Ruhama on prostitution in Ireland – one view

The Irish Times – Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Prostitution infiltrating rural areas, says agency

STEVEN CARROLL

TECHNOLOGY HAS aided the spread of prostitution into rural Ireland
with pimps and traffickers now able to monitor women working in small
communities, women’s agency Ruhama has said.

The agency, which helps victims of trafficking and women involved in
prostitution, said mobile phones and the internet were increasingly
being used to advertise and arrange meetings in the sex industry.
Ruhama estimated that as many as 1,000 women were selling sex at any
given time in Ireland. As well as established markets in Dublin, Cork
and Limerick, the agency said it had come into contact with organised
prostitution in areas such as Edgeworthstown, Co Longford,
Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, and Ballina, Co Mayo.

“Women are moved quickly and sometimes frequently and the criminals
involved remain at arm’s length hiding behind a computer screen,” the
agency said in its annual report.

Information on women’s “movements, numbers of buyers, the amount of
cash changing hands” was now immediately available to pimps and
traffickers even if they were not on site.

Ruhama said it worked with 204 women involved in prostitution last
year – a 4 per cent increase on 2009. The majority of new cases
involved women working as escorts or in brothels but there was also a
9 per cent increase in the number of women working the streets who
sought help from the agency.

Ruhama said it helped 140 women from 31 countries with matters such as
accommodation, health, addiction and negotiating the criminal justice
system in 2010. It said that 61 per cent of those trafficked into
Ireland for sex came from Nigeria, with individuals also coming from
countries such as Romania, Cameroon, Albania, Moldova and Ghana.

Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson said prostitution and trafficking
in Ireland was now of a “truly global nature”.

“The women Ruhama works with come from very diverse backgrounds and
experiences. They also often have a great deal in common,” she said.

“Most are vulnerable migrant women or marginalised Irish nationals
experiencing economic difficulties, especially debt, and some have
addiction or childhood abuse issues.”

Ruhama has campaigned for the Government to take similar steps to its
counterparts in Sweden where, in 1999, legislation criminalising the
purchase and decriminalising the selling of sex was introduced.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is said to be considering rolling
out a nationwide operation targeting men who buy sex from prostitutes.

It follows a successful trial operation in Dublin which resulted in
more than 60 men being prosecuted. Two follow-up undercover operations
detected no kerb-crawlers in the areas targeted.

Speaking recently in the Dáil, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said
that under Irish law it was not “an offence, in itself, to sell sex”
or to purchase sex. Instead, the law aimed to protect prostitutes from
exploitation and “society from the more intrusive aspects of such
activity from a public order perspective”.

“Any proposal to amend the law in terms of criminalising the purchase
of sex would require very careful examination,” he said.

Looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was

This is an abridged version of the testimony of “Amy”, a former escort
who recounts her experience in Ruhama’s annual report. Ruhama says
that while this is “her own personal story in her own words . . . the
themes echo those of many of the women Ruhama works with”.

I BEGAN escorting officially when I was 20 . . . When I was 16, I had
met a man in his 30s that paid me to do things for him and his friends
but never said it was prostitution or anything. He had me totally in
his control, psychologically, so that I would do anything for him and
be extremely worried and anxious about not making him happy. This went
on for a few years. When I finally got rid of him, I began escorting
on my own.

“I could say this was a choice, it was, a freely made one. However,
considering the background of rape and sexual abuse that lasted about
three years, looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was and how I
was emotionally not stable enough to be making that kind of ‘choice’.

“When I started escorting on my own, it felt okay at the beginning. I
liked the feeling of being in ‘control’ of the men, and ‘using’ them
for their money, but I soon started realising that my plan to be in
control had backfired, that actually the men were in control and had
the power, and they weren’t afraid to show me that they were the ones
in charge.

“You could say that I could’ve stopped at any moment. That is true,
but I didn’t have the emotional tools to be able to stop.

“I got sucked into the online world of escorting and felt like what I
was doing was normal. This went on, and off, for about four years or
so.

“Now, looking back, the scariest thing is the punters and how they
treated me and talked to me.

“They have no idea how dangerous and scary the escorting world is,
they are all deluded by the few ‘happy hookers’ that talk on the
websites all the time. They think these girls are the only type of
girls that exist.

“That men will write ‘reviews’ of their time having sex with a girl is
the most disturbing part of the whole thing, apart from the fact that
they are punters in the first place of course.

“Instead of asking the girl if she is okay and why isn’t she happy,
they run home to their precious internet to tell all the other punters
about the terrible trauma of visiting a prostitute who hates her job.

“Finally, I had a punter that verged on behaving in an illegal way and
it was the reality check I needed to stop properly . . . To this man I
wasn’t even a human.

“I went on the Ruhama website and sent an e-mail. Within hours, I got
a phone call back and a couple of days later a phone call from a case
worker to arrange to meet.

“I felt such relief to meet with her and talk to someone that truly
understood my experience

“It’s been a year-and-a-half since I stopped but I’m not emotionally
able to have any kind of a relationship.

“I don’t trust men . . . I have great male friends, and I’m so
thankful for having them, but when it comes to sexual relationships, I
still use sex to get what I want (ie love).

“Women and men will never be equal as long as prostitution exists.

“It shouldn’t be acceptable to buy women for sex, not if we care about
each other, and not if we care about what we want our society to be
like.”