Sex Work, PTSD, Trauma & Addiction

Couple lying in Bed

Sex work, often known as the oldest profession in the world, is often seen as an attractive and easy way to get quick money for those with issues around drug or alcohol addiction, but unfortunately it is also a common way to develop these issues.

As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the most vulnerable people in our society can often be found selling themselves, whether it’s on the streets or online.

This often results in a deadly cycle, as drug addicts and people with severe mental health issues are at risk of becoming sex workers to help fund their addictions, and sex workers are at heightened risk of mental health issues and drug addiction due to regularly dealing with criminals, drug dealers, and the ever present threat of abuse, sexual assault or rape.

This is without going into conditions like sex addiction which can easily develop alongside alcoholism or drug addiction and make it even more difficult to leave the red light industry and regain control of your life.

Sexually transmitted infections and diseases are also a major risk when it comes to sex work, both for the worker and the clients.

As you can see, this is a high risk occupation even before you factor in the legality of prostitution and potential run ins with the police, who are unfortunately almost guaranteed to treat it as a criminal issue as opposed to a health one.

They are also extremely unlikely to take any action that would help you to get out of sex work, instead locking you up for a while then dumping you right back on the street, withdrawal symptoms and all.

If you are suffering with drug addiction, contact us to see how we can help you. Rehab or detoxing are usually the most recommended action.

Drug Abuse & Sex Work

There is a strong and consistent link between drug abuse and sex work. This link can come about in many ways, with struggling to uphold a regular job and needing money to fund a drug addiction being a common cause of people getting into the illegal industry.

Even those who don’t suffer from addiction when first becoming a sex worker are at high risk of addiction, due to spending time in places like brothels or with lots of different people who use party drugs.

This is very dangerous as it perpetuates the cycle as withdrawal symptoms make it difficult not to keep working to fund drug habits, and horrible experiences while working lead to increased drug abuse.

Mental Health Problems & Sex Work

Sex work and mental health issues also have a major link, as vulnerable people can often be exploited by pimps, sex traffickers or brothel owners in order to keep them working, perhaps even being given drugs regularly to keep them coming back and force them into the drug-sex work cycle discussed above.

Mental health conditions such as PTSD, borderline personality disorder, depression and more are also commonly developed among sex workers due to stress, anxiety, abuse, coercion, sexual assault and other causes.

Sex Work Case Study: A Victim’s Story

The following is written by somebody who was previously a victim of the sex work industry, and the story helps to explain the conditions sex workers are forced to deal with and how difficult it can be to escape this life:

I myself was a sex worker in the Whitechapel East London area for a period of time, because ironically I didn’t want to ‘work’ the streets in my local area, mostly down to a fear of somebody I knew seeing me. It was at this time that the Ipswich strangler was killing his victims. I remember the news being flooded with images of these woman, warnings for sex workers in Ipswich and the surrounding areas not to go out onto the streets, and the police presence in Whitechapel being stepped up. The police would get out of the car, ask if we were ‘ok’ and warn us about what was happening to these poor girls in the Ipswich area.

Did this stop me going out on dark nights?

No it didn’t.

Was I scared?

I was absolutely petrified. 

Then why couldn’t I stop? The answer is I had totally lost all of my power to heroin and crack cocaine. I started taking crack and heroin at the very tender age of 17, not really aware of the dangers or effects this was about to have on me, or my children’s lives, which were devastating and I still live with them today. Even after being in abstinent based recovery for over 4 years I still live with the affects of my sex work, the harms I caused to myself have left me with deep rooted pain and trauma and I live with complex PTSD. I live with nightmares, triggers, and sadness for the young girl I lost to the men I gave myself to so cheaply.

Of course, dealing with all of these issues isn’t easy. Multiple drug addictions, PTSD, nightmares, depression – all of these things are a challenge to recover from alone, so dealing with all of them is understandably one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through.

After coming in to recovery, I wasn’t even aware of the effects my sex work had on me. I was walking around consistently angry, the nightmares I was having were also having a huge impact but I just put that down to coming out of my addiction. I couldn’t mange or maintain friendships or my relationship. I just put that down to defects of character.

As I furthered along in my recovery, my mental health was deteriorating, anxiety, panic, fear and a feeling of constant dread, I wasn’t making the connection. Nobody in meetings could diagnose me. My support network wasn’t able to do anything, in fact, I was actively pushing my friends away on a daily basis. Nobody was allowed to hug me or make physical contact. Even if my sponsor went to touch my shoulder I would cringe inside. I was in pain. Deep rooted trauma caused by own actions to feed my addiction and I wasn’t even aware of this at the time”

It turns out what got this person on the road to recovery was a chance meeting with the right person:

Within all of this someone saw me. Chip Somers from Private Practice London, kindly reached out to me and offered me some free Skype counselling. I had had therapy before but that was when I was still using drugs and consequently I was never open or honest, and a result nothing ever worked. I gave him my background – my mother also suffers from the disease of addiction, my father had left when I was four and I was rejected daily by Mum because all she cared about was using drugs. 

