You don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about sex work for the subject of abuse or rape to come up.
Some people equate prostitution with abuse or at any rate exploitation. They say no woman, regardless of what she thinks or says, can really consent to sex for money. That it is by nature degrading and exploitative.
Fatima disagrees. “I get what they’re trying to achieve with this line of argument,” she says. “They’re trying to keep young girls from going into the business thinking it’s just a thing they can do for a while. Easy money, you know?” The truth, she says, is that sex work is not easy money. “You need to put in a lot of thought and effort to make sure it doesn’t consume you. That you’re always the one in charge.”
She understands how vulnerable women might get trapped into doing things they don’t really want to do, because — for one reason for another — they either desperately need the money or feel there is nothing else for them to do. “Some girls who were abused or not treated right as children might wind up in the prostitution business doing dangerous things because they never believed in themselves. And that’s terribly sad. But then,” she adds, noting she’s aware her opinion might be shocking, “so is getting married because you don’t believe in yourself, in your ability to earn a living and contribute to society outside the home.”
She’s in favour of protecting vulnerable women no matter where they are; in abusive relationships, in suffocating relationships, under the control of tyrannical parents, alone and suffering, as well as in sex work. “But don’t you dare tell me I can’t consent to sex for money without being labeled exploited or abused. I don’t consider myself like that at all. Prostitution is not for everyone. But it makes me feel empowered.”
What about rape, you ask? “I have been raped, yes. More than once. But never by my customers. I’ll bet your readers will be surprised to hear that.”
Her first time was at a house party when she was in high school. A boy she vaguely knew from a different school grabbed her as she was coming out of the bathroom and brought her to a bedroom and raped her. “To be honest, I could have left. He was stronger than me, but not by that much. Why I didn’t leave I will never know. I told him no, he didn’t listen, and I chose not to fight. It was over very quickly. I was 16. I wasn’t a virgin, but also not very experienced. The encounter did not leave me scarred. I never saw that boy again.”
The second time it started in a bar, where she was chatting with two cousins who appeared fun and friendly. She never saw which one put the pill in her drink. She blacked out and woke up in their apartment next morning with a very sore body. “They wouldn’t tell me what happened, but from the pain I knew. They just laughed at me, threw me my clothes and sent me on my way. I never told anyone before this.”
She refuses to see herself as a victim despite what happened to her. “A victim is what predators want. Never give it to them. Don’t be scared. Fear is like an aphrodisiac for rapists.” Fatima says this knowing it will no doubt enrage some feminists. “I am a feminist myself,” she says, rather defiantly, “but nobody tells me what to do with my body or what to feel about what happens to it.”