Gaslighting Prostitution Survivors

Gaslighting Prostitution Survivors

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The internet has the potential to encourage interactions that are deeply corrosive and belligerent and that do not comprise of healthy, productive dialogues between the correspondents. This becomes increasingly problematic in amongst a culture wherein some people (often members of special interest groups) believe that someone who disagrees with them, literally has no right to do so. As I have discussed before, there is a tendency to create opinion hierarchies, so that individuals can caste themselves into a space where their  views cannot be challenged. This is not conducive to  intellectual democracy.

Often the best, and only healthy way, of navigating such social media sites, is to learn when to put down an argument, when to walk away. Knowing when certain interactions will further neither your confidence nor your knowledge. After all, effective engagement is not the prerogative of many people who slide in to your threads and mentions. An undermining, dismissing, attacking, devaluing and mocking attitude borne of narcissism, self obsession, megalomania and even perhaps, mild sociopathy, are not uncommon modes of discourse.

Indeed, the fact that these operations find themselves becoming the modus operandi of certain political groups – such as MRAs and the pro-prostitution rally – is really not surprising. What they share is a dogged belief that they represent some form of progressive politics, that arrives out of  their own misplaced sense of rhetorical subjugation, when in fact both groups represent a monochromatic attitude. The combination between believing themselves to be the underdogs, whilst actually galvanising quite regressive and conservative values, is what makes them feel like they are entitled to badger and bully anyone who disagrees. It is a similar dynamic that often makes the far right so unashamedly virulent in their attitude and their belief in their own academic victimhood. And what excuses them in their displays of homophobia, misogyny and racism.

Those who advocate for the legitimisation of prostitution can be masters of this fallen art. Because prostitutes themselves are an extremely socially disadvantaged group, there is often a confusion between actual material disadvantage, and rhetorical, academic disadvantage. Pro-prostitution thinkers believe that they are ignored in debates and absent from public attention, when in fact the reality is, prostitutes are one of the most studied and expressive occupational demographics of recent decades. TV debates, documentaries, autobiographical fictions, articles published by online medias, contain a  plethora of  the personal views and stories of people working in prostitution or sex work. Indeed, it is often those who have the most romantic, titillating and glamourised visions of themselves and their work who get the most airplay. Because shallow conceptualisation and sex really do sell.

In fact, I would strongly argue that it is in fact ex prostitutes (or survivors as some prefer to term themselves) who are much more absent from discussions, especially in recent years. And yet, if you are an ex prostitute, and you have the temerity to criticise the industry in any fashion, you’d better arrive at social media or internet debates bearing a heavy layer of Teflon, because some serious shit will be flung around.

Most people have probably had some experience with a friend who is clearly being either fully mistreated and abused, or undermined and humiliated by a spouse’s infidelity. When someone tries to point out to them that they may be experiencing disrespect, it is often easier for the proverbial messenger to be roundly admonished and/or exiled from the friendship. That is because, it is simply easier for someone to do that, that to negotiate any unfairness that may be built into the structure of their relationships. Often, it is also these people who are most defensively willing to paint the facades of their relationships in bright, summer colours.

For women in particular, pointing out that your mate’s great love is cheating on her, may find you experiencing the metal of her anguish and resentment. I’ve been there. I’ve been the troublemaking friend, who is so embittered, that she desperately wishes to destroy someone else’s fraudulent happiness.

Now, when it comes to the topic of prostitution – and as an ex prostitute myself – I don’t make a habit of digitally showing up on other prostitute profiles, to tell them I think that they are subjugated. For a start, I tend to view things in terms of trends, and not absolutes and thusly I try not to make assumptions about any individual.  More often than not, it is I who has been on the receiving end on initial contacts, often by  women in prostitution who are angry that my very minor social media profile, my blog or the very few articles I have written, promote a critical outlook on prostitution.

The idea that a former prostitute might criticise the industry, is clearly, extremely threatening. We are the witches on the hilltop; our cynicism our ebony furred familiar. For criticising the industry and the dynamics within it, one becomes that embittered friend, who is fundamentally decomposed by duplicity and destructiveness. My husband is not cheating on me, you’re jealous, you’re bitter, you lie! The punters don’t have misogyny or sexual entitlement, they value and respect me! They don’t hate me! You lie! It is worse however, because we are not necessarily categorising other people’s experiences, as much as expressing our own.

One of the most sinister methods of aggressive dismissal has been to express the belief that any documentation of discomfort about the industry arrives out of a failing in the person themselves.. There are some statistics that seem to suggest that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an ailment often suffered by those in prostitution. However, many who support the idea of prostitution as ‘work like any other’ dismiss these findings, because if someone suffers from PTSD as a result of prostitution, then this is – at best – an unfortunate happenchance for the sufferer, or at worst, a sign of poor character and personal deficiency. Added to the oft hurled accusation that an ex industry blogger or activist is lying about having been a prostitute, or is in any case unable to understand her own experience, this amounts to some serious gaslighting.

The willingness to behave in this manner comes from a belief in one’s own victimhood. If you believe you are a victim of someone  despite any material evidence -, then you feel more able to actively try and hurt them. Often the abusive spouse in a relationship has convinced themselves that they are indeed the victim, against all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps, because they have indeed been a victim in other parts of their life, so they embrace that status in other interactions. Prostitutes have indeed, often been ignored in the past, especially by religious authorities that viewed them as sinful marriage wreckers. However this inculcation with that history enables them to believe that anyone who criticises them is functioning similarly, and thusly their humanity can be thoroughly undermined.

In any case, it isn’t possible to try and rewrite these conversations on a daily basis. When someone is so convinced that you have literally no right to an opinion, that they will do anything to try and stop you expressing yourself productively, there is no negotiation, no compromise, no dialectic. The only way to overcome gaslighting, is to have faith in one’s own ability to express oneself reasonably. To have valid opinions and ideas, and for them to be worthy of expression, even if not everyone agrees. To be sure in the fact that you have a right to your own space in the conversation, and that someone else’s narcissism does not trump your freedom of speech.

And of course, there is always Block.

Rae Story
Vegan & vegetarian food writing and recipes. Organic, biodynamic & permaculture movements, travel & ethical & alternative lifestyling. Side interests in film, literature, politics & feminism.


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