Archive for March 16th, 2011

After the Jill Brenneman interview columns of February 21st24th, a number of readers had questions which Jill graciously answered in the commentary.  But since these were spread chaotically across four days, she asked if they could be gathered together and I thought that was a good idea.  I’ve placed the questions and answers in what I feel to be a logical order, editing them for length and punctuation; I’ve also changed the pronouns where needed so the questions are addressed directly to Jill.  In a few places I’ve moved sentences for clarity, but the only added words are in brackets.  I expect that these two columns will generate still more questions, but please wait until you’ve read tomorrow’s so as to avoid redundancy.

Kaiju0:  I am left feeling very confused about how men like this can exist.  It is almost unbelievable to me…I have such a difficult time imagining myself or men I know DOING these things to a woman, let alone a teenaged girl.  And I know they may have been deceived by Bruce regarding your age and…willingness to participate, but at some level they HAD to question it.  They had to know something was wrong.

Jill: There were times when both men and women involved questioned what was happening.  But I was presented as…his willing 19-year-old girlfriend, who was a Goth sub.  We role-played this until I could handle questions about it without much thought and…he could depend on my answers supporting him.  Bruce was very proud of the cover story of meeting a confident…women’s studies student and teaching her “her place”.  I upheld the cover story; to do otherwise was a brutal experience afterward, and there were times that he felt I wasn’t convincing enough.  He was very proud of what he could do to me, what I would let him do, that he could pass me around to his friends and mostly that he had taken me from college student to slave.  Of course, I was never a college student but that was immaterial.

Sometimes [people] probably could tell something wasn’t right…More than once some of the men told him to slow things down because they saw he was hurting me a lot and/or saw that he was so aggressive he was risking killing me.  Although, I don’t know that they cared about me as much as they were afraid…he would…make them witnesses.  But it is important to understand, I played my role, promising it was ok to keep going, telling people I was ok when I wasn’t, ensuring everyone was aware this was my choice even though it wasn’t.  I fought very hard to overcome their objections because to do otherwise was viewed as betrayal.

Asehpe: Did you ever find out what Bruce’s ultimate fate was…or has it become immaterial to you?  With experiences such as yours, one would imagine that sooner or later a desire for revenge, or at least justice, would appear.  Do you feel a need for something to give it closure?

Jill: Bruce’s current status is immaterial to me, other than I hope he hasn’t harmed anyone else…I don’t want revenge.  It wouldn’t give me anything [and] I’m afraid of him anyway [so] the point is moot…He is a large man.  There is no physical punishment I could or would want to give to him to equal what he did to me as a teenage girl.  They simply aren’t parallel.  My only wish is that he not be able to harm anyone else.

There won’t ever be closure; the closest I can come is speaking about what happened to try to protect others.  I don’t believe it’s possible to achieve closure with something this devastating…The best revenge would be to prevent the suffering of others.  I’d rather have that happen than any harm I could do to him.  The only thing I would like would be answers from him.  Certainly after the escape attempt I had learned the entire scope of his power; I don’t know why he had to continue to the very last day to be as violent and degrading as he was to me.  With the exception of the escape attempt, I did everything he told me to do that was humanly possible.  His rule was that I never speak first, never question anything, [and] I never broke that rule.  Many times he wanted displays of my willingness to die on command; I gave him those over and over whenever he wanted proof that I understood it was his right to demand that for his varying reasons.  I was broken within hours of being in his cellar; he had absolute control.  I would like to ask him why he still hurt me so much.

For the record, I’m not trying to present this as a sub thing; it wasn’t inherently that.  It was simply that he had that much control because I was not able to do what I wanted to do, [which was to] resist him until he did kill me.  The process of being killed was too long and painful…I wasn’t afraid of dying, I was afraid of living.

Maggie: There are a lot of things in sex which are a good fantasy but a terrible reality, and sexual slavery is one.  Though Bruce wanted others to think you were a willing submissive who could stop things if you wanted, that clearly was NOT the case and that makes the two things as different as charity and theft.

