Monday, 16 December 2013
Traditionally, I start a blog with - 'Good evening and greetings from Inverness where I am chilling out with the contents of the snack machine in the foyer', or something similar. Tonight is different, I'm not chilling out, I'm raging. As an adult, I've learned that it's quite okay to rage, provided you guide that rage into an appropriate channel (in this case writing, though ideally a submissive) and provided you aim that rage at the appropriate parties, in other words, don't savage someone for another's misdemeanours. So, why am I angry ?
My regular readers will know of my disregard for the Irish Catholic Church, in particular when it comes to their interference in the exchange of sex for money between consenting adults behind closed doors. Frankly, it's none of their business. In fact, it's none of anyone's business provided there is no harm to either party. Unfortunately though, where there is the smell of funding or easy pickings, they will find a way to get involved, because as one of the most powerful institutions in the world, continued power is only possible with continued support and of course, money.
I have written in the past about the real identity of the anti-sex work group Ruhama in Ireland, that they are the same group of nuns responsible for the Magdalene Laundry atrocities and I've also written of their extensive wealth. It's there in black and white for anyone to see, they have had millions of Euros of Irish taxpayers money to support their 'cause'. What I've always found chilling is that they made money from the provision of new born infants to desperate couples, leaving devastated single mothers behind, even now you can still hear mothers and children searching for each other with very little information via popular Irish radio shows. It's heart breaking.
In the ultimate act of abhorrent, these religious groups are now targetting vulnerable children in an attempt to turn them against sex workers. Young Social Innovators are holding an event on December 20th, a "pay as you go rape" day of action to criminalise clients. Now, I could go into great depths about why sex work is not rape and we always have the right to say no, but that has been covered a great many times in the past by those far better informed than I. Rather, I'll take a personal look at it.
When I read the title and the ideology behind it, I flew off the handle, in typical fiery style - and I wanted to find out why that was. Firstly, I'm a mother and have worked very hard to raise an open minded, tolerant and non-judgemental child up into an admirable young woman, and thusfar, I believe I've succeeded. The notion of religous figures backing my daughter into a corner and wagging their fingers at her, telling her - 'BAD! DIRTY!' - fills me with an anger I find hard to express.
But it was more than that. As a student psychologist, I was interested in what button it had pressed in me, to make me react that way. Having given it considerable thought, I believe I have the answer. It's because this is what the church has always done, instil the fear of God into young children. So much so, that growing up I was so terrified of our local parish priest coming to examine our catechism that I threw up. I knew that if I failed I would at best, end up in limbo with unrepentant souls and babies who hadn't been baptised. At worst, it was straight to hell and into the flames of eternity. That might sound comical now, but when you're seven or eight years old and absolutely dreading your first confession, because everyone else just got two Hail Marys and you're certain you'll be on your knees to cleanse your black soul for a week, then that's terrifying.
But we've moved on from all of that, now, right? Well no, not really. Because essentially what these religious groups are doing now is the very same thing, the maxim of - 'Lie down with dogs, and you'll get fleas', applies to 'Support sex workers' rights, and you're essentially supporting paid rape'. That's wrong, particularly when they are telling those children that the average age of entry into the sex industry is just 12.
It's time to stop the lies, and I'm pleased to say that I have a project (in discussion) in the new year which will open a real discussion on the realities of the Irish sex trade to Joe Public, and it is my fervent hope that the discussion will remain in the public domain, without a church leader in sight.
Saturday, 23 November 2013
It may surprise you to learn, that I have a conscience. A pretty big conscience as it happens, and I will always, where possible, try and do the right thing. But sometimes, it's impossible to know what that right thing is.
As escorts, we have rules. They're not set in stone, but they're generally understood to be huge no-no's. So for example, you never let a forum spat spill out into real life, especially when there are children in the background and you certainly never 'out' another escort. Following on from that is an obvious rule, you never out a client. Ever. In my time I've had a journalist put down his notepad and say, "Off the record, who have you shared sexy time with that I might know ?" My answer is always the same, "I can tell you that I wouldn't touch Wayne Rooney for £10,000, how's that ?"
Recently, I had an email from the wife/partner of someone who may or may not have been a client, my number was in his phone and as she suspected him of infidelity, she was going through his numbers. Ordinarily, when a wife makes contact, every second word starts with a 'f' or a 'c', but this one was different and below is a heavily edited copy, to protect her identity.
Hi there Laura.
I'm so sorry to bother you I really am and I feel completely ridiculous for being forced to ask you this but I don't have a choice.
First of all I'd like to say I completely respect you and the work you do, I would love to have the courage and confidence to do your line of work. It seems to be something you really enjoy doing and I take my hat off to you, you have my full respect.
