I was delighted to attend the launch event for the Inside Outside Project in Dundee.
I have been working supporting women involved in prostitution for just under 6 months. My background is working with homeless people in hostels. I am a passionate believer in equality, I keep up to date with news and campaigns, and I care. And still – I am constantly struck with how much I don’t and can’t ever really know about the realities of prostitution, and the experiences of the women within it. More worrying than that, I am close enough to remember how much I thought I understood before entering support work.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that. The media feed us so many images of prostitution, TV drama or carefully edited documentaries that give the impression of balance, but that’s never the case. As soon as someone else is involved in the editing process, the story is taken away from the woman who lived it, and becomes something other – if it wasn’t a fiction to begin with. Every documentary has a lens, a perspective, and often this will have been decided before women were even contacted, or with no consultation with women with lived experience at all. I have been privileged to support a number of clients during my short time as a worker. They have told me their stories, they have revealed what they want to, or are able, and they have kept those things that they are unable to share, or that they want to keep to themselves. What the women are telling me about their experiences, their lives, doesn’t even slightly resemble the impression I had before from the stories that the media and popular culture had fed me.
None of the women are shady background figures; they are not blurry, pixelated images, or backdrops to the main action. These women are smart, funny, caring, constantly surprising, and so considerate. These women turn up and stand up when every circumstance in their lives seems to be conspiring to try and stop them. And sometimes they don’t or can’t – and that’s alright too. The women I work with are incredible. They are mothers, daughters, sisters and more than that they are their own women. There is nothing of that in the media – that strength and resilience. The individuality and spark.
Equally there is so much trauma; so much abuse, such a culture of preying on women who need supporting, and so much pain. Women who have been let down often and repeatedly, undervalued, abused emotionally, physically and financially. You will not understand anything of this world through watching Secret Diary of a Call Girl or Pretty Woman. Prostitution is not empowering. It is not neat and clean and it certainly can’t be packaged for public consumption in giggles and taboos.
The Inside Outside project is so important because it gives the camera to the women whose stories are told. They tell their own story. They are the editor, they get the final selection and the story that is presented on the walls is theirs. It was an absolute privilege to attend the launch for the project at Dundee University, and to be given that insight and witness such strength – women allowing themselves to be vulnerable in order to educate, to help others and to heal.
You need to go to this exhibition, to engage with the women’s stories and to really let their message in. Here is your opportunity to scratch the surface, to begin to imagine what it would be like to fully understand. Take it.
The exhibition is touring. To find out when it comes near you, check out their website here.