A guest blog from Alison, one of he organisers of the birthday event last week that we were so pleased to be part of.
Thanks for this A ( and for all your hard work too of course!)
“The capital city of Scotland has lots of distinguishing features. One is that it has more saunas on its streets than any other Scottish city and another is that it has more private schools than any other Scottish city. Yesterday, 26 kids aged 17 and 18 came from one of these schools to see and learn from the Inside Outside exhibition.
When I suggested this to the teachers at the school in September they were really keen, so keen and so willing to involve the kids. I met with the staff and showed them the book of Inside Outside. I wanted to make sure that they knew something of what the project was saying so that there was no misunderstanding about the power and impact of the women’s work. The staff were still really keen and very excited. This was way out of the realms of the usual school trip but they were going for it.
Yesterday the group arrived, they stood around politely listening. The staff from SACRO and I stood behind – I think we were all waiting for someone to find it all too much and we were there at the back to manage that without it becoming an issue. we tried to make the kids feel safe. They had to imagine a loved woman in their lives and take her on their journey round the exhibition with them. As they heard about Joanne’s story, some eyes went to the floor. She wasn’t much older than them. One of them related some of the words to the storyline of ‘I, Daniel Blake’. They were getting it!!
All of these young people from privileged and protected backgrounds were completely engaged by the stories of Natasha, Katie, Wendy, Natalia and Sarah-Jane. 26 pairs of eyes never left her or the photos on the walls. After more than an hour, they were all able to find threads through the stories which joined the women. “These women are all so strong” one girl said. Everyone nodded. “Why doesn’t someone change the law and not have this?” another asked. Why indeed.
They decorated masks depicting women being silenced with red tape across the mouth, women broken in two with scars, women with beautiful flowers on their foreheads – so powerful. The young people wrote on the comment cards – emotional and genuine messages.
They want to put something in their school magazine – which goes out to parents. It is glossier and fancier than the Inside Outside book! These young people want their friends and families to see what they were privileged and protected to see yesterday.”
Another guest post from someone who has been to see the exhibition.
Thank you L.
(photo j. Devlin)
“I have been working supporting women involved in prostitution and I am a passionate believer in equality, I keep up to date with news and campaigns, and I care. And still – I am constantly struck with how much I don’t and can’t ever really know about the realities of prostitution, and the experiences of the women within it. More worrying than that, I am close enough to remember how much I thought I understood before entering support work.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
The media feed us so many images of prostitution, TV drama or carefully edited documentaries that give the impression of balance, but that’s never the case. As soon as someone else is involved in the editing process, the story is taken away from the woman who lived it, and becomes something other – if it wasn’t a fiction to begin with. Every documentary has a lens, a perspective, and often this will have been decided before women were even contacted, or with no consultation with women with lived experience at all.
I have been privileged to support a number of clients during my short time as a worker. They have told me their stories, they have revealed what they want to, or are able, and they have kept those things that they are unable to share, or that they want to keep to themselves. What the women are telling me about their experiences, their lives, doesn’t even slightly resemble the impression I had before from the stories that the media and popular culture had fed me.
None of the women are shady background figures; they are not blurry, pixelated images, or backdrops to the main action. These women are smart, funny, caring, constantly surprising, and so considerate. These women turn up and stand up when every circumstance in their lives seems to be conspiring to try and stop them. And sometimes they don’t or can’t – and that’s alright too. The women I work with are incredible. They are mothers, daughters, sisters and more than that they are their own women. There is nothing of that in the media – that strength and resilience. The individuality and spark.
Equally there is so much trauma; so much abuse, such a culture of preying on women who need supporting, and so much pain. Women who have been let down often and repeatedly, undervalued, abused emotionally, physically and financially. You will not understand anything of this world through watching a TV drama or film. The women themselves tell me that prostitution is not empowering. It is not neat and clean and it certainly can’t be packaged for public consumption in giggles and taboos.
The Inside Outside project is so important because it gives the camera to the women whose stories are told. They tell their own story. They are the editor, they get the final selection and the story that is presented on the walls is theirs. It was an absolute privilege to attend the exhibition and to be given that insight and witness such strength – women allowing themselves to be vulnerable in order to educate, to help others and to heal.
