[Photograph ©: Alice Arnott 2017. Text and photo approved by Jesse]
Trafficked at 17
I was raised in a strict Orthodox church. My father was abusive. I only have patchy memories of the sexual abuse – I was just a little girl; I can’t even remember what age. He psychologically abused me and once slapped me across the face. He abused my mother and brothers, too. I heard him bash my older brothers and often tried to stop him hurting my mum.
In my teens, I had a family friend who was my tutor. He once told me, in quite a lot of detail, about how a prostituted woman had approached him on Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Even though he was not trying to influence me as such, the idea stuck in my mind. Until this point I had only heard about prostitution in movies! I didn’t know why at the time – maybe it was teenage rebellion – but I decided I was going to be like that prostituted woman. I later realised that the sexual abuse of my past and my difficult life circumstances made me see prostitution as a good option, when it actually isn’t a good one at all.
Three weeks later, in an attempt to protect myself from the abusive home I was living in, I ran away. I was 17 years old and still a virgin. On the evening of that day, I dressed up and wore a miniskirt. A group of three young guys driving a silver four-wheel drive pulled over to chat me up. I told them I didn’t have a place to stay. That night I had sex with two of the three guys.
Sometime later one of them invited me on a holiday to Adelaide. There, he tried to pimp me out. Eventually he started to lose interest in me and we came back to Melbourne. He sent me to do private escorting jobs but I never saw any of the money. I soon had enough and decided to work for myself on the streets of St Kilda, just to have a roof over my head and enough food to eat. During this time, I relied on community organisations and homeless shelters to survive.
At eighteen years old I started selling my body in a legal brothel in South Melbourne. I lived like this for eight years. I lost complete respect for myself. I developed mental health problems and a drug-related addiction. I am now 29 years old and I am very, very depressed. Over the last three years I have been struggling to make ends meet, living in precarious accommodation where I get targeted by predators. I try not to do prostitution, but my financial circumstances make it so hard. I don’t want to go back to prostitution ever!
My 30th birthday is this February. For this milestone, I want to completely change my life, but I know it will be hard. I have so much to learn to live a healthy life – I haven’t finished high school and I have no work experience.
Can you help me?