The reason I'm contacting you is I came across your details in my partners phone and I'm wondering if he is or has been one of your clients?
We have been together for just over two years and have a ** month old and I'm currently **** months pregnant with baby number two. A lot of stuff has came to light regarding him since May and I'm at my wits end with it all between the lying and the cheating. He really has taken the complete piss out of me and I've had enough.
I'm not asking you so I can question him or eat him alive for meeting you it's so I know the truth for myself. I know as someone who is completely detached from the situation you have no reason to lie and I would take your word as truth. This would help give me the courage and push I need to walk away with my head held high without questioning myself and without having to explain to him why I've walked away. He will never know I've contacted you so if he is a client of yours all i'd ask is that you don't say to him i've contacted you if you meet up again. To be fair it's not because of your line of work I'm so fed up and angry it's because he's gone behind my back yet again.
I know you probably will have some discretion regarding your clients and I understand that so I wouldn't need to know where you'd met up or when or what you got up to just if he'd been a client of yours in the time we've been together or not or if you've corresponded with him. I haven't given you his name or anything yet just in case you tell me to piss off.
Again I'm so sorry I've bothered you and I really hope I haven't offended you in any way shape or form as that wasn't my intention I'm just trying to get to the truth so I can do what's best for me and my two babies. I look forward to hearing from you and I really hope you can help me.
Here is my reply -
Thanks for your email which I must admit took me by surprise, not least because usually if it's a partner getting in touch, they are furious.
I'm really very sorry this man is putting you through all this pain, you sound like a lovely lady and deserve better.
Allow me to explain how I operate. I have never and would never reveal the name of a client and I expect the same from them in terms of recognising me in public etc. At the end of the day, I am not a predatory woman, I have a website where the clients come to me. Sometimes they tell me they are married, sometimes single, but I'm never to know if it's true, I just take what they say at face value.
As a woman who has been messed around by partners too, my heart goes out to you and I really wish I could help you more, but I'm guessing if your gut instinct is telling you he's a rat and you need to walk, then speaking for myself, I never ignore that inner voice.
Very best wishes,
And finally, her response -
Thanks so much for getting back to me I really appreciate it.
I honestly hand on heart don't hold you responsible or give you any blame in any which way shape or form. I completely understand you are doing your job and you don't actively seek these men out, they seek you and to be fair if I were in the same profession as you I wouldn't ask questions and would take what they said at face value too.
I think the reason I'm not angry is because this is just a tiny bit of the lies I've listened to and so much had come to light I'm more disappointed when we have a ***** and a ***** on the way.
We're both only ** and have a family and I thought everything was great until May when all of this came out. What I'm annoyed at really is he paid to see you obviously as that's part of the deal but I've had to buy cots, prams, clothes and decorate our new babies room all on my own. Which again has no reflection on you it just proves he's a scumbag.
I had a feeling you couldn't disclose if you'd met him or not but I thought I'd reach out to you in the hope you could even if it was just to say yeah I've heard from him without saying yes we've met. It's the not knowing for sure that's driving me mad.
I'm sorry if I shocked you or upset you as you seem really nice too.
And therein lies my problem, she did indeed 'reach out' to me, and in some ways, I feel I've let her down. Rules are rules as far as escorts are concerned but I'm a mother too and it kills me to think this man is treating her so badly, and I could write the Encyclopedia Britannica on abusive ex partners.
In the end, I stuck to the 'rules' and protected him, and yet my conscience is eating me. Maybe, just maybe I could have checked my records and found nothing, or even saved his number as 'Creep, DNA'. Or maybe, I could have helped her walk away. Perhaps if we were more like the cold, unfeeling, emotionally redundant women the media would have you believe, this would have been easier. But we're not, and it isn't.
Monday, 30 September 2013
Tomorrow I head into the abyss which is - no home broadband for ten days. Counselors are on standby, I simply don't know what I will do when the ability to go onto Mumsnet and start a fight is taken away. This horrific state of affairs is because I am moving house, something I'm looking forward to in terms of the new property, but in the interim, I really wish Boy Cat would grow tired of the 'pouncing on the black sacks' game.
The run up to the move has been stressful beyond belief, I just hate mayhem, and right now my house looks like the aftermath of a particularly vicious tornado. I'm going to let you into a little secret, guess who has been keeping me afloat for the last little while, listening to me whinge and bemoan life ? Those pesky clients, that's who. Those men who routinely 'abuse and disrespect' us have come up trumps. Some of my guys have been with me for years, and it is, I suppose, quite unavoidable that a friendship develops on the back of that, particularly when you spend long periods of time together.
