Ex-prostitute recalls the hell of Belgian brothels
by Alfredo Estrella
Carole was drugged, raped by three men, filmed and threatened at the outset of her three-year descent into the hell of prostitution -- a form of "modern-day slavery" she eventually managed to escape.
As the pimping trial involving former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Belgian brothel owner "Dodo the Pimp" and others enters its second week, Carole told AFP the highly-publicised event has brought all her worst nightmares back to life.
The 41-year-old, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, used to run her own company. But when it went bankrupt, she said she was contacted "to serve champagne" to small business owners in bars in Belgium.
"Psychologically tired, without any resources, any housing," she accepted.
But she says she was drugged, raped by three men and filmed. "That's how everything started. They showed me the video, they threatened me."
For the first two months, she worked 24 hours a day, essentially a prisoner.
"In most champagne bars and brothels, we're locked up," Carole recalls, saying she worked for someone who knew "Dodo the Pimp."
"It's modern-day slavery. To go out or have a weekend free, you ask for permission. It can be refused if a client has complained."
- 16 clients a day -
There were between 12 and 16 women per brothel or bar, most of them French, many drinking and taking drugs to cope.
Some of the prostitutes she met in VIP bars had once been doctors or lawyers.
"It's difficult to call your family, it's embarrassing, and impossible to cry for help. So you shut yourself away," she said.
Brothels are legal in some cities in Belgium, where prostitutes can register as independent workers.
But Carole was not registered with tax authorities, and her ID was given to the manager and subsequently "stolen." Her mobile phone was confiscated.
And it was relentless. No individual bed, sleeping in shifts, johns arriving day and night -- up to "16 clients a day," she says.
The men came from all walks of life -- businessmen, politicians, footballers, actors, soldiers, workers, regular employees. There were those who came at lunchtime, having said they were going to a restaurant.There were the sporty clients, "who told their wives they were going for a run or to play football." Company directors came at night, and sometimes stayed until the next day. They all had to pay 200 euros ($230) a fall, and a minimum of 200 to 250 euros per champagne bottle.
Carole would get 75 euros per champagne cork and 90 euros for each sex act. But she had to pay for rent -- between 30 and 50 euros a day -- and for food, cigarettes, clothes, and make-up.
"There was not much left... I left after three years with 1,500 euros," she says.
Then there was the violence.
Clients were informed of what a woman was capable of doing or not. "But they would sometimes be violent and do something to me that was banned," Carole says.
"Every day, I thought I was going to die."
The women were not allowed to refuse any client, and when they had drunk too much, they had to make themselves throw up and continue or be punished.
- Today 'I'm a ghost' -
Carole was eventually able to escape thanks to the help of a man invited by a company director.
She tried to seduce him for work, and he refused, saying he did not want "to take advantage of a woman."
"I fell in love," she says.
The man invited her out for two days, pretending to use her as a client would, and Carole never returned. It was a difficult time for both of them.
"It was tough for him to live with a person who had just seen hell. I had nightmares. And I was an alcoholic," she recalls.
She says she tried to file an official complaint three times in the northern French city of Lille, where she currently lives -- and where, coincidentally, the pimping trial is taking place. Each time she was turned down.
One policewoman even told her it was "because of me that husbands cheated on their wives," she says.
"Today, I can go out, but I'm a ghost.
"I'm speaking out for those who are still involved. So that they know that someone was able to leave."