The tireless struggle of a former prostitute

Sandra Norak is one of the few women who managed to escape prostitution. She not only managed to get away, but also managed to complete her high school diploma, study law and find her way into her current role as an activist. Today we are sharing the story of a woman which is filled with suffering, and sadly, is not one that she alone has had to endure. What she experienced is experienced by women all over the world on a daily basis. This suffering is exactly what the Norak wants to change, and she has been fighting for the abolition of prostitution for years – with strong and covincing positions, reasoning and arguments.


Sandra Norak spent six years trapped in this underworld. During these six years she saw around 400 to 500 johns a month. It was a time filled with trauma. A life as a prostitute is a life without dignity, she says today – it is as if every john had stolen a piece of her soul. She was often forced to watch other women endure “the worst, most inhuman things by those who paid for sex”. They just lay there motionless because they had already given up on themselves. Norak deeply felt the psychological burden of her “work”. Once you find yourself in this predicament, it is difficult to get away. It took Norak a year and a half from the decision to turn her back on prostitution, to actually quitting.


Since her escape Sandra Norak has decided to speak publicly and frankly about how she ended up where she did at the tender age of only seventeen. Her family relationships were difficult, she had few friends and often found recognition and companionship online. One day she met a man online, they chatted a lot, and he gained her trust. After a short time he had become the most important person in her life. This “loverboy” was 2 meters tall and was into martial arts. He was not her type at all, says Norak – but he promised to be there for her and unfortunately this is more than she got from her family at the time. She saw the man 20 years her senior as a kind of lifeline.

They became a couple and at some stage he persuaded her that they should visit a brothel together. He later said that it would be a good source of income if she would also be able to get involved in this work. He said it would help him a lot as he had a lot of debt. So one thing led to another. Norak even got a large tattoo on her back, paid for by her supposed boyfriend who had become her pimp. Such “marks” serve as symbols for other pimps and are strongly reminiscent of the branding of slaves.


In an interview with the German television programme SWR Landesschau, Norak talks about her escape and says that it was “luck” that after 5 years she simply couldn’t cope. She was in a dire physical and mental state. She lay in bed and was barely able to receive her clients. She suffered from frequent panic attacks. She gradually became unsuitable for her pimp, as he considered her to no longer be a good source of income. Her dog, which Norak adopted from an animal shelter, gave her a lot of comfort and strength during this turbulent time. Upon leaving, Norak managed to make up for her lack of highschool diploma whilst making ends meet as a zookeeper. She then completed a law degree.


“The johns don’t care if you are in pain”, after a short pause Norak adds: “No, it makes most of them even more excited”. The women she met in the brothel were empty, as if they had no soul left. This is what happens when you have to suppress your feelings every day and cannot show disgust or resistance, says Norak, referring to this hopeless state. Prostitution is the symbol of a sick society, one that uses the psychological suffering of women to make them compliant. She justifies this point of view as follows: Many women who work in prostitution experienced violence as children and thus built up certain protective mechanisms. These childhood traumas makes them able to endure the job as they are used to pain and brutality

The psychiatrist Lutz Besser from the Center for Psychotrauma Lower Saxony confirms this, and is shocked by the fact that prostitution is tolerated and even welcomed in our society as a matter of normality. He finds the lack of ethical discussions about buying sex abhorent and describes the sex trade as an “organized and legitimate form of exploitation, humiliation and physical/mental abuse of women.”


A Swiss study confirms the negative effects of prostitution on the mental health. Doctors interviewed around 200 sex workers aged 18 to 63 years. In order to make the study as representative as possible, they asked women of different nationalities who worked in bars, brothels, studios or on the street. It was found that prostitutes suffer from mental illnesses far more often than women in other professions. One in two women in prostitution is ill, while the figure is only 12 percent of women in other professions. Common ailments are anxiety disorders and depression. Violent histories are a particular risk factor for these diagnoses. Many of the women surveyed experienced violence in childhood.

Further research has confirmed that prostitution is traumatic for most women. 68% of women in prostitution suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to their work, comparable to the stress of war veterans or victims of torture.


Norak criticizes the fact that prostitution is normalized through everyday language. Statements like: “It’s a job like any other” or “the worlds oldest profession” make her just as angry as associations that allegedly campaign for better working conditions in prostitution. Who is really able to check what is going on behind a locked door and how the woman is feeling? Although she does not claim that there are no women who like to earn money with sex and do sex work voluntarily, she fights for the broad masses who are trafficked for this purpose or who are recruited and exploited via the Internet. She believes that the few who do it voluntarily, do not outweigh the misery of the majority.


Norak speaks clear words: prostitution must be banned. She cites Sweden as a role model, where buying sex has been illegal since 1998. Even if prostitution has not completely disappeared in Sweden since then, the Nordic model is considered to be the most successful in curbing the billion-dollar business. Punishing the johns has drastically reduced the demand for prostitution. A recorded phone call between a Romanian human trafficker and a Swedish pimp is evidence of this. On the call you can hear the pimp complaining that the Swedish market is dead.

As an activist, Norak lectures at schools, advises politicians and gives interviews – she does this all to educate the public about the reality of prostitution and to bring about change. You can find out more about her and follow her current projects on her website. Her battle is far from over, and she will likely not rest until she knows that girls and women will be saved from their fate.