All of us doing sex work remain in danger because of criminalization and because of the “work” of the abolitionist movement. – Jill Brenneman
Regular readers have seen me refer to Jill Brenneman on several occasions before, and she commented extensively on my February 7th column as I had hoped she might. You see, Jill is what many prohibitionists like to claim we all are: a woman who was forced into prostitution in her teens by a brutal pimp. But though she participated in the prohibitionist movement herself for several years (and really, who could blame her?) she was open-minded enough to see the truth and reason in the arguments for decriminalization and intellectually honest enough to be repulsed by the lies and misrepresentation rampant among the prohibitionists. She thus became an outspoken advocate for sex worker rights, and her unique perspective makes her the one person whose opinion on the “sex trafficking” issue I most respect. After the aforementioned column appeared Amanda Brooks suggested I interview Jill, and I thought that was a fantastic idea so I contacted her and she generously agreed. The interview was conducted mostly via email on February 11th-13th and completed by telephone on the 13th, and though Jill suggested I edit it down I have done this as little as possible because I wanted her to be free to tell her story in her own words. At first I was hesitant to ask direct questions, but she assured me that nothing I asked would faze her and that was absolutely true.
Jill is the same age as I am, 44, and has a rather raspy voice due to the throat injury she mentions in tomorrow’s portion of the interview. Her parents threw her out of her New England home in May of 1981 after she told a school counselor she had been sexually abused, and over the next couple of months she hitchhiked her way to Cincinnati. It was there on July 3rd that she had her ill-fated meeting with the freak who did his level best to destroy her, the sadistic pimp named Bruce. The next four days will not be enjoyable reading; the first two parts are the most graphic, disturbing narrative I have yet published or am likely to publish again, and I must caution sensitive readers to consider carefully before proceeding. The interview is quite long, but Jill and I both feel that it’s important to show the ugly side of the world of prostitution as well as its attractive side; our opponents are liars, but we are not. If we hide facts which might make us look bad we are no better than the prohibitionists, and the suppressed information would then become a weapon in their hands. The truth shines light into dark places inhabited by filth like Bruce; and Jill understands, as we hope most people will one day, that only decriminalization will grant free whores the power to help the law to uncover these monsters and liberate the girls they victimize.
Maggie: Would you explain, in as much or little detail as you feel comfortable with, how you became entrapped by a pimp?
Jill: It was a rainy day, I was hiding from the rain. I was homeless, hungry, dirty, totally alone. This really attractive man came up to the table, bought me lunch, told me about his entertainment agency, about his skyscraper headquarters, how he only hired the most beautiful women in the world. I told him I looked awful, he said he could see me through the runaway teen veneer. Which got me to open up to him why I ran away, that I had no one to call because it was more a throwaway than a runaway situation. He offered me an audition at his headquarters. I asked him if it was prostitution, he got pissed and walked away saying I wasn’t professional like he had believed because it was a really stupid question. I caught up to him, begged him for another chance. He agreed on the condition that I didn’t ask any more questions. We got to his car, he was the total gentleman opening the door for me, etc. When I got in the car he told me that because his agency was so popular and famous there were always corporate spies trying to get in thus I would have to be blindfolded. The idea scared me but I was fourteen, with no other options other than to go back inside the mall or sit outside in the rain. So I agreed. He gave me a hat and sunglasses to cover the blindfold. As we were driving I could hear the road sounds weren’t matching his narrative of the drive. He was describing driving into a major city, the sounds all sounded like we had gone to a more rural area. Which we had, we went to northern Kentucky. When we finally stopped, I heard him click a garage door opener. He explained it was to get into the parking deck. We got out and he explained how we were going to go downstairs to his office. I could hear the garage door closing, could smell the basement. I knew it was all wrong and started to shake and cry. He saw the tears coming out from beneath the blindfold and he went nuts shouting professionals don’t cry unless they don’t get the gig. I still had a chance but was going to have to strip to my underwear and do bikini pics. I hesitated for a second and he leveled me with a slap in the face. I was shocked at how hard he had hit me. He told me to get the fuck up and strip like he told me to, then he brought me up some stairs onto a stage of sorts and told me to put my hands over my head. He put them in some kind of leather straps and dropped the floor out from under me. He let me hang for a while, probably 10 minutes or so. It really hurt a lot to hang like that. He told me I could have the job or I could hang there until I died and he would dump me in the river. Who was going to care if they found me? No one was even looking. I agreed without hesitation. He whipped me a lot of times, he shoved things inside me then let me down and raped me. He gave me a contract to sign which said that I was his slave, that I would do anything he said, would never break the contract, never try to gain freedom. I didn’t read it that closely as he told me to sign and I signed. He brought me to a closet, handcuffed me, blindfolded me and told me not to make a sound and not to move and that he would be back later to start my training and that if I went to the bathroom in the closet I would pay a huge price.
