The notion that sex in some circumstances is degrading harks back to ideas of racial purity, eugenics even. Some sexual acts can be degrading, both to men and women – but it is never the act that moral campaigners refer to as degrading – it is the circumstances preceding it, and those partaking of the act. You hear little of male prostitutes, nor of whether women are their clients; but the Feministas are obsessed with female prostitutes – despite evidence that some of their clients are women!
According to those indelibly stained by years of Gender and Equality studies, if a woman consents to sex after a man has handed £75 to a suburban pub chef newly installed in an East End refurbished warehouse – that is the enviable product of years of intense lobbying to give women the freedom to say ‘what they want’. However, if he cuts out the middleman, and hands the money directly to the woman, that is an act of degradation; in Northern Ireland, it is an act that they wish to see criminalised.
Yesterday saw the anniversary of International Whores Day, which marks the 2nd June 1972 when 100 French prostitutes occupied the Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon to protest against their working conditions. Campaigners had successfully lobbied the government to force the women out of sight, off the streets – and this had resulted in the murder of two of them. In Dublin, the Monto district was once reputed to be the largest ‘red-light district in Europe’; campaigners successfully engineered The Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act of 1993 which forced the largely ‘independent’ and feisty sex workers off the streets – and equally resulted in the murder of two young women, forced by the law into the disempowering shady network of brothels and massage parlours.
I can comprehend and sympathise with the aims of those campaigners who wish to support women who chose to leave a life of prostitution; what I cannot comprehend is those who wish to criminalise women who chose of their own free will to support themselves and their families and drive them into the arms of such campaigners. Working in a battery hen farm is unpleasant, there are various people who find their very existence disgusting, some workers may be exposed to illness or danger working there – but we respond by improving working conditions, demanding minimum wages, offering health cover; not by banning the sale of chicken. Nor do we cheerfully believe that every battery farm worker has been ‘forced’ to work there, or ‘trafficked’ to do so.
The power of message manipulation is intoxicating to a moral guardian. Readers are transported to a literary dimension where stifling old school journalistic rules do not exist. The message is ideologically driven – reason tells you that not all prostitutes are victims, of anything or anyone – but the bias translator is a powerful tool, and in small groups that suppress any dissent, they transport a far from homogenous group of individuals into their client group of vulnerable victims.
Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. Some of the biggest and most vociferous groups in Ireland have surprisingly generous funding from even more surprising sources. There is ‘Ruhama‘ named after the Hebrew for ‘one who was spared’, which immediately conjures up an image of someone who could not help themselves, rescued from a modern form of slavery which fits with the radical feminist view of sex being a form of subordination and gender inequality.
Ruhama’s funding is 70% from the tax payer – a variety of sources, including The Human Trafficking Unit at the Department of Justice and Equality, the Health and Safety Executive, and if they have their way, and manage to get clause 10a installed in the proposed legislation to criminalise prostitution, there will be an open ended figure to finance the ‘rehousing and on going support’ of those they rescue.
Who are these kindly souls that wish only to house and support
sinners vulnerable victims of human trafficking? Well it turns out that the Trustees of Ruhama bear a marked resemblance to representatives of the Religious orders once known as the Magdalen Sisters – who ran the infamous Magdalen Laundries .
“The bottom line is these four religious orders, and the State, were responsible for the effective wrongful incarceration of girls and women who were forced to work for no pay within a brutal regime.
The Magdalen Order refused to pay compensation to the girls so degraded by their ‘saviours’ – so the Irish government stepped in with £34m of tax payer funds. Now they are funding the same orders to ‘rescue’ prostitutes from a ‘brutal regime’?
The other big player in this battle for
the souls of sinners sex trafficked vulnerable victims, is ‘Turn Off the Red Light‘. They are an umbrella group of 56 charities who wish to end prostitution, and append ‘sex trafficking’ to their aims these days. Why? In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,
“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilise similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.”
‘The Turn Off the Red Light’ group is exceptionally well funded, they have received a whopping £24 million pounds so far to fight the good fight against prostitution, sorry, ‘prostitution and sex trafficking‘, from Atlantic Philanthropies, billionaire Charles Feeney’s foundation. That is a whole tump of money in search of the lesser spotted sex trafficked victim.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), established in the Department of Justice and Equality in February 2008, is working diligently to ensure that the Irish response to trafficking in human beings is coordinated, comprehensive and holistic.
In addition to the AHTU there are 3 other dedicated Units in State Agencies dealing with this issue, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit in the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), the Anti-Human Trafficking Team in the Health Service Executive (HSE) and a specialised Human Trafficking legal team in the Legal Aid Board (LAB). These Units have been set up as a response to Ireland’s international obligations to provide services to victims of human trafficking. Dedicated personnel in the New Communities and Asylum Seekers Unit in the Department of Social Protection are assigned to assist victims of trafficking in the transition from Reception and Integration centres to independent living facilities. Furthermore, dedicated personnel in the office of the Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) are assigned to deal with the prosecution of human trafficking cases.
I haven’t got the energy to track down the governmental budget for all this activity – but the Department of Justice’s Annual Report of Trafficking in Human Beings in Ireland for 2012, some four years later, says only 16 alleged victims of sex trafficking into prostitution were identified in 2012, all of these being adult females.
Only ‘alleged victims’ too. But those 16 ‘alleged victims’ are a valuable commodity. They are being used to bludgeon into silence an unknown number of women who believe that it is ‘their body, their’s to do with as they please’. A sentiment normally music to the ears of Feminsitas – but not if you take the cash rather than the diamonds….
Like all other workers, sex workers need access to the full range of services that are targeted at the general population including housing, health and social support services. Unlike other workers, they need labour rights, and the right to work in an environment free from violence, harassment or intimidation. They also need equality, social inclusion and the right to self determination and the right to legal protection as workers.
There isn’t likely to be the funds or the inclination to give it to them whilst they are tied into emotive words like slavery and human trafficking. It is reminiscent of the situation with child protection in the UK, with millions being spent on headlining show trials of ageing celebrities and exploring ‘stranger danger’, but no money to fund true child protection at the sharp end.
I met a lady in Scotland recently. Her job is finding emergency homes for children waiting to be collected from nursery school but whose Mothers had been sent to jail that day….she operates out of a Portacabin, and had spent the day desperately filling in grant applications so that she could keep going. Nobody is going to give her £24 million pounds.