Speech by Sabina Higgins at the launch of the book ‘Any Girl’ by Mia Doring
Hodges Figgis Bookstore, Dublin, 23rd February 2022
I am greatly honoured to have been invited to the launch of this most important new memoir - Any Girl by Mia Doring.
This memoir is an amazing book from cover to cover. It has come out of the author’s enormous courage and out of care, love, and the interest of truth, believing that revealing the truth will both bring freedom at last to herself from the years of trauma she has endured, and be of benefit to other women and girls.
This is the memoir of a woman who had been a psychotherapist for about the last 8 years, specialising in sexual trauma. By a long journey she came from being a sex worker to work in this profession, and to being an activist wanting an end to the sex trade in all its guises, from porn performance, strip tease clubs, prostitution, the escort trade, sex trafficking, sugar daddies, and sugar babies.
It is beautifully written and it is an education, a text that needs to be read and reread, and studied. It lets us know about vulnerability and gullibility and what trauma is and what the sex trade in Ireland is. It could stop us going around in an ignorant fog.
Averting our gaze from the reality of the sex trade and suggesting to ourselves that it is about others. It compels us to realise that the sex trade in Ireland does not take place in some kind of underworld or separate space, that it is peopled by ‘others’, (by those set apart from normal society, by those different from us in every way).
The vulnerable and abused women who populate the Irish sex trade are victims, fellow citizens and members of our communities who society has grievously failed. The men who exploit them for their sexual gratification are also fellow citizens; men with regular jobs, and work in all areas of life, of the economy, the professions and the trades etc.
The author says that sex work advocates describe men who need to connect, who are in need of touching but she says in her 4 years she spent servicing random men she never met anyone who needed just a talk or needed a hug. The men she met were in their 40’s and 50’s, middle-class, self-assured and entitled. She met them in hotel rooms, houses, apartments and big houses in the suburbs.
She says that women are not voluntarily in the sex trade and when people defend the sex trade they are defending the rape of women and girls.
In Ireland, there are up to 1,000 women in the sex trade and there are up to 100,000 men accessing sex sites.
She says the actions that could be taken to stop the sex trade are not being taken. For instance though it is illegal to have a sex site registered in Ireland the operators can register their site in another jurisdiction and punters have ready access to these.
One online directory had a turnover of 6 million in 2015.
The memoir tells us about trauma – what it is and how it can be caused and how it subconsciously and psychologically drives the existence of the person carrying the Trauma. Mia had had the horrific traumatic personal experience of being raped as a schoolgirl at the age of 16 by a boy of 17 when a group of friends are drinking cans in a field.
She is pleased and excited when a boy notices her, seems to like her and then brings her for a walk.
She gives a heart-rending account of this whole encounter, and of her observing every detail of the rape as it is happening, and of her freezing and being unable to find speech or any action to stop it. She does not tell anybody about it after, and she does not want to upset her parents.
She is deeply affected by the experience and continues to be affected. This is the root cause of all the psychological damage she suffered and that affects her and causes the trauma that drives the course of her life. She is profoundly changed, she suffers breathing difficulty and headaches and it brought to hospital by her parents but they find nothing wrong.
She begins an online contact with an older man called J who begins to groom her and have her dress to please him and makes demands. After months she goes to meet him, at as she thinks, his mother’s house, where he makes degrading demands that she please him. She does as she is told. As she leaves he gives her 2 €50 Euro notes and it mollified her – it is a lot of money. She continues the relationship with the demands for obedience and degrading behaviour becoming progressively worse.
She has two lives, one as a college student engaged with life and having a caring nice boyfriend and the other the secret life with J.
She begins to self-harm and 2 years after the rape she attempts suicide but is found on time and got to hospital, recovers and is supported. J sends her to the house of another man who turns out to be much older and demands she have sex with him and gives her 3 €50 Euro notes.
To gain some control she has an online site and accepts sex work and she goes to punters all over Dublin and is paid by them.
