Tuesday, April 26, 2005
I Have Had Enough
The following essay is by Lynne Tansey, a Prostitutes Human Rights Advocate and writer from Cornwall in the UK. Thanks, Lynne, for freely sharing such a difficult experience with us!
On a hot and sticky evening the summer of 1976, I was meeting up with my prostitute colleagues in our usual spot on the corner of Union Street. We always conferred about clients and related any trouble we had, especially since the Yorkshire Ripper was on the loose.
Before long, a huge guy approached me, standing all of 17 stone and well over six feet tall. None of the other girls had met him before, so he was a new and unknown quality, but he seemed quiet and well mannered. We have to move quickly in our appraisals because of the police, so after our usual introductions, he and I agreed to go back to my place for business.
I lived with two other prostitutes and usually one or more of us were there at the same time, but this evening I was alone. We had settled on a price and were getting down to the business at hand when suddenly, while he was on top of me, he threw back his fist and smashed it into my face. The shock was overwhelming; there had been no indication of violence at any point prior to this. I threw myself off the bed while he crawled all over me, trying to strangle me. The bedside lamp fell to the floor, breaking, thrusting me into darkness and fear.
I tried to crawl into the next room, my small kitchen area, grabbing for the `lazy betty` switch, the long piece of cord attached to the ceiling light.
He kept trying to pull me in all directions, and the skin on my legs was burned off by the carpet tussles. He managed to get to my throat again and throttled me so badly that I had the most terrible flashes appear in my mind, like they say happens when you’re dying. I thought of my children, my parents, and all who knew me; the thoughts came as images of a newspaper heading proclaiming, “Prostitute Murdered!” It’s really bizarre, but even to this day I can still see that image.
All of a sudden a huge force came to me, a hidden strength that I never knew existed. It welled up over my body. I heaved an enormous reverse attack on him and managed to free myself for a moment, just enough for me to spot a carving knife on the kitchen surface. I grabbed it for my life.
Time had become static. We stood facing each other in this small and surreal space. I had the carving knife in my hand and warned him repeatedly that if he attacked again, I would kill him. Throughout the entire event, he had never uttered a single word. He didn’t acknowledge any of my warnings but lunged at me again. I stabbed him in the stomach. He backed off momentarily, appearing shocked, but then resumed his violence.
I stabbed him again in the stomach. And again. But he still kept coming. He reached out towards my weapon, grabbing the blade, still completely silent. I pulled the knife back towards me, severing his finger tips. But he continued to mechanically attack. Still saying nothing!
I thought reality changed then. It seemed to shift sideways. I no longer knew what world I was in. He was my monster, an inhuman thing that wanted to obliterate me, no matter what the consequences. I felt like I was watching myself and this man from a different height, like on television. I was separate from fear now in the sense of fear as we know it. Survival was my paramount goal in this moment that seemed to be between worlds of life and death.
As he continued to attack, I stabbed him in the heart, the stomach and the lungs. No blood came from his huge torso, so bent on destruction. That only added to my feelings of unrealness. Suddenly he managed to grab me and draw me close, crushing my small frame against his cold, white belly.
Now, I thought, is the time you are going to die, Lynne.
With that thought in my mind, I reached around his bulk and stabbed aimlessly into his shoulder. He still did not speak. So I thought of the last place that might hurt him the most and thrust the knife into his temple. The blade ran down until it met the narrowness of his temple area. Then the blade stopped but my hand continued downward on the blade, nearly severing my hand off.
Finally, he pushed away from me, turning around to look, as if taking in his environment for the first time. The blood came then and he was like a colander. It shot all over the kitchen, over the walls, the ceiling, everywhere, mingling with my severed artery life-blood.
Then he spoke: “I’ve had enough.”
He walked into the bedroom again and sat on the bed. I watched, frozen, in fear of another unreal attack. I wanted to be sure he couldn’t hurt me anymore before I would pass by him to go for help.
He urinated, and lay back dying. I watched, hating him with a cold anger and the knowledge that my life would never be the same again. I watched him sigh his last breath and depart this world. It was over for him, but not for me!
I had no telephone, but knew there was a public phone some 100 yards down the road. I ran outside, naked and bleeding, screaming for help in the well populated area I lived in. I collapsed through loss of blood and shock. Nobody came, nobody helped. So I crawled the 100 yards down the road to the phone. I passed two sets of feet, male and female, a couple, but they only stood watching, so I finished my desperate journey to save myself unaided.
The police and ambulance came quickly and took over my struggle for survival. My entire body was black and blue, distorted and bloodied, and I nearly lost my arm from the elbow down.
My screams and nightmares began, and it was many years before they stopped.
While still trying to heal, I was charged with the murder of a chief petty officer in the navy. Apparently he was a family man who had a position of respect in his career. Prior to this time, I had no convictions for anything, not even prostitution, and had never been in prison.
