We know them. We all know a woman who struggles with drugs and alcohol. Perhaps she’s a woman in your family, a friend or even a co-worker, but we know them. If you have not been an drug addict then you cannot know what they go through. You can’t imagine the pain they feel from moment to moment and the things that they are driven to do because of that addiction.
Ruth Jacobs has been there – in the very recesses of hell – and she came back to us. And, when she came back, she came with a mission to rescue others. Not just her friends, but anyone and everyone who wanted help. Those stuck in the vicious cycle of drugs and prostitution have someone they can turn to.
Ruth is working very hard to make the world safer for people in prostitution. She is making them aware of their rights and helping to inspire them to have the courage to speak up when they have been victimized. Can a sex trade worker be raped? Absolutely, yes and Ruth is helping to change the laws and the awareness of society so it is not tolerated.
You have had experiences with drugs and alcohol. Were you an addict?
Yes, I was a heroin and crack addict shooting up and on death’s door during the late ‘90s. I didn’t expect or want to live back then.
What pulled you into a life of getting high?
I didn’t care about or value life. I hated it. I started drinking from a young age then in my early teens, I started smoking dope. It was to escape my reality. I was desperately unhappy due to trauma. I was self-medicating. The drugs I used escalated, as did the way I took them.
Were you also pulled into prostitution along with this?
Becoming a call girl wasn’t a decision made or needed to pay for drugs. When I first started, I didn’t have a heroin or crack habit. I think I’d tried those drugs once or twice, but they weren’t matched to my income so I didn’t take them. The day job I had at the time provided enough money to buy the drugs (dope, acid, speed, alcohol) I was using back then.
For me, prostitution is what pulled me into intravenous heroin and crack addiction. I was living in a fantasyland and to stay there I had to shut out what I was doing and what I was allowing to be done to me, as well as what I wasn’t allowing – I was raped by a client quite early on, and that wasn’t the only time.
Maybe my drug using would have progressed to the depths it did anyway from the original pain I was running from – I don’t know. Certainly having the money to buy the amount of heroin and crack I was taking played a part, but maybe I would have gone downhill slower if that wasn’t the case. Some of my clients, a lot of my regular clients, were drug users, not heroin though and none injected. But they took cocaine and/or crack and I’d take it with them. As an addict, being paid to take drugs when you’re in active addiction seems like a dream job.
What made you decide to change your life and way of living? What woke you up and saved you from this lifestyle?
I ran out of money, I looked too sick (abscesses from injecting/needle marks) to work, and none of my many attempts at suicide led to the only way out of life I could see.
In 1999, around the summertime, I’d already been hospitalised five times that year in London, even though I’d been out of the country until mid-late February and one of those hospitalisations was for two months. Some of those times I was sectioned, which meant I wasn’t allowed to leave and I had to take whatever medication was prescribed, which was very frightening, as was sleeping in an open-door room in a mixed locked ward with a rapist.
After the fifth hospitalisation, I actually went to the 12-step meetings I’d been saying I was going to attend the other times but never did. I used to say to myself just one more hit when I get out then I’ll go to a meeting, but the first hit on being released would lead to the next then the next then the next, and I kept finding myself back in hospital. So, I went to the meetings and some truly amazing, wonderful people saved my life and taught me how to live without the drugs I’d been dependent on.
I wasn’t planning to stop working, but my 12-step sponsor told me I wouldn’t stay clean if I went back to seeing clients. I listened to her and didn’t return to that life.
You began to write novels versus poetry and short stories. Tell us why you started writing.
I think that my grandmother being a writer inspired me to start writing. When I first began as a young teenager, I wrote poetry and I did that because it provided some kind of release for me from trauma, nothing like the drugs did, but then they brought their own trauma in the end. It wasn’t until I completed my first novel that I tried my hand at a short story, though having said that, I would have written short stories as part of my school work. I actually started writing my first book at around sixteen, but I didn’t finish one until twenty years later.