In her 20’s J comes to the house she shares with friends and causes a scene and she realises she cannot allow her friends know her secret life. She gets the willpower to stop seeing him. At the age of 24 she also has a last experience with a punter who strikes her so hard she becomes terrified and makes that her last appointment.
There are lovely accounts of her going to Berlin and having a loving relationship there, but when this man finishes it, she is devastated.
In Berlin, she found a video online of a former porn performer giving testimony in court on her experiences. This woman was articulate and passionate. Mia felt a heave in her chest, a burning knot in her throat and hot and angry tears in her eyes. It was her, Mia’s own truth. She felt an inner explosion, a ripping apart.
She says that later, saying of herself, “I sat there thinking of what had happened to me, what did I do? Look how one thing bled into another. All of these men hurt you and you were hurting yourself, you could have been any girl.
She had opened a bit of herself.
She decided to move back to Dublin. She came back and she completed an MA in Journalism.
When she came back and as she went around Dublin she started having flashbacks and refreshed memories and realisations. She thought she was losing her mind. She knew that she needed help. She contacted an organisation that supports women affected by prostitution and a week later, she met a caseworker in a café off O’Connell Street and started to cry. This was the beginning of a long journey.
She goes into therapy treatment. Later, she trains as a psychotherapist specialising in sex therapy, and has been working as a therapist for the last 8 years.
This is such a valuable offering, an education in which we are given, as I said, immersion in the horrific exploitative violence against girls and women, the realities of the sex trade in rape, grooming, escorts, sugar daddies, sugar babies and prostitution and sex trafficking. Sex trafficking that we came to know so much of its horrors from Lisa Harding’s great book ‘Harvesting’.
When you have read this book you can never again claim ignorance of and indifference to the fact that girls and women are exploited and raped by men and there is rape that does not fit the legal definition of rape but as she says it fits the moral definition where a woman’s boundaries – protests are ignored and she gives in and her body is used for his sexual gratification.
She says that in trauma, there is a feeling of compulsion to tell one’s story, to tell the truth, at the same time there is a feeling of compulsion not to reveal the truth.
She spends years grappling with this and even when she at last begins the memoir it is a long drawn-out agonising time. The pain of going over the events and seeing the details in flashback causes her great suffering and this comes through to us as we read the book.
We become aware of and feel the knot in her stomach, the tightening in her throat. She can often only manage to go into the events and write them down for one or two hours a day.
Even as she writes it, she is torn by the wish to tell the truth, or just give up. For the last part – Anna Mccarrig Retreat was for her too, as for other writers, a blessing.
She needed to write in the hope of freeing herself from the trauma and also as the tool she needed in her campaign of activism against the male exploitation of women in the sex trade in all its aspects.
The action that could be taken to stop the sex trade flourishing is not being taken.
Her vision is that with awareness and activism by women and men we can bring about an end to sexual exploitation, and the evils of pornography and prostitution will eventually be illegal, and brought to an end.
There is unease in the country about the quality of many of our sexual relationships and sexual culture, and the amount of assault, rape and exploitation that is going on.
We need an educational system update to help children develop a conscious sense of their self-worth, their authenticity, their right to their integrity, they need more creative education that facilitates their learning to think, to ask questions, to discuss, to have lateral thinking, to have confidence in their feelings and views and able to name them and defend them. I think the new pedagogy of personal rights, human rights, of P for C – Philosophy for Children is proving very valuable – and it is graded progressively, teachers are trained in its facilitation.
Mia tells her story beautifully and poignantly. Any Girl reminds us of how fragile each individual life can be, how susceptible to cruelty and mis-treatment, how vulnerable to the ignorance and self-entitlement of others.
It is a valuable story and an important one, full of wisdom, generously offered by a greatly talented writer to whom we can all be most grateful. I thank Mia Doring for so bravely gifting us this essential book, an offering of which she can be very proud indeed.