It started at the edge of a swimming pool…

It started at the edge of a swimming pool on a sunny day. We always dreamed about traveling, seeing the world, and on that day my partner of five years asked me, rather abstractly, whether I’d be willing to pay for a vacation by performing sex work.
I laughed it off. He was much more sexually adventurous than I, and I didn’t want to prompt him to attack me for my prudishness, so I said something flippant, something like, “Living the dream, huh?”, then tried to change the subject. But he wouldn’t let it go. I felt a clenching sensation in my gut as I realized I shouldn’t have responded the way I did. He hadn’t been joking. “Don’t you want to travel?” he asked me. “You always said you wanted to see the world.” When he got ideas, see, he was like a retriever with a Frisbee. Obsessive, unrelenting, sometimes violent, always abusive, wearing me down until I was just too exhausted or scared to fight any longer. It was easier – and often, safer – to throw the proverbial Frisbee than it was to try and defend myself.
I caved almost immediately, because what choice did I really have? That’s what years of abuse will do to a person. It wears down at your reserves until there’s no fight left in you. Eventually, you just shrug your shoulders and let things happen, because that’s all you have the strength for. We lived on the road this way for months, covering thousands of miles.
I don’t know how many men there were. It could have been ten. It could have been fifty. There’s a blank spot in my memory – self-preservation, I think, because some things are better left unremembered. The only things I recall are vague scenes, hotel mattresses, staring at unfamiliar ceilings from beneath unfamiliar strangers and wishing I was dead.
He never even let me keep the money – just put out his open palm and made me hand it over. For months, I was sick to my stomach. I stopped eating. When I finally got the courage to tell him I wasn’t going to do it anymore, he spent ages punishing me for it. We were living out of a car in an unfamiliar state with no more money and no place to go. We were homeless, and it was all my fault, he told me. I hated him. I hated myself.
It took me a long time to understand that this was sexual violence, and to begin releasing some of my shame around it. This is the first public space in which this story has been shared, and I feel relieved to finally be telling my truth. I hope my story can help others understand something it took me far too long to realize: sexual coercion is sexual violence, and it is never your fault.

-Ali (she/they)