You need to go to this exhibition, to engage with the women’s stories and to really let their message in.
Here is your opportunity to scratch the surface, to begin to imagine what it would be like to fully understand. Take it.”
To mark its 10th anniversary, the clinic is bringing Inside Outside, an exhibition featuring the voices, photography and art work of women who are or have been prostitutes, to Sacro’s offices in Albany Street.
The display, produced by Encompass, a network of Scottish agencies dealing directly with women in the sex industry, gave many of those who took part their first chance to tell their stories.
One of the women, Wendy, 36, agrees to talk to me about her descent into heroin addiction and street prostitution, and the effort it has taken to leave it behind.
A petite, live-wire of a woman, she opens the door of the flat she now shares with her seven-year-old son, Jackson, and ushers me in. It is 11am, but she is fully made-up – a symptom she says of her chronic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition common to former addicts.
We take cups of tea into her bedroom. One wall is covered with Sons Of Anarchy paraphernalia. She says the TV series, which charts a biker’s recovery from drug addiction, brought her strength as she battled her own demons.
Wendy’s story is as traumatic as any I have heard: bullied at school, then raped by her uncle at 15, she began to see her body as a commodity, having sex with a succession of boys who used her and moved on. At 20, she fell in love with a heroin addict who beat her and, after a spell in prison, forced her to start using as well.Eventually, she began selling sex on the streets. “I needed money for the drugs,” she says. “I didn’t want to rob people, I didn’t want to shoplift. I justified it to myself by saying that at least this way I was the only one getting hurt.”
Wendy doesn’t understand how anyone can say prostitution isn’t dangerous. “I was terrified in every car I got into,” she says. “You didn’t know if the guy was going to strangle you: all he had to do was lock the door.” She was assaulted many times. But the trauma went beyond the physical. “I always say that, for every car I got in, I might not have been physically raped, but I was emotionally raped, because the whole time you are screaming inside your head: ‘What are you doing? Get out. This is wrong.’”
I ask Wendy if she believes any women are sex workers by “choice”. “Well, the higher end girls – the escorts – maybe. But on the streets every story was tragic, every girl was tragic. I never saw anyone smile,” she says. In the piece she wrote for Inside Outside, she describes seeing a frail Romanian girl – “a bag of bones” – having sex in a doorway. She looked like she was dead inside; like she had given up. “The light had gone out of most of the girls’ eyes, but I must have had a wee spark left,” she says.
Wendy’s journey back was not straightforward; after staying clean for the first three years of Jackson’s life, she suffered a 13-month relapse, during which he went to live with her mother. Today, she is free of drugs – methadone as well as heroin – but she is not yet free of her past. Living back in her home town, she is taunted by teenagers who have heard the rumours. “They shout: ‘hooker’ and ‘how much?’ at me,” she says.She has an on-off relationship with a man she first knew at school, but he is too embarrassed to be seen in public with her. And, in any case, her history of abuse means she now finds any kind of intimacy difficult. “You know how people like to lie and have a hug: it makes me rigid just to think about it,” she says. “I don’t know how to accept someone wanting to put their hands on my hair; I don’t know how to accept someone wanting to hold my hand; I don’t know how to accept someone wanting more than sexual contact because that is all I know.”Nevertheless, her life is improving.
Taking part in Inside Outside has built her confidence and she is currently trying to set up a youth project to help prevent other young people going down the same path; she sees them in her neighbourhood, hanging round kebab shops and smoking bongs.
There is time yet for her to study – she is conspicuously intelligent – but for now she wants to focus on Jackson.
During our interview, Wendy shares some terrible experiences – the time her ex took a piece of her scalp off with a floor brush; the time she was held hostage for 48 hours – but the only moment she cries is when she talks about the impact of her relapse on her son. “It’s really hard to hear that, at three years old, your son felt lonely at nursery because his mummy wasn’t there,” she says. “You beat yourself up. I can’t go back and change things, but I can make sure that every single day of that wee boy’s life from here on in, I will be there 100 per cent.”As Jackson runs into the room and flings himself on top of her, it is clear their bond has been repaired. They have a relationship built on honesty. She has told him she took “bad drugs” and that, for a while, she wasn’t “a good mummy”.
