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Inside Outside

the sex industry in Scotland

John

 

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.

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It could have been me

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Heart and soul

 

(image from http://www.amazonaws.com)

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.”

 

Joanne B.

 

 

Choice, consent, control – the flip side of stigma, shame and silence

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 wear a different mask

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(photo by Katie)

“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.”

by Katie

 

(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.

Keep on keeping on. )

 

My Voice

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.

Sigh.

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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.

wendy mask

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.”

 

 

 

 

Connect and Reconnect

Its always nice to meet new people and usually we can all find at least one way to connect and link with each other. I think of an old boss of mine when I was in youth and community work who used to talk about finding the threads that link us.  It was a good strategy when I was faced with a roomful of young men who really did not want to be there talking about sex and drugs.  I thankfully was able to draw upon many things to find our common point, our thread and our connections.

At the recent #insideoutsideborders, we decided to give an exclusive closed viewing of the exhibition to a group of women involved with a local service down there – Reconnect.

They were coming at 1pm on opening day so the rush was on that morning to make sure everything was perfect and ready for them. Pictures straight, masks out, info ready.

Before every new group I meet I still feel nervous. That could be a group of politicians, a training session with 20 police officers, a focus group of women in the sex industry or even when I do my own voluntary work with women and kids in my area.   After all these years you would think that I would be past that stage but no – the familiar rushes of nerves come in waves.

Meeting the Reconnect group was no different but as soon as I welcomed them to join us on the Inside Outside Journey, the nerves went and the excitement kicked in.  Pride also – as I am so very proud of the work that all the women involved in Inside Outside have put in to making sure that people hear of different realities within the sex industry.

The Reconnect women were fantastic.  They made their own links and connections to the project and to the other women’s experiences.  They may not have been involved in the sex industry but they could relate to ideas of choice, consent and control.  They linked some of their own experiences and those of friends to notions of power, dominance and entitlement.  They were able to step inside others worlds and see how it was, how it might have been for them.    Whilst what we were looking at and talking about was not always easy, as very often happens with groups of women –  humour, however dark, comes to the fore.  Intense emotions do too – anger, sadness, disgust, frustration and fear.  Hope, resolve and determination will also bubble up.

We spent about 2 hours together – some of that chilling outside in the beautiful gardens of Gala House with the sun shining,   It was a nice backdrop to talk about the future and what they could do to support other women but also challenge some of what they had heard about.  They left with resolve and ideas.  I left them with a renewed vigour and energy.   They were going to continue their discussions and start on their creative journeys about their own thoughts and feelings back at their organisation.  Look at what they have produced so far………

Capture

(photo Reconnect women 2017)

We need policy and decision makers on board but we also need people, community members, the public to step inside this project too with open eyes and ears, to really hear what it can be like inside the sex industry.  The Reconnect women did that and we thank them for giving up time and emotions for Natalia, Natasha, Wendy, Katy, Levi, Katie, Sarah Jane, Joanne and Cassy.

Happiness

s nd g

I got this lovely update today from Natasha after telling her about how the exhibition has been going an how people have been reacting.

 

“You have to tell people who see the exhibition that Natasha is no longer Natasha , she’s now the mother of a baby dog and a cat S and G ! 

My life is so happy these days because i could settle down, to have my own house where i could get a permanent “family” which i always wished for. I attached here a photo with my “baby’s ” who changed my life forever. 

Maybe for regular people, they mean nothing but for a working girl who wished to have a regular life, that life starts with these pets. 

When I was escorting, i could never get this as i was always in a run..

After i got my new pet’s, i realized how much i had wished for this.

I’m feeling so so happy i could take the decision to come out. My pet’s helped me now to keep me leaving escorts services, they forced me to see the life the way i wanted to be.

I’ve been in difficult times since i left escorting, but was nothing comparing on how i was when i was a working girl.

I feel so strong and beautiful looking myself in the mirror , knowing i’m a regular women with a decent life.  I am not the stupid liar who couldn’t watch my family in the eyes knowing how much I lie to them.

 

 I feel released and this way i will stay from today’s on.

Hopefully the girl’s who sees my project and photos, they will think about theirs future and do what they feel inside the heart, and no listening to the wallet.

Happiness is when you feel beautiful inside and out.

Happiness is when you belive in you.

Happiness is starting with you. Money aren’t everything but our happiness is.” 

 

 

Full Credit

lone mask

 

We recently typed up all the comments left in comment books at #insideoutsideborders.

It was quite emotional to read them all and realise the power of the women’s words and works to connect with others.

“Congratulations on such an excellent much needed exhibition.  For every hard hitting story there is also optimism and hope.  Congratulations to all involved – especially the brave women themselves.”

“I went to the exhibition in Gala on Saturday during my lunch break.  I didn’t have enough time to do it justice, so came back tonight.  I was in tears both times.  Thank you for bringing this to our attention and thank you to all of the women for being so brave enough to make their voices heard.  We’re listening. x”

“A journey that is hard for the viewer but REALLY important to go through.  We all need to know about this subject and also honour these women’s strength.”

“What courage and strength.  Respect to my sisters.”

 

I of course shared all comments with the women.  Wendy sent this message –

“Its amazing reading all the feed back from people who have been to the exhibition. I am so glad it is being received as well as it is. Full credit to everyone involved who have given woman like me a voice after years of silence.”

I think full credit is due to yourself Wendy and Katie, Levi, Natasha, Sarah Jane, Natalia and Joanne.

 

 

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