How does one become “Other?”

I have been a supporter of Ruhama since I first read about them 10 years ago. This year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary of helping women involved in the sex industry in Ireland.Girl sketch I’ve decided to write this blog partly because of the comments that were left below an article published in The Journal yesterday. It was written by a caseworker who has been with Ruhama for 17 years. I also wanted to write about this because I’ve been trying to make sense of my own misanthropy: on the one hand, overwhelmingly, the people I have met and spent time with in the last 50 years have been good people. Some have been incredible, interesting, unusual, kind, compassionate and I feel grateful to have known them (or to still know them). There have only been a few notable exceptions to this rule, some real arseholes and dickheads, but such is life. So I think my misanthropy comes from discovering the realities of modern slavery, the abuse of vulnerable people, cruelty towards animals, the crazy and horrible things we do to the environment.

This caseworker talks about what Ruhama does and about the women and girls they help. To me it is obvious that treating women like commodities or like human waste receptacles is so utterly wrong it is self-evident. Not least because this caseworker spells out very clearly what sex workers think of their trade. Many women in prostitution, if they don’t start off with a drug habit, will finish up with one because they can’t do what they do unless they are high. Most women in prostitution come from backgrounds of appalling childhood deprivation and abuse. They are disgusted by punters. Women and girls in prostitution are incredibly vulnerable people, they are frequently raped and beaten, and often badly injured in the course of their work. They are farmed out by pimps, pushed into it by boyfriends or husbands, forced into it through poverty or homelessness.

These are women who started off, on their very first day in this world, just like the rest of us: they are the same and yet the twists their lives have taken, by sheer bad luck and sometimes by bad choices, has rendered them “other”.  They are untouchables, from another planet perhaps, different to the rest of us for whom it would be an outrage if we were viewed as nothing other than a piece of meat for someone to hump and then throw away.

Angry man sketchThis is going to be horrible

For a few seconds, whether you are a man or a woman (it doesn’t really matter), close your eyes, imagine yourself on your knees in a hotel room or down an alleyway, with someone’s penis in your mouth, forcing it down your throat so that you are sure you will choke. Then he comes into your mouth, zips his cock back into his pants, throws you a fiver (or maybe just walks off without paying you at all). Perhaps this is the 10th or 15th man today. Maybe this is man number 50 or 60 or 100 this week.

Force yourself to do this visualisation. Imagine what that is like. At the very least it should give you pause for thought when you casually say that prostitution should be legalised. What is left of a girl or woman after some strange man has used her like a public toilet? Was that enjoyable for her? Was it really sexy and kinky? Was she in love with this man? Will she run to her best friends, all excited to tell them about this wonderful experience, this new employment? I don’t think so.

Who and what is she now? Is she the same as us or is she other?

A German disaster story

Many of the comments in the section below The Journal article appalled me. From accusing Ruhama of being another tax funded religious order with an agenda, to casually offering the solution of legalising prostitution in Ireland.Girl sketch Other

The first comment was from someone who asked “aren’t Ruhama the same people who ran The Magdalene Laundries?” The answer is NO they certainly aren’t the same people, in fact they couldn’t be farther from it.

The other comments, mostly from men but some from women, made me despair. I will proudly admit that I am a card-carrying feminist, but even basic humanity should tell you that the offer of sex with a woman, plus a Frankfurter and a pint of beer thrown in, all for €69 (yes, that is what is on offer in Germany where prostitution is legal) is beyond degrading.

In many German brothels they have a flat rate for sex: a man pays €100 and can do what he wants for as long as he wants with the woman. This assignation is usually fuelled with drugs to enhance his “performance” and allows him to maintain an erection for hours on end. And these women have to see one man after another, after another, after another. Do you think the women in these brothels can choose who they have sex with and what kind of sex? Are the people who make the kind of comments I read yesterday naive enough to think that a solution like legalisation might make things comfy and cuddly? Why don’t people look into the facts and accept women’s lived experience of prostitution? How do we explain the realities and get people to recognise the horror and injustice?

StaitvsdrLegalised prostitution is does not empower women, it does not improve welfare standards and because there are now so many prostitutes in Germany (so many women have flooded in from very poor eastern European towns), their wages have dropped dramatically. The number of sex workers in Germany has doubled in 11 years, there has been a concomitant increase in number of murders and disappearances of prostitutes. And this excludes women that the authorities don’t even know are in Germany because they are illegal immigrants.


Girl kickingIs this the gender equality we are looking for?

It isn’t my idea of gender equality. This is a catastrophe for women involved in sex work in particular and for humankind in general. Yes, I’m using the word catastrophe because it is apt. If you were trafficked into prostitution, chained to a bed, beaten and raped by 15 or 20 men a day you would call your life an unmitigated disaster. Even if you chose to be a sex worker you would not be the same person at the end of it. You wouldn’t even occupy the same universe as your former self let alone the universe that the rest of us occupy.

But these women are other and until we start seeing them as us things will never change. Until men start accepting the reality of prostitution things will never change. It can’t just be groups like Ruhama who have to shoulder the burden of trying to make life better for women and girls – and then get hammered on social media for their trouble.

What about the happy prostitute?

I won’t argue that some women (and men) enjoy working in prostitution. But how numerous are they? Surely they are the anomaly that proves the rule? Okay, I’m fine with that but if you look at the lived experience, if you look at the evidence and I’m talking about internationally rather than just in Ireland or other western countries, I think you’ll find that the happy, giggly prostitute is, for all intents and purposes, an urban myth designed and trotted out to serve a particular agenda. I have read some accounts of women who have made good money from prostitution and I’ll take it as true if they say they are happy with this choice, who am I to say I know more about their emotional life than they do? But I think the difference here perhaps, is that they don’t work for pimps, they don’t take drugs and they have sex with far fewer men, have the ability to consent or to withold consent, choose who they have sex with, where and what they’ll charge for it. If only that were the general rule, but it simply is not.

If you don’t believe what I say in this blog I would ask you to do some research. Find out about the Swedish model that Ruhama has been at the forefront of instituting in Ireland.

And here are 10 reasons why legalising prostitution doesn’t work and if you can bolster your nerve to discover the consequences of 11 years of legalised prostitution in Germany read this article in Der Spiegel

Thanks for reading. If I come across as angry, upset, raging, and bitterly frustrated about the horrors of prostitution then it is because I am angry, raging, upset and bitterly frustrated!