Jill: You’re right; I had never considered the idea that Bruce sold the events that happened as something I could stop if I wanted.  I knew he presented them as something I was willing to do, but it never occurred to me he would have also made it appear that I could have stopped it.  People openly commented about my bravery in how far I would go or let them go and about what a great “catch” I was and how truly wonderful it was that he had convinced me to “drop college” for him and [all] that.  But I always thought they knew I had no voice in stopping it.  But you must be right.  It makes far more sense than my thought process.

Kelly James:  You must be angry…at least I know I’m angry..angry like if given the opportunity I don’t think I’d have any problem personally flipping the switch on his electric chair kind of angry.  How do you deal with the anger?

Jill: I never really found the anger.  Bruce’s violence and…that [which] surrounded him through his associates and clients, along with the endless role-plays to make sure I acted the way I was prepared rather than with anything I felt, took an enormous emotional toll.  My assumption is that was Bruce’s plan from the outset.  I was far too scared and far too emotionally and physically wounded to do much other than what kept him from being more violent.  Essentially fear was overwhelming of any other emotion.  Freedom never really changed that; while the fear went down over time, I have never really had much anger.  Even to this day, therapists and psychiatrists have tried to get me to access my anger to break the cycle of depression and PTSD.  I just haven’t ever really found it.  Ultimately I probably bought his point that it was destiny and have yet to find a way to move beyond that.

Kelly James:  I understand….almost kinda thought you’d say that.  I’m sure as hell angry that happened to you and I bet if I told you that what happened to you happened to me, you’d be really angry…It was random chance that…you met Bruce – not your destiny.  It could have happened to any one of us…and it’s okay to be angry at the monster who perpetrated it.

Jill: You are entirely correct:  If you told me what happened to me, happened to you, I would be really angry.  While I’m never a good advocate for myself, I am always a really good advocate for others because then I can find the anger…As bad…as it is that I happened to be the one who ran into him, I honestly feel better with the concept that it was me than anyone else…There was another girl who was involved for a short time; the day she was no longer there was the same day we left for Los Angeles.  I don’t know what happened to her; I’ve always hoped that she simply escaped.  I can’t accuse him of anything other than making her suffer while she was there like he did me because I don’t know.

Kelly James:  Perhaps some self-defense/martial arts classes would give you a way to physically express anger and help you get over your fear.

Jill: You know, I’ve got 2 years of self-defense training.  As a flight attendant after 9/11, I found a serious need for it in order to feel safe working flights every day.  Although he is such a large man, I’m not sure even what I know and have practiced over and over in…class could overcome the size difference.  My fear of him is more about what lengths he would go to in order to get vengeance for me escaping.  I’ve always feared his return in my life would come at a time I was with a friend and a lot of thought has gone into how to deal with that so that at least the other person had the ability to get away from him.  I would hope self-defense would at least buy some time.

Lindsey:  I cannot even imagine what you’ve gone through and I don’t think that I could be that strong.  I found your insights into the anti-prostitution movement to be very enlightening because I was never fully aware of the intricacies…This interview brought so much depth to why criminalizing prostitution is a bad thing for everyone…I think the most discomforting part for me was not the graphic details of abuse…but rather the way the anti-prostitution activists pushed aside the sex workers as if their opinions didn’t matter.

Jill: Thank you for the kudos but they are unnecessary.  I speak out about the past in hopes of preventing a similar future for someone else.  IMO, that doesn’t make me deserving of honor or…reward, it just makes me human and means that I learned something from the violence that I was able to apply to myself to be more of a human being than I would have been otherwise.  In some ways it is much better that I experienced what I did; it gave me an understanding of myself that made me stronger and more empathetic.

Sailor Barsoom:  So you were speaking out against prostitution…and they still thought you were some evil infiltrator?  (The CIA?)

Jill: They still believed I was CIA or “a pro-prostitution” mole…I wasn’t dogmatic enough, didn’t know who the famous people in feminism were and didn’t care.  I was never meant to be an anti.  I wasn’t a good fit…despite my history.  Had I run into the sex worker rights movement first I would have started there anyway; the fit was much better, plus I’ve been free in the movement to be true to myself.  I wish I were a CIA mole infiltrating radical feminism; it would be a safe gig with good pay and really good insurance.

To be concluded tomorrow.

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