One day she will tell him about her time on the streets; not every single detail, just as much as he wants to hear. “I will do that because I want my son to grow up understanding the world is not always a lovely place,” she says. “It’s not always safe and it is important to treat women with respect; it’s important you don’t use people. As long as Jackson grows up to be a gentleman, I will have done an all right job.”
We just spent a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon with the lovely John – a photographer sent to us to get pictures for a forthcoming article.
I was clear that I did not want stock images to be used for the women from Inside Outside – the usual streetlight with a woman in high heels spotlighted, the woman leaning into a car or the woman with crossed legs sitting on a bed with a pile of money beside her. We have all seen these images too many times.
The paper wanted a picture of me which was quickly rebuffed. That would have put the focus on me and this project is not about me or mine in any way. This is the women’s project and I wanted the photos to capture their work and focus on them.
Also to be honest, I wasn’t up for the usual slew of negative and personal attacks that come my way after such pieces. It will probably happen anyhow with some interesting accusations being levied.
Credit to the journalist, the newspaper and Cat, the photo editor – they really went out of their way to work with us for something different. I think and hope we achieved that.
John arrived with his kit. I thought how Kathryn may have been if she was here. I also thought of Natalia and how she would be tempted by all the cameras and lens etc.
I don’t think we were quite sure where this session would go but in keeping with the spirit of the project – we let it unfold itself, testing out ideas and going for it.
John was a gem, a star. He totally got what the project was about and was moved by the photos and stories. This wasn’t just a bland assignment for him and he totally stepped inside the project for those couple of hours. He was interested in what we had done but more importantly for me, he understood that this was the work of very real women and he wanted to reflect that and do credit to them.
He was impressed by the photos and what this amazing bunch of women had considered and created. He saw real talent and potential there. We see it too but it means a lot to hear it directly from a professional.
His photos are beautiful. Stunning. I cant wait to share them with the women. Thank you John.
We parted with a warm handshake and as I type he is probably buzzing after 2 mugs of the strongest coffee I could brew.
I am buzzing too – with nerves and excitement to see the feature this weekend.
Write a blog about it! That has become one of the phrases linked with the project and the joke is that if you come within 10 metres of the exhibition – we want a blog about it.
This is a lovely post from Caroline, who supported #insideoutsidedundee
thank you Caroline for your blog and thank you for all you have done to support the project. You know how much it is appreciated.
“When I was first told of this project, I was intrigued and believed it would be a great project. This turned out to be true.
Being a woman in her 40s, I was pretty sure I would understand the womens stories. I was delighted to be ask to support this… I was asked to read a couple of the transcripts of the conversations. There my journey began.
It was a chilly day as I recall, sitting in the mezzanine of a studio. Loaded up with a plentiful supply of hot coffee and some wee chocolates, I began to read the first one. My notes were taken and I began to read the second…A flurry of emotions and thoughts were put to paper. I had feelings of..”oh how easily this could have been me!”
I became involved in supporting the exhibition come to Dundee.
I was running a tad late on the date of the opening of the completed exhibition. I quietly entered the entrance to Dundee Unis Dalhousie Building. The opening ceremony was in full swing. I stood quietly at the back and listened to the speakers. Linda was up next….. Hearing her speak so passionately about the project and giving a brief synopsis of the objective, brought tears to my eyes.
I had read some very disturbing and frankly scary things from the women… They had shared so much and I, at times, felt overwhelmed.
The photographs that the women had taken were stunning, however understanding the context of their pics was even more powerful.
The telling thing for me was when my mum came to view the exhibition. She looked at the pictures whilst clutching the book of all the women’s tales… She sat down in the foyer and quietly read through the stories. I left her to it.
As we were leaving, mum was quiet. I asked what did she think of it?
I will never forget the look in her eyes as she spoke to me. there were tears welling up alongside a look of anger.
“Those poor souls. I am so angry that these women had to endure what they did. I hope the girls are dong ok now?”
I took time to explain that I believed the women had moved forward and now felt in control of their lives.