What I wasn't prepared for though, are the lengths these friends are prepared to go to, it astounds me that they care so much, and I feel very honoured. Right now I am the proud owner of not one but two pairs of glasses, all because one of my guys got sick to death of seeing me squint at the television and books. He frog marched me down to the opticians and made sure I had an eye test and picked up the prescription too. We're still negotiating on a hearing test, those who know me well will tell you that if there is any background noise I am stuffed, and have been known to watch people's mouths to catch what they're saying.
One of my guys has been my backbone, in terms of many forms of support, but most importantly, he has given me the self belief to go out there and speak in public, albeit rather nervously. Thank you, J.
M is a plastic surgeon, and has offered me botox injections to lift my eyebrow where it has been damaged by my abusive ex.
D is a gym bunny, he knows I really want to shed quite a lot of weight and he has offered to train me on a one to one basis, to optimize fat burning and provide motivational support too. I think that means he's going to shout at me, which will be fun, because it's usually the other way around. He's also big into nutrition and healthy eating, so he's going to show me how to 'juice' and make simple meals from fresh food. Apparently, you can cook without checking the back of a packet for the number of minutes in a microwave, who knew ?
I'm so very grateful to have a job which has introduced me to such wonderful human beings.
See you all on the other side of no broadband hell, I'll still have my iPhone so all is not lost but still, I'm using these last precious hours to google internet withdrawal syndrome.
Monday, 16 September 2013
It was with a sharp intake a breath that I read The Sun this morning. They had outed a sex worker and printed her pictures together with detailing some of the photographs from her Facebook album entitled 'My Family'.
In my experience, they don't tend to out sex workers as a matter of practice any more, there has to be an additional journalistic 'hook', such as that they work part time in a school, (because we couldn't have sex workers in contact with children, now could we ?) or in this case that the lady concerned is related to some Scottish aristocracy. In any case, it doesn't matter, it's still wrong. If you believe that by putting your pictures in the public domain, you are no longer entitled to any privacy then what is to stop me going on to say, 'Adult friend finder' and publishing the pictures of every couple in Glasgow looking to meet a third party for fun ? Here's what would stop me, common decency. I believe that every adult has the right to privacy, and when two consenting adults meet for sex behind closed doors, whether or not money changes hands, it is none of anyone else's business.
Last year, I made the decision to out myself, to further the advocacy I do and because I became sick to death of reading and hearing the lies the anti's were spinning. It's not a decision I regret, but therein lies the crux of it, it was my decision, just as it needs to be the individual decision of every sex worker, because the ramifications can be immense. Having been involuntarily outed twice in the past, I thought it might be worth considering just some of the possible outcomes, from my personal experience.
1. I worked in a bank, and they collected 'evidence' against me to contribute to the reasons as to why I ought to be sacked, including one customer who, in referring to a recent spate of fraudulent phone calls said - "If she is involved in that sort of thing, what's to say she's not in with those robbers ?" Yes, because sex workers are thieves too, it goes hand in hand. The fact that I had worked in financial services for nine years with an impeccable record was by the by.
2. Immediate concerns were raised about my parenting skills and 'someone' called social services. They were a part of my life for six months, but in the end backed off because I could show that I never worked from home, didn't have a dungeon in my cellar and my daughter is one of the most well adjusted loved little people you'll ever meet.
3. I walked into restaurants with my daughter where there were maybe two tables out of twenty sitting, only to be told they were 'fully booked'. Clearly, having me as a patron would be bad for business.
4. The locals in my town took to social media platforms to openly discuss the 'confidential' investigation which was going on with my employers. The fact that doing so breeches just about every clause in their employment contract was immaterial.
5. Grown adults began to bully my daughter, who was just seven at the time. Yes, apparently when her mother had been outed as a sex worker, it was okay to exclude her from birthday parties, social outings, leave her alone in the playground and let's not forget the lovely man who told her - 'Your mother is going to die of AIDS'.
There were times, through that dreadfully dark period, when I really thought I was going to have a breakdown. As a single parent, and when your on and off partner of many years has left as soon as the going got tough, that wasn't an option. I just had to keep going.
I sincerely hope that the lady exposed by today's tabloids doesn't experience half of the stigma and hatred that I did, and I hope she finds that strength, holds her head up high and gets on with it, nothing annoys The Haters more.
Saturday, 14 September 2013
As my regular readers might remember, last year J and I went to Ireland for a week and a hoot was had by all. It was left up to me to fix the intinerary, something I was very happy to do. We visited Dublin and pulled our own pints of Guinness, from there we went to Waterford where J experienced Irish bar life at it's finest. As we headed back up the West coast, I planned two nights in Dingle, Co. Kerry. There were two reasons for that really, firstly I wanted to show J the 'old' Ireland, the shops which sold just about everything to the front and had a tiny little bar at the back, where back then, women weren't allowed. I also wanted him to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the softly spoken Gaeilge of the locals. But there was another motive.
