Blame her, then buy her: life after the sex trade
By Merly Åsbogård
Merly is a Swedish survivor of the sex trade and a campaigner for women’s rights under the Nordic model.
(English is not Merly’s first language and this text has been lightly edited with her blessing.)
The other day someone told me about a humanitarian aid strategy called “harm reduction”. It involves handing out condoms and lube instead of using the same money to shelter, clothe and feed women in prostitution. Usually the people pro “harm reduction” are also very much pro-sex work. They do their best to hide that behind the idea that prostitution is inevitable. “What else can we do?” they ask.
I told the woman who told me about the tactic that one of the most laughable things about it is the assumption that the prostituted woman is the one that ultimately have a choice on whether a condom gets used or not.
I was 14 years old when condoms were pressed in my hand. They remained in my hand, unused, while the buyer took what he wanted how he wanted through sheer force.
Some days I live in a haze where I can’t really remember much of anything. Not even what I did 2 minutes ago. Then I have days where I remember too much. How they smelled, pulled my hair, pressed my body down. Days like that I nearly can’t breathe. Every time someone asks me if the men buying me thought I was older I want to shout the truth at them. NO, they made sure of my young age! They knew what they wanted. They wanted a child.
I lived in constant fear as a 14 year old. Fear of people knowing. Fear of dying. Fear of dying without anyone ever knowing.
A pimp who just wanted some excitement and money in her life coerced me into prostitution in Sweden as a 14 year old.
As I grew older I often wondered why I was eligible to end up in prostitution to begin with. I came to the conclusion that I was deceived, along with so many other women. From an early age I was sexualized. I was told to take responsibility for men’s irresponsible violent and aggressive sexual behaviour. I was told to do so because I knew better, they didn’t. I was told I was a whore because of an early sexual debut. My sense of self-worth was as damaged as my self-image.
The list goes on and on.
It would take me 16 years to fully leave prostitution. From being a child prostitute to a brothel in Copenhagen to a mom who sells herself to afford not to be poor…weird, I know. I started believing a life without prostitution was possible in 2015.
In my hometown the only way to be safe or at least safer than before was to be open with my background or life as a prostitute. When people tried to use my life against me it could be very violent. As a 17 year old I decided to try and minimize that fear and violence by being open about the prostitution when asked.
I used to say I was never just one thing. I lived what you would call a double life some of the time.
I was involved in politics, studied political science, was a part of the student body council, and was a mom. Two years ago all these lives melded into one when I started my Instagram account and came out nationally as an activist, radical feminist and former woman in prostitution. Today I hold lectures about my life and my feminist analysis of prostitution, power and men’s violence against women.
In 2019 the Swedish model and sex buyers’ law turned 20. It came into power the same year as I entered the sex trade and I spent 16 of them in the claws of prostitution.
A lot of good things can be said about the law. But hands on our hearts, the law is pretty far from perfect. We can change that. We will change that.
I’ve written a text that sums my feelings up:
Tell her she’s not as good as white people.
Tell her she’s not as good as men.
Tell her she’s not good enough as herself.
Mock her for being a woman.
Rape her for being a woman.
Blame her for being a woman.
Buy her for being a woman.
Then call prostitution “empowering” for women!
On the basis of that these women are allowed to price themselves and therefore
know their own value….
Merly will be joining us from Sweden to speak at the FiLiA conference.
She will be speaking on ‘The Most Beautiful Law That Was Never Implemented’
Merly is on Instagram: @viskansviol