” this could have easily been me!!!” said my mum…. I hugged her a bit tighter as we said our goodbyes for the day.
I was so honoured to help in the little ways that I could, whilst undergoing my own medical issues. I do think EVERY woman can relate to the stories the girls told. countless other towns and cities are affected by the same issues al be it on varying scales.
The sad sorry truth is that these tales could so easily be about any one of us, our mothers, our daughters, our sisters or cousins…
I am so happy to have played a small part in this and hope many towns and cities highlight the issue. It is happening everywhere and is happening now.
The girls are never really far from my thoughts and I continue to hope they are still doing just grand…
Their haunting tales will stay with me for a very long time.”
One of our recent blogs was about the fantastic women at the REconnect project who came along to an exclusive preview of the exhibition at Gala House in the Borders.
Following their visit, they spent time reflecting on what the exhibition had meant for them as a group and individually and worked with Joanne to write this blog post. There is so much in it on the impact on them and what it meant for their own connection to their own stories. We are so grateful for this input and as ever appreciative of the time they have given to the project and the women from Inside Outside.
“I am grateful to the women of the Galashiels ReConnect Group for giving me the opportunity to spend an afternoon with them following their preview of the Inside Outside Borders Exhibition in September. The women were extremely frank about their reactions to the exhibition and I am privileged to be able to recount those reactions on their behalf. I have tried to quote the women as accurately as I can; after all, this is about them, not me.
All of the women found the subject matter challenging to view and for some it evoked personal memories which were difficult to remember. One group member said, “I felt like I was a glass bottle that was smashed on the floor. I have built myself back together but there will always be a bit missing.” The women who shared their stories in the exhibition allowed the group members to recognise others who had been through experiences relatable to their own.
Another group member said, “It made me remember myself. I stopped feeling so bitter.”
The group members felt as though they came to know the women through their honest accounts of their experiences. One group member said, “A very powerful exhibition. I was overwhelmed to actually discover the truth and reality behind it all. It’s great that Linda gave all these brave women a chance to finally tell their story.”
When describing how the exhibition made them feel, the women used words such as angry, drained emotionally, powerful, happier, regained control, overwhelmed and physically sick. This is a small sample – there were many more. What the choice of words shows is that the exhibition produced strong feelings in everybody but not all of these feelings were negative. Some felt that the hopes and dreams of the women allowed themselves to have hope too.
The exhibition left the viewers exhausted but they all agreed that they were glad that they had seen it. One of the women said she was glad the exhibition had been brought to the Scottish Borders where some people are ignorant and small-minded, always putting their heads in the sand, not believing this was something which affected the Scottish Borders. They agreed that society’s attitudes have to change and that exhibitions like Inside Outside are a big step in the right direction. They want men to stop thinking that using women in this way is their right.
Some of the group said their own attitudes had changed since the preview. One woman didn’t know what went on inside saunas. Another said the exhibition highlighted the imbalance in power and control between men and women. Some of the women knew men, family members, acquaintances, friends who had revealed they had paid for sex or used a sauna. Following the exhibition the women wished that they had spoken out at the time instead of accepting this behaviour as the norm.
Finally, I’d like to share some of the messages from the women who viewed the exhibition to the women who shared their stories:
“Natalia – congratulations.”
“You’re all an inspiration.”
“The photos were so clever – telling the stories behind them.”
“You put your heart and soul into this.”
“You’re all real women, no matter what society makes you think.”
“You’re extremely strong.”
“It must have been tough to see it through to the end – it’s amazing.”
“Thank you for sharing.”
One of the members of the group said that these women and others like them are never allowed to forget that they were involved in the sex industry, whether it is a secret they have to carry for the rest of their lives, or the knowledge that other people judge you because of it. This exhibition is an opportunity to start making the changes which are needed. This exhibition is a chance to show everybody the impact on the women involved.
I would like to say thank you to the women whose stories were told through the exhibition but I would also like to thank the women at ReConnect for allowing me to hear their stories too.”
This honest blog from S who recently saw the Inside Outside exhibition in the Borders. Many thanks S for sharing this with us.