I had several operations on my hand to save what they could. Thanks to brilliant surgeons, my hand and arm were saved, but some years later they had to amputate one of those fingers because my hand was curling inwards and rheumatism was setting in.
I spent nearly a year in prison awaiting trial. They gave me tests in a mental institution, trying to determine I was responsible for my actions. They really wanted to pin murder on me because there was a stab in his shoulder, making them think I’d attacked from the back initially.
My QC and solicitor were brilliant though, throwing out the first panel of jurors due to prejudice toward my profession. (My solicitor and QC became life long friends, though my solicitor has since died, sadly.)
I found out my client and attacker was a husband and father to two children. He also had two mistresses who came to court unwillingly, under enforcement, to tell their stories of a man who was occasionally violent to them. This quiet man had even threatened to cut off the head of one mistress with garden shears. The wife knew nothing of this Walter Mitty type’s double or treble lives, though they went well beyond a fantasy world. It’s often like that with prostitute killers. Their wives claim complete ignorance about their husband’s atrocities.
I eventually got a Not Guilty verdict due to self-defense, but when I tried to claim criminal compensation for the injuries I sustained, I was turned down. The Home Office said in their letter of refusal: “You put yourself in a position of danger, and therefore were responsible for actions taken against you.” I couldn’t appeal unless I paid for the appeal myself. My mother offered to re-mortgage their house but I couldn’t gamble with money that didn’t belong to me, so I declined.
Instead, I petitioned to the government for a turn-around of the human rights of prostitutes to claim criminal compensation. Eventually this was approved. It was too late for me, but not too late for all the surviving victims of the Yorkshire Ripper.
During my long healing period, along with the image of my would-be murderer repeatedly and silently plunging toward the kitchen knife, many questions rose, questions that haunt me to this day.
What changed this man from a loving, caring family man into the monster he became?
Was it the trauma he faced as a young boy, when his father murdered the most important person in his life, his mother, for having an affair? His whole family was annihilated in that one violent action, as his father was imprisoned and died there.
Was he trying to re-enact his parents’ legacy of destruction and violence? Did he become hateful toward any female who represented sexual permissiveness?
I will never truly know the answers to these questions, but I believe that they are questions to be seriously addressed. I can at least try to understand, and in this search for understanding give some meaning to my own life.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Feeding Tubes for Everyone, Please!
It would be hard to have missed the Terri Schiavo story that’s been in the media the last few weeks, the woman with severe brain damage for 15 years whose husband fought to respect her wishes to die with dignity, while her parents fought to keep her alive indefinitely. Along with the entire “Right to Life” movement, Jeb Bush, George W., and a Republican legislature called it “murder” to remove Terri’s feeding tube. The entire situation was a human tragedy only made worse by the media feeding frenzy and political grandstanding. It was a private tragedy and should never have been allowed to become such a public spectacle. But it does happen sometimes that individual people and circumstances become symbolic, raise difficult questions for an entire society. Maybe that can become a good thing if we as a people proceed to dialogue and debate on the critical issues involved. But, unfortunately, that did not happen in this case. We have not grown from this particular tragedy.
If a full, logical and honest dialogue would have happened at a public level, we would have been asking ourselves what this sanctity of life means. There are people with much better prognoses than Terri dying every single day. There are people dying every day from the eating disorders that caused Terri’s irreversible condition. If good could have come out of Terri’s story, it would have come from us as a nation looking at all these other people and asking ourselves whether Terri’s life was more important than these other people’s lives, and if not, what must we do?
I knew an old trucker named Rusty who had no health insurance and was diagnosed with a very treatable cancer that was, however, fatal if untreated. He was proud and didn’t have the money to pay the doctors, so he decided to die. Our society validated his death; it saved taxpayers’ money. He didn’t even hold it against us for thinking like that. I have also seen at schools here many children struggling for their lives--with mental illness, abuse, severe self-injury, being gay or bi or trans amid crippling homophobia, homelessness, addictions--when there has been little or no help for them. All the schools’ budgets are strained so the psychologists and social workers are eliminated and the class sizes rise so high that teachers can’t get to know their own students. I’ve seen some of these kids die. A lot of these kids know deep inside what most of us won’t even acknowledge out loud. If they don’t have health insurance, if they don’t have money, if they don’t fit into the mainstream like Terri, they are not really valued. There will be no “Right to Life” groups agitating for them, no governors or presidents or legislators advocating for them. They will suffer or even die invisibly. And no one will call it murder.
I would like to see feeding tubes for all the homeless and hungry in this country, for the diseased and uninsured, for the elderly who can’t afford their medications, for the Vets with PTSD, Gulf War Syndrome and other uncovered conditions, for the mentally ill on the streets, for all the at-risk kids whose social programs have been gutted.
Then maybe we could have an honest dialogue about the sanctity of life.