Maggie: What a horrible, horrible thing; obviously you were intelligent enough to know from the beginning that something was wrong, but the voices of hunger and desperation drowned out those of intuition and reason.
Jill: I knew the whole situation was wrong as soon as he said I had to be blindfolded. But I wanted to work, wanted a place to sleep at night, a place to take a shower, food etc. I was sleeping in cemeteries. So I was really desperate when I got into the car with him.
Maggie: Was his treatment of you consistently horrible or did he mess with your head even more by rewarding you when you were “good”?
Jill: Constantly horrible. There weren’t any times where he did the mindfuck thing of telling me I had done something good or that anything deserved a reward. If anything I think he was repulsed by the idea of any kind of reward for me. My sole purpose was to be hurt physically, sexually and emotionally, often to the farthest lengths possible either to fulfill his need for sadism or to bring in more money from clients. He owned me, I was a slave, that was reinforced every day. The only sense from me that seemed to interest him was pain.
The only affection scenarios I ever saw from him were when we role-played that we were boyfriend/girlfriend in case the police started asking questions, or if I was in the ER things like that where we had to pretend to be a couple. We role-played those until they were second nature. I never tried to escape even when I had plenty of opportunity, like when he would take me to the mall to get clothes, shoes, get my hair colored. I tried to escape once and it was a loyalty test to see if I would. Needless to say it was really bad, so bad that I was totally unwilling to do anything to risk the amount of pain of the escape night ever again. My thoughts weren’t ever about trying to escape again but often were on why he wouldn’t just kill me and that I was a coward for not being able to endure the pain of the process I would have to live through before he finally did end my life.
Maggie: If he didn’t ever use reward, the punishment he subjected you to must’ve been horrific to break you down so much you didn’t even try to escape.
Jill: After the first 2 or so days in the closet, Bruce abruptly pulled me out, told me we were going to start my training. He took me to another room which was his dungeon. I couldn’t even conceptualize what most of the equipment was. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it. He laid out the first rule: If I screamed even once no matter how much it hurt and made it possible for anyone to hear me, that he would throw me in the Ohio River as promised. He also told me not to try to tell him to stop, not to beg him to stop, no matter how much it hurt because I had no right to speak first and beyond that my only role in life was to please him and the clients. How I felt had no relevance and eventually he would train me on the right time to beg and the right methods so that it was sexy for the client. Right now we were just going to learn what everything was. He had equipment for suspension bondage, for water bondage, for asphyxiation. There were huge dildos. It became such a blur of torture that the daily rapes became largely a non-issue to me. The sex was the least of my traumas. His favorite was like a crucifix but lying flat rather than standing upright. The idea was to bind my hands and feet then use some kind of winch to pull it so tight I could actually feel the cartilage between my ribs. With his weight on top of me I literally couldn’t breathe, which got him off in a minute every time. We spent weeks training until he felt I was finally ready to take clients.
To be continued…