than that: the goal is one of ruination. There is bloodlust, fuelled by porn which is being made ever more violent. Today’s porn is the ammunition which supplies a war against women, and those who are prostituted find themselves in a gruesome front line.
Kick-starting the event, “Breaking the cycle,” was renowned campaigner and mentor to young girls, Fiona Broadfoot, who had been groomed and trafficked into prostitution at the age of 15.
“I’m absolutely exhausted,” she said. “It’s worse than one could ever imagine it was going to be. I was so naive, 28 years ago when I first shared my lived experiences, that we would eradicate the sex trade, once I started to speak out. Not in my wildest nightmares did I imagine that we’d be in the state we’re in today … boys and young men are getting more and more confident in their abuse … sexual violence is so normalised, and the girls daren’t say no, daren’t challenge it. They’re terrified of these young men.”
Broadfoot, exhausted though she may feel, lights up when she talks about her work with the Build a Girl project in Bradford.
“I talk about feminism, about the patriarchy — and they’re amazing young women. Not on my watch will they be groomed into this hell.
“I work with as many girls as I can, but it’s overwhelming. They hate themselves, they have anxiety, they arrive at my door, terrified. But I will maintain a female, safe space; no way am I going to change that.”
Prostituted women, she said, were criminalised, yet pimps and buyers were never held accountable.
“Once you’ve been violated, you do not ever recover. You are maimed for life, shattered for life.
“Now we’re in the mess we are, and OnlyFans is a job option for our young women.”
One speaker with personal experience of OnlyFans, the online subscriber platform whose “adult content” is mainly porn, was Roxie Roots. A survivor of child sexual exploitation, she recalled seeking out sexual relationships with men from the age of 13.
“I was traumatised. I did not get the help I needed. I was clearly not well.”
Roots found herself lured into porn websites, and even after exiting the industry, remains harmed: “I will be forever haunted by the material that I’m not able to get off the internet. There are moments when I sit on the bus, or on the train, where a man looks at me for too long, and I think ‘oh my god, he knows, he knows’.”
NMN supporter Natalie Robertson read an account from “Mila,” whose narrative started with teenage curiosity. She said: “I was first introduced to the world of sugaring by a girl I sat next to in English.”
She set up profiles on two sugar daddy websites: Seeking Arrangement (rebranded as Seeking) and the chillingly labelled What’s Your Price. “Sugar daddies” pay to set up an account; it’s free for “sugar babies” to join.
A period of glamorous “dates” ensued, with Mila bringing in schoolfriends.
Her rationalisation is very telling, involving a cruel distortion of feminism: “We framed the buying of our time as fucking the system, fucking the patriarchy, these disgusting men were fools and we were exploiting them by playing to their creepy tendencies.
“…the dissociation was in full swing, and for me to allow myself to stop was for me to accept that I had exploited myself, a reality far too painful for me to digest. I didn’t have to: the feminism I was exposed to was telling me that selling my body was a form of empowerment, that I was sexually liberated, that capitalising on patriarchal constructs for financial gain was the ultimate middle finger to the patriarchy.”
It became evident that this faux feminism did nothing to uphold the dignity and safety of women.
“I was pressured into receiving acts that hurt, and performing acts that made my skin crawl. I was plied with drugs and alcohol, and in some cases, berated if I was apprehensive about taking whatever drug the client was taking, even when I told them I had to go home to my parents, or had school the following day.
“Liberal feminism cleaned the wounds, told me I was a liberated and empowered woman taking charge of her body and her destiny, and when my desperate, distraught mother discovered what I was doing, reminded me she was a fusty old Swerf who didn’t understand modern feminism. [Swerf, sex worker exclusionary radical feminist].”
Mila exited the “sugaring” world, but the harm was done.
“I accepted I’d been manipulated, raped, abused by these men, but what hurt the most was the realisation that I had been groomed by the internet, and groomed by liberal feminism.”
Among several international speakers at the conference were Alyssa Ahrabare and Ursula Le Menn, representing French feminist campaigning group, Osez le Feminism! (Dare Feminism!), involved in two criminal cases against the porn industry.
The “Jaquie and Michel” case refers to the eponymous porn website. Owner Michel Piron was indicted last year for complicity in rape and human trafficking in an organised gang. An associate was indicted for complicity in rape with an act of torture and barbarity. The case is ongoing.
The second, connected, campaign is the “French bukkake” case. After three years of investigation, criminal proceedings are scheduled for summer 2024. Charges against two porn producers include rape, aggravated pimping and aggravated human trafficking. (Bukkake, a sex act where one “participant” is ejaculated on by a number of others.)
France already has the Nordic model, whereby pimps and buyers of prostitution can be charged. The crux of the Osez group’s argument is that prostitution had to occur for the porn film to be made.
Ahrabare gives a trigger warning before going into detail. The film involved hundreds of men, responding to a call-out — on Twitter, no less — to take part, turning up at a warehouse, where they raped women over a period of two days.
“Large numbers of hooded men take turns penetrating a woman’s mouth and vagina with their penises, until she chokes. They all ejaculate on her until her face and eyes are covered. She is put on a pallet like merchandise. Some women are penetrated more than 80 times in less than two hours.”
The case alleges that the female victims were held against their will, drugged, raped and tortured.
There is a deathly silence in the hall as Ahrabare reveals the number of men involved: 500.
“Everyday men. Porn consumers who were invited to collectively rape and torture women on camera. They are not yet being prosecuted.”
The theme of fake feminism emerged again, in the presentation from Dr Gail Dines, who has devoted more than 30 years to examining the effects of porn.
She cited the way in which porn “got hijacked by third wave, neoliberal feminists into being seen as sexual empowerment.”
Analyses of porn scenes showed that at least 90 per cent involved violence against women; Dines said she no longer saw any “mainstream” porn where this was not the standard characteristic.
One of the acts that dehumanised women was gagging: “This is where the penis is so far down the throat that she starts to gag, and she can’t breathe … tears are streaming down her face. Sometimes she vomits, and they keep that scene in.”
Strangulation was also popular, as was rough anal sex, and spitting in the face.
I wonder if anyone, knowing all this, would parrot the perversion that porn is simply “harmless fun.” I’d ask them to think of the women, of all ages, from every background, groomed, trafficked, duped, degraded, traumatised; women for whom mere “survival” is a state they aspire to, and one which often eludes them.
NMN has a petition to ban the online sale of women for sex:
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