“The day after seeing Inside Outside, my friend and I spend the whole of our Friday walk talking about women in prostitution; we go round in the usual circles of why and how, blah blah, and then we remember the flipside, the buyers not the sellers, and it’s a straighter line to follow.
She remembers sharing a flat, all young professionals, in the 1980s: one of the men would order a woman for himself for the evening.
Happily married with children now. Apparently. Who knows.
She remembers the rumours about the woman round the corner: ‘not quite nice’; on her own; children to feed. Was she one of the ones on the menu perhaps?
I remember my father, ballistic, at me, because of what I was wearing on my legs at age 13 (the 60-denier American tan tights affair); at age 15 because I plucked my eyebrows into a thin arch (we are talking early 1970s); at 16 because I made myself a bright red velvet choker to go down the disco. ‘You look like a prostitute.’ I am his worst nightmare? He would know what a prostitute looked like, I suppose, because he had a copy of Playboy (hidden) in his bedside cabinet.
The women who reveal what’s behind the mask in this exhibition know all about shame and silence and illusion. They know about double standards, about who and about happy.
Go to the exhibition.
See for yourself; see what you remember.
See if you are still under any illusions.”
***editor note – I tried to find an image for this piece. I typed in “woman in control” and the majority of the first images were of women leading a man by a tie, standing with her high heeled shoes on his chest or her pulling him behind her. Very similar to alot of the stereotypes of a woman in prostitution, especially at the “high” end of the market / industry and an image certainly perpetuated by a few people in the media.
An interesting but narrow range of choices to show a woman in control – it has to be in relation to a man and not in her own right. ****
“I was thinking about masks and people’s perceptions. People may look at me and think she’s calm and collected. She’s posh. She’s been born with a silver spoon.
How wrong would that perception of me be?
They say I don’t look the type. (What are we supposed to look like? The stereotype?) I’ve worked with hundreds of girls over the years And none of them look the TYPE in my eyes. And yeah that’s probably how I did so well during my work times cause I look “posh”.
I’ve never looked the type in anything I’ve done. Before I used to hide it.
But now I love the shocked look on their faces when I say what I do as a new career now – it’s hilarious. Like yeah bet you didn’t think I was gona Say that. It’s not a bad shocked, it’s a wow shocked.
That wow how has she turned her life around a full 360?
My journey has not been one of a posh silver spooned girl. I have been hurt & broken to a point I couldn’t recognise the person looking back at me. I’ve been through physical and mental abuse from those I trusted, trusted with my life. I’ve been used and abused. People now look at me like I can’t handle myself, how wrong they’d be.
I’m probably more switched on and streetwise than some of the women that look the ‘type’.
My point is not one person has the right to judge and think they know someone’s background just by looking at them. Yeah I may have my stuff sorted now (On the outside anyway) but this has not always been my way. I still toy with the trauma in my head every day and I no doubt always will.
Is it wrong that the pull and idea of going back inside the sex industry still eats me up inside? Weighing up the pros and cons of it. Honestly the way my life is playing out now I could never go back. I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m happy and progressing, moving forward and improving every day.
Life isn’t always as it seems.
Some people will always find the negatives in the positive things you’re doing. Don’t let that get you down. When their judging is clearly their thinking about us. What we’re doing is far more interesting than what they are doing. Let’s not call them haters lets call them fans.
We all wear a mask. The mask is forever changing.
I wear the mask for you and I wear it well it doesn’t slip.
We are the brave ones.”
(ADMIN NOTE – thank you to Katie for this. Her bravery, honesty and courage never cease to amaze us. You know you are an inspiration for us and many others.
I get a lot of contacts from the media. Almost daily in fact.
I had one today from a journalist who thinks she is writing a really cutting edge article but is actually writing an article that has been written many, many, many times before. No fresh angles, no fresh approaches and no fresh voices.
As I read through her proposed questions there was a combination of eye rolling and cursing. It is clear she is completely out of touch with the realities of a lot of women’s lives and the impact this industry can have. If you want someone to discuss “asymmetric criminalisation”, academic theories and comparative international legislative approaches, I am sure there are activists and lobbyists happy to do that. Plenty of them frequently do and no doubt will now feature heavily in this article.