I see this today as neglect and mental abuse on a child. Hugs or physical affection were not a common thing in our house. There were different men coming into the home, and sexual and physical abuse took place there regularly. 

I briefly touched on my sex work in the session. Chip was very good with me. He made me feel safe and supported me throughout the process. At the end of my session, Chip started to guide me to areas that I needed to work on. 

I was stunned by his statement ” You need to look at your sex work Marie”. 

I responded “I’m ok now, I was powerless, I know why I did it.”

 Little did I know that by saying this, my mind was shutting out the trauma from it. 

I will never forget what he said next: 

“Don’t be so bloody surprised Marie, your sex work is affecting every area of your life, and there is a link to your past trauma that made you be able to go and fund your habit that way”. 

I was stunned. Every part of my being didn’t want to believe him, I had always thought the link to my troubles was down to my parents and my upbringing. I do not blame or justify my using on my past any more, I take full responsibility for it. I’ve made some very poor choices regarding drug use and there have been devastating consequences not just to me, but to others. Nothing has caused me more harm than my sex work. 

I’m extremely grateful to Chip and his support, I feel if it wasn’t identified when it was, the guilt, shame and anger I was carrying around would have eventually taken me back to a relapse at some point.

Since that session with Chip, I have completed the 12 steps and looked at my sex work throughout the prcess. I added myself to my amends list as part of the process. The Step four process  was really difficult for me at times – the sexual inventory and abuse section raised my memories and issues to the surface. 

I was 15 months clean and writing around an issue I had no awareness on myself. It felt dangerous to my mental health and my recovery to unearth this stuff so early as I had huge amounts of internal shame linked to my sex work that I had been hiding from myself. 

The anger I felt was towards myself! 

For years, I thought I was simply angry at the world. 

I remember heading out to the local ‘red light’ area for the first time like it was yesterday. I can remember thinking to myself “well he’s taken it all from me anyway”. I was thinking about my abuser as a child. 

I don’t remember my fist punter. I don’t remember my last, I don’t remember cars or names but I remember men, lots of men and I remeber their smell. 

The winter months were horrendous. I’ve spent weeks of dark, cold nights standing out there hour after hour, the temperature below freezing and my withdrawals from heroin biting my skin and bones. Tears streaming down my face because I just want to go home, but I don’t, I cant, I need my next fix more than anything else could ever matter, even my own health and safety.

The summer months were not much help either, it got dark later so less money was earned and police more commonly patrolled the red light area so my convictions were clocking up with time.

There is nothing more embarrassing than having to stand in a magistrates court charged with soliciting. Talking about the matter in police interviews wasn’t much fun either. Being locked up for nearly 24 hours in withdrawal is really not the way to help a person who is clearly extremely vulnerable and damaged! Not once in my process of court orders was I offered counselling or help around my sex work. No helped was ever offered to me on any of these occasions.

Instead they would just lock me up until my withdrawal symptoms got completely unbearable, then drop me back off where they found me, enforcing the cycle if anything.

I had a really bad experience out there one night. A man had picked me up while I was really going through major withdrawal and I wasn’t able to do what he was asking from me. 

As a result, I was raped.

I was held at my throat and forced into doing a sexual act I didn’t want to do. 

After he was finished with me, I didn’t go to the police and I didn’t go home. I returned directly to the red light area, as I still needed the money for my next fix.

It may sound crazy, but this is the hold drugs had over me, and thousands of women on our streets right now.

I experience total loss of control. I was sore and completely numb to what had just happened to me. And this is how my life continued for 15 years, in and out of punters cars and at some points working in brothels. In the brothels my addiction would go through the roof as the people running these places were mainly coke dealers and would give me free tasters to keep me there. 

Not once was I aware of the damage I was causing myself.

Since coming into recovery in June 2014 it has been tough. Living with the Complex PTSD caused by my experiences has been one of the hardest battles I’ve had to deal with. My symptoms are feelings of anger, fear, dread, irritability, restlessness, discontent. On a bad day I feel like I’m going to stop breathing, I get hyper vigilant, have sleep paralysis, flash backs and night terrors. 