Your work is focused on bringing attention to the plight of those in the sex industry and helping those same people. Prostitution and drugs. How did you get involved with this? Why is this your focus?
I wrote my novel, Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, to show what the reality is for so many women in prostitution. Being a call girl has been glamorised in the media and I wanted to show the experience that my friends and I had had – we might have seen clients in five-star hotels and luxury residences in the most expensive parts of London, but that didn’t render us immune to suffering rape and other violence. I hoped my book would deter other women from entering the sex trade because I know so many of us still suffer from having been in that life and I didn’t want other women and girls to think it’s easy money because that’s the only portrayal they’d seen. I also wanted to show women who sell sex as the real people they are, which is why my book is about the women and not about what they do to earn money. And also to show that although many of us do have a history of abuse in our childhoods, we are strong women, fighters and survivors. I wasn’t planning on doing anything else; my non-fiction writing on the subject and activism just happened along the way from when I began writing a blog and connecting with other women activists, some of whom had also been in the sex trade.
Your most recent book, Soul Destruction: Unforgivable, is this story fact or fiction and where did the concept come from?
That book is fiction, but the main storyline is based loosely on events from my own life – though not how it ends.
You released In Her Own Words… Interview with a London Call Girl, which is a transcription of an interview you did with a woman in prostitution who you refer to as “Q”. Unfortunately, that woman is no longer living and you donate all proceeds from the sale of that publication to Beyond the Streets, a charity working to end sexual exploitation. How did you come to find this organization and why is it important to you?
I was searching for a charity whose ethos I agreed with and when I found Beyond the Streets and saw they also worked with a great number of other charities and projects across the UK they seemed perfect. I spoke with the director and liked their non-judgemental and empowering approach to supporting women who want to leave the sex trade and I am delighted my friend’s words are raising money for them, as I am sure she is too.
What, if anything, can the average person do to help women and others who are involved in prostitution?
Respect is the first thing that comes to mind. Just because someone is selling or has sold sex this does not make her deserving of any less respect than any other woman. This also includes respecting her agency and where she is at in her life, having understanding and compassion, as most of us have suffered, but not viewing and treating us all as victims which is unhelpful and disempowering.
Understanding what help, if any, a person wants is really the first step, and accepting and respecting their decision whatever that may be, including if they do not want to leave the sex trade. Anyone trying to make me leave that life or believe I was doing something damaging by selling sex when I was a call girl would have made me run a mile from them.
At a less personalised level, there are laws and policing models people can advocate for such as the Merseyside hate crime model, which has brought about astonishingly high conviction rates for crimes committed against sex trade workers. This policing model prioritises the protection of people in prostitution over the enforcement of the law, ensuring people in the sex trade have the human right of the protection of the law and recourse to justice when they have been the victim of a crime. Interestingly as well, this model – which is not focused on exiting routes (though offers the services) – has resulted in there being half the number of women involved in street prostitution.
Walking up to them at random is probably not the best thing. How do we know if they need or want help?
I think giving someone a smile is worth a lot. But if someone walked up to me and offered to help me, they may well have ended up looking for help themselves – to get to a hospital. As far as I was concerned I didn’t need help, but perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want help. I would never trust a stranger offering that to me. When you’re in that life everyone wants something from you and an offer of help would demand something from me in return.
However, if someone on the street seems like they might be in danger, say there is violence from what appears to be a pimp or a punter, or if a woman seems like she may in fact be a girl and underage, then people must call the police. It is imperative to remember that in the sex trade there are people who are there because they are being forced. Sex trafficking sadly is a reality and action has to be taken to address this. I’ve even heard about an area in London where the police were regularly driving past women in the sex trade who were being beaten in the streets. They didn’t stop and the public would do nothing either, just look on. This sickens me.
When it comes to sex trafficking, which means that this is done against someone’s will – especially if children are involved – how would the average person know that this is happening? Are there specific things we should look for?