Every summer as a child, my parents would send myself and my two siblings to 'The Gaeltacht' for three weeks. This was a kind of summer camp where fun activities were on offer, the only proviso being you had to speak Irish for the entirety of your stay. That didn't present a problem to me, I loved my native tongue and still do. No, the problem for me was the bullying that went on, and it was severe. I still remember the day we were all brought to Ventry bay for a swim, and several of the older children thought it might be fun to strip me down to my underwear, roll me down the sand dunes and then drag me to the sea, where they held my head under the water for as long as they thought I could take it. This, might I add, was in full view of the course 'facilitators'. Back to the dormitories, where the 'Bean an tí' (woman of the house) would be waiting with a beautiful home cooked meal and a hot shower, she was a lovely lady. I knew though, that my new found happiness wouldn't last, because as sure as God made little green apples I would ascend the stairs to find my bed soaked in water, milk or anything else they could get their hands on.
That pattern of bullying continued through secondary school. Social isolation, constant comments about appearance and weight, escalated to spitting in my hair and throwing my lunch down the toilet. Every human being has a breaking point, and mine came one Friday afternoon after a heavy week of it. I was in the queue at the school cafeteria having just paid for a strawberry milk and a fruit scone, I remember it like it was yesterday. I moved my tray along to the cutlery station to get napkins and one of the biggest offenders, T, walked up and upturned my tray, sending the contents of my tray flying, all over my bag, coat and face. The red mist descended. I'm not proud of my actions that day but I took her down by her hair and leathered her, until two teachers broke it up. After that, although I had a couple of snarky comments, on the whole I was left alone. Is it any wonder that I now enjoy fighting for the minority group of sex workers who are bullied by legislators, the police, so called 'feminists' ?
When J and I were in Dingle I decided to exorcise some demons, so with his full permission, I drove up to the house which I stayed in for many a summer and although it's now a B & B, it's pretty much as I remember it. I spoke to the owners for a bit and then returned to the car. I made it about a mile down the road before pulling into the side and crying my eyes out. I don't mean delicate dabbing of eyes, I mean sobbing. J was wonderful, "You really needed to do that, didn't you ?" He let me have that moment of crying for what might have been and then we continued with our holiday and had a marvellous time.
All of that was pushed very firmly to the back of my mind until I had a message from N, a very quiet and lovely girl I went to secondary school with, who by the laws of 'you couldn't make it up', now lives in Kerry.
"You know I've thought of you often over the years and if I ever hurt you ,I'm genuinely sorry. I know some of the girls were very mean to you sometimes and I should have stepped in and said something but never did ..I'm so sorry."
It's okay N, the fightback began many years ago and is going rather well.
In the past week I've had two emails from school chums, both on completely different topics, but both worthy of discussion, the first is below.
As you may have noticed, I enjoy the odd robust debate, especially when the subject is the sex industry. Where it becomes difficult though, is when the debate is taking place on Facebook and involves one, if not more of my old school chums. I came 'out' quite a while ago in the UK but for some reason, I have found it harder to let my old friends in Ireland know, and I'm not sure why that is. In the vast majority of cases, they don't need to know, in that I'll probably never see them again. Facebook just isn't the place for discussing your deepest and darkest, it's for pretending to like some members of your family and cooing at cat pictures. I think it's a fear of their reaction, like a very good pal in Dublin when I told her. "You know there are people who can help you exit, like Ruhama." What followed was a ninety minute lecture on the realities of Ruhama and one very repentant and newly supportive friend.
The more media I do, one by one my friends are finding out regardless. Take 'L', who went to primary school with me and is now a doctor in Scotland. I opened my messages late one night having come home from an interview and there it was, "Oh my God, you're on the news, and YOU'RE TALKING SENSE !!" Yes, thank you for that L.
The most challenging of all came the night I logged on and to my great surprise my childhood pal 'M' had posted a picture - 'REAL MEN DON'T BUY GIRLS'. I was quite surprised at that because she is very socially aware and super intelligent, so surely she would have seen through the propaganda and reached the conclusion, 'REAL MEN INFORM THEMSELVES OF THE FACTS'. The debate (which I don't think she planned, to be fair) went on into the night with various people contributing to the thread and yours truly sitting on her hands. Eventually I could stand it no longer and offered several pieces of evidence to show that the statistics as presented were at best, problematic, but I was met with a very fiesty and vocal mansplainer, who told me why I was wrong on several levels. I offered some further evidence and left it at that because it was getting late, he was getting offensive and there just wasn't any point. The following morning I had a pm from M, saying "I'm so sorry about him last night, no need for it". I replied saying it wasn't a problem and I wouldn't enter into any debate with an