mental health

Empathy for the Used and Abused

Stormy Daniels has been in the news for testifying against former president Donald Trump, and I am hearing a lot of news commentators, politicians and general people weigh in about the veracity of Ms. Daniels’ story, particularly since she is in the adult film industry. People are saying she must be lying. Since she has been a producer and writer of adult film, she must be making up another story. They are assassinating her character because of her profession. Since May is sexual assault awareness month, I feel compelled to write about what I know after working for 17 years with sexually abused children.

I realize it is challenging for anyone who has never been sexually assaulted to understand what happens in the psychology of the abused but allow me to share what I have learned through my work and have found in my research. Did you ever consider what draws people into this line of work?

According to the National Library of Medicine, between 66% to 90% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children. I’m sure you can imagine how that would damage a child. When those responsible for your protection place their own adult needs above yours, you receive the message that you have no value except for pleasing your abuser sexually. You have no agency over your own body and are hopeless to do anything to stop it. You aren’t big enough to fight; there is nowhere for you to run or anywhere to hide. Since the trauma is ongoing, children in this situation typically grow up in a perpetual state of post-traumatic stress.

Add to that the issue of education. Children who are being victimized typically don’t perform well in school. How can you focus on math when you are terrorized by what happened last night and fearing what could happen when you get home? Later in life, this limits earning potential. In an effort to self-medicate, women in the sex industry often have higher rates of substance use. They end up in relationships with men who repeat the cycle of abuse they have become accustomed to. Because of this, they experience higher rates of domestic violence, violent assault, and rape, according to the National Library of Medicine.

It is not surprising to me that a child with this type of background would be drawn to the sex industry. Beyond making money, it can also be a way of gaining agency over their body, possibly for the first time in their life. And let’s not forget that most people do not choose this Life. A licensed counselor, Kendra, who helps girls and women in The Life, says, “Ten out of 10 times, I would say these women do not choose this life…Even if they were over the age of 18, a majority of the time they were involved in it way before eighteen.”

Helping professionals who work with people in the sex industry find high incidents of trauma in these women’s lives, often from childhood, and many were coerced into sex work by adult men who claim to love them.

Stormy Daniels is a remarkable woman to be able to stand up to Donald Trump and tell her story. We don’t know what it was like for her as a child, but we do know Stormy found herself in a situation where a powerful man expected sex from her. Expecting dinner, she was instead greeted by a man 40 years her senior dressed in pajamas. Promising fame and fortune on The Apprentice, he was able to lure her in. Can you imagine how excited she might have been with that offer to be on The Apprentice? Maybe she could finally be respected for her brains and her wit, not just her body. That must have been the ultimate bribe to get her to have sex with a man old enough not just to be her father, but her grandfather! And when Trump allegedly blocked the door, knowing there was also a security guard outside, it’s simple to see how a 23-year-old woman in the sex industry believed she had no real choice. She hasn’t called it rape because no physical force or violence was applied, but if her story is true, it’s clear that she was psychologically controlled into having sex.

She shared that she could not remember how she ended up on the bed—a textbook trauma response. Dissociation happens whenever a trigger brings back memories of traumatic situations. Yes, she was an adult. Yes, she could have said “no,” but if she is a typical victim of sexual assault, her responses are totally normal.

It’s way overdue for the world to start examining what fuels the sex industry. It isn’t the victims. It’s not the girls and women who are forced or drawn to this work; it’s the capitalistic principle of supply and demand. As a woman who had an idyllic childhood, it is hard to imagine being drawn to The Life. However, my 17 years working in the world of specialized foster care made me intimately aware of what some parents put their children through. Statistics show 1 in 3 girls will be sexually molested or assaulted by the time they reach 18 years old.

It is not hard for me to imagine children experiencing sexual abuse growing into women like Stormy Daniels. In fact, I hope the girls I worked with find their way to the confidence Stormy seems to possess. I only hope people judging Stormy for being in a vulnerable position can understand people in these dangerous situations are coping with challenges you cannot imagine. Do you really believe they want to do these things? Think again and have a conscious for the damage you cause by either not believing these women or by being a customer of their services.

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