I isolate myself in an attempt to keep myself safe from the outside world. Today, I have the awareness of what is happening, I know my triggers. I’ve learnt about my mental health by reading books and looking it up on the internet. I connect with other addicts who can talk honestly with me and who I trust. I feel its really important when talking about my symptoms to find the right people, people who can just listen, not advise, and just let me be and people who don’t make the situation about them and dismiss my feelings. 

Whilst the 12 steps are a great tool, some things they just cannot fix. The steps are like the wind at the top of a volcano, blowing away all the lava and dust and keeping me alive, but under all that is the fire that is bubbling away under the surface. I would never have been able to get rid of that without outside help. 

I’ve been in therapy for just over a year now. I get close to the core of the problem then stop because it gets that painful, but I keep going back. 

I will heal, I am healing every day I don’t pick up drugs, I’m healing in one form or another from my trauma constantly. I’m most definitely not a victim of my past, and I take responsibility for the harms I have caused to myself. I’ve become a survivor and I refuse to let my addiction or mental health issues define me as a person. I’m a mum today, a sponsor, a sponsee, a friend an employee, an active member in the fellowship I attend. 

What I’m extremely grateful for is that I’m no longer a sex worker, a ‘working girl’, a prostitute. I’m me, a recovering addict free from the seedy streets, cars, and punters. When its dark and raining and I’m inside, an immense feeling of gratitude comes over me. I will never forget the street corners I stood on, the cars, or smells, but what I will always remember is how lucky I am that I’ve gained control of my life. By healing and facing my trauma head on, I will never have to subject myself to such pain and hurt again.”

However, Marie goes on to explain that the sex industry doesn’t only hurt sex workers:

“I feel I would also like to add how some of my ‘clients’ became my victims. There were some very vulnerable, lonely men out there, often with their own mental health problems and addiction troubles. 

Me being the very manipulative addict that I was, could spot these issues from a mile away and knew exactly how to let it benefit me. I had one client remortgage his house to fund my addiction and he cleared any savings out of his account that he had. I’ve had other men who know absolutely nothing about addiction take me to houses to score drugs at 2 am. 

I’ve shouted at them, I’ve screamed at them when I think I can get away with it, I’ve stolen car keys, house keys and I’ve also taken money and run. This is known in the streets as clipping. 

There was more often than not a retaliation. I’ve been beaten up and attacked on a number of occasions by the men I’ve stolen from, but that won’t stop you when you need the money for drugs.

Sex work doesn’t just affect the person selling themselves. Married men get found out, destroying marriages. Neighbours have to contend with strange men kerb crawling around their streets at night, and having the girls walking up and down making a noise. Condoms, needles and drug paraphernalia are often left lying around for people to have to pick up in the morning. It affects everybody in the area .”

Marie’s experiences are profound, real, and horrifying.

But one thing they aren’t, is unique.

There are people all across the UK and the world going through similar experiences right now. You might even be one of them yourself, or maybe a loved one is.

Help for Sex Workers

There are a variety of charities and organisations dedicated to helping sex workers in the UK. 

If you are a sex worker who needs help to get out of the industry and reclaim your life, contacting one of your local organisations is a great first step.

However, getting out of the game whilst also getting over drug addiction and getting treatment for mental health issues is going to be a challenge, no matter what help you have.

Here at Serenity Centres, we run the UK’s most successful rehabilitation clinics, and we are able to create custom recovery plans built entirely around you to help you get on the road to recovery.

It is often the case that admitting you have a problem and asking for help is extremely difficult in itself, but we promise, if you are able to do this, we will do everything in our power to help you regain control.

At Serenity Centres, we offer:

  • Friendly, expert staff, many of whom have struggled with drug addiction in the past. All of whom are non-judgemental and happy to help in any way they can.
  • GPs, nurses, therapists, nutritionists, psychiatrists, all ready and waiting to help you
  • Free consultations with the above to ascertain the most effective next move
  • Medications to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and make getting over drug addiction as manageable as possible
  • The most effective rehab and detox programmes in the UK – period
  • Support groups and therapy sessions where you can talk with experienced therapists and friendly people who have overcome similar issues as yourself
  • Holistic treatments from massages and yoga to acupuncture and swimming

We help patients overcome alcohol addiction, drug addiction, sex addiction, and countless mental health issues every day.

Overcoming all of these at once is no easy task, but there is nobody in the world more qualified, and more willing to achieve this with you.

And if you’re honest with us, and willing to give it a real try, we know we can do it together.

To start your journey into regaining control of your life, just pick up the phone now and talk to us on 0800 118 2892. We’re waiting to hear from you.

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