Most journalists usually want to speak directly to women involved. One of the reasons we developed Inside Outside was to give a safe way for women to speak out and have their stories, their realities told too. Many of us know only too well the kind of reactions you can receive when you put your head, face and voice above the parapet to speak about the sex industry. To out yourself as someone who is either still involved or who has exited is rarely a safe thing to do with accusations, false claims and derision coming your way.
Some journalists who seem to think I have a cupboard full of women, all waiting to speak to them. They have a checklist – could I get a woman who was held captive, locked in a brothel? Could I get them a woman who was kidnapped in her country and brought here in shackles? Could I get them a woman who might disclose her punters? Could I get them a woman who had an unplanned pregnancy with a punter?
The list goes on and on and on. When I say no, I will not be putting them in touch with women then often a snippy reply comes back. I am put in my place with a “they don’t need to speak to women we work with as – they already have a woman lined up who will speak about her positive experiences, who is vocal about the benefits she has gained from prostitution or who is willing to have her face shown.” That is great for those women and it is their choice to be interviewed but it may not be the right thing for the many, many other women across Scotland. This can mean a narrow range of voices and experiences are heard.
I received such a request a couple of weeks ago and my alarm bells were ringing. Who was this journalist, what did she want, what was her angle, what was she really hoping to write about and what kind of style did she have. A few conversations later, I had tentative trust in and reassurances from her and we agreed boundaries and no go areas. I felt ok to pass her request on to some of the women from Inside Outside with the understanding that it was entirely their choice to do any interview, they could withdraw at any stage and they would have control over what was being asked / discussed.
Wendy agreed to do an interview. I was on tenderhooks whilst it was happening – many miles away with the exhibition.
Wendy wrote a blog about what that experience was like for her.
“The Power Of The Spoken Word
Calm yourself Wendy girl, I tell myself as I anxiously watch for the car to arrive. I can’t understand why I still get nervous afterall I’ve been talking openly about my time in the Sex Industry for a while now.
Glancing out to the road I see the unfamiliar car park up. Well this is it, she’s here. Breath Wendy just breath. Then with just one warm friendly smile from the woman approaching and I am calm.
I greet her at the door, again her smile and voice having a calming influence.
After some introductions to my home, my son and of course my dog, we begin our discussion. As the tape recorder is set up and put on, already I am opening up about my life and how being involved with Inside Outside has given me a voice that was lost for what felt like an eternity. A voice that is my own.
I try to remain focused. Although this is a media interview we chat over tea and even share a giggle or two. She seems relaxed too, which is something that’s important to me when I welcome someone into our home.
Sharing my story I can see many emotions in her eyes from empathy to sadness to joy. We discuss ‘the mask’ and I am instantly drawn to the mask that hangs on my bedroom wall. I had painted it a couple of years ago while on an arts and crafts day with my wee boy. It was long before my involvement with Inside Outside but since I met Linda and read the other women’s stories that mask has more relevance than I could have ever imagined when painting it.
At one point following a couple of funny interruptions from my boy and dog, we discuss how hard it was for me to find anyone professional or otherwise to discuss my time on the streets. I explain how hard it was to try to get anyone to help me work through the issues that have been left scarred on my heart from those cold lonely nights. I tell her that without Inside Outside I would still be bottling it all up. Inside Outside gave me my Voice and allowed me to use it freely.
She was interested to hear how people react now when I talk about my time inside prostitution and asks me how I feel now discussing these things. I giggle to myself because I am no longer afraid to talk about the awkward stuff as I am comfortable with myself and why I have those awkward conversations.
You see, if someone sees you being calm about a topic which makes them feel uneasy, they have to think about why they feel awkward and if they are thinking, then my words are having an effect. So I intend to keep having those awkward conversations and keep making people think.
People say its only words but words provoke emotions, thought and changes in attitude. When you can see someone feel your pain and joy then the power of the spoken word becomes a very powerful tool. Using my voice and my story with the media is something I will not be sorry for. In fact I am finally proud to stand up and say I made it because so many unfortunate woman don’t.
I hope that she can use my words to help her with her article and hopefully they will make people think about why they feel so awkward about the honest words of a woman they have never met.”