I think it’s important that the term ‘sex trafficking’ is better understood. This horrific abuse, especially where children are the victims, can be happening in family homes. People are misled perhaps by the media and perhaps by the term ‘trafficking’ itself. I didn’t realise, until I actually understood the term, that a couple of the women I knew years ago had been victims of trafficking. For example, one young woman would give all the money she earned on jobs to her boyfriend and he didn’t let her leave the house unless it was to see a client. At the time, I just thought she had a controlling boyfriend and didn’t understand why she stayed with him. I was naive and young myself.
As I am not an expert on human trafficking, I won’t answer what is an extremely important question with regards to the signs people should be looking out for in order to identify trafficking victims. I would urge people to read this guidance provided by the UK government https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187041/A5_Human_Trafficking_Guidance_leaflet.pdf and this which is from the US http://www.justice.gov/usao/ian/htrt/health_identify_victims.pdf
To change the subject, you are also doing interviews with writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers. Why did you start doing this and does it tie into your other humanitarian work or is this separate?
The majority of the creative interviews I do are separate from my other work but there has been crossover such as my interviews with survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution who are also writers and artists like Christine Stark and Sherry Dooley for example, and for filmmakers who are activists like Aimee Galicia Torres who is making a documentary, John: The Worst Story Never Told, with two of my friends who are survivors of sex trafficking, Michelle Carmela and Nikolaos Al-Khadra. Also author Sheila Quigley, who has written novels covering the issue of trafficking, took part in the series of interviews I ran at the beginning of this year for human trafficking awareness month.
I can’t remember what made me start undertaking the interviews, but I do remember it began with writers, and I also recall speaking with my friend Natasha Sandy in Canada about it at the time and who I will part blame for the somewhat cheesy title I chose: In the Booth with Ruth. She’d told me her title for a talk show if she ever had one, and in comparison, mine didn’t seem so bad. She needs to start that talk show!
Selling sex in the UK is not illegal but many activities related to prostitution are. Though the purpose of the trade is to sell sexual services, rape does happen and it is real. You are now helping to fight for victims rights through the Merseyside model and are pushing for that to be made UK wide. Again, why are you so passionate about this and how can others help?
When you are in prostitution there are so many barriers to reporting crimes committed against you, most of us don’t, yet we are the most likely to be raped and the death rate is shockingly high – in London for women in prostitution it’s 12 times the national average. When we do report crimes committed against us quite often we aren’t believed or it’s even perceived we were asking for it or it’s deemed a hazard of the job. It’s abhorrent to treat victims of rape and other violence like this. And then there’s the very real possibility of being charged with something related to prostitution. This goes back to what you mentioned about selling sex not being illegal here but activities related to prostitution are. If a woman lives with another woman in the sex trade or they are both working from the same premises for safety they could be charged with running a brothel, if she’s working on-street she could be charged with soliciting, if she lives with someone else they could be charged with living off immoral earnings, and for migrants who don’t have the right to live here it’s even harder as in addition they may risk being sent back to a dangerous country, separated from their family and children.
I care so much because I know this injustice in the law too well and how the current laws make people in the sex trade easy targets for criminals, knowing how unlikely we are to report the crimes they commit against us. My novel is about a group of women in prostitution who have all been raped by the same client – this is what’s based loosely on my own life– they aren’t able to turn to the police for help so to stop the rapist raping any more women they have to take matters into their own hands. This is not how the justice system is meant to work, not how the protection of the police is meant to fail women, yet it does.
Fourteen years later nothing has changed for women in prostitution when they have been the victim of rape – with the exception of the women in Merseyside. Merseyside is the only place in the UK where people in the sex trade can call the police when they’ve been the victim of a crime and know they will not be treated as a criminal and they will have the full protection of the law and recourse to justice.
People can advocate for the Merseyside hate crime model in their areas wherever they are in the UK or in the world. They can write to members of Parliament or Congress and campaign and raise awareness by any other means to get it discussed at government level and in the media spotlight. This short clip on BBC News from a documentary I presented will be useful in understanding the scheme and seeing how it works in practice. There’s also a great deal of information including interviews and articles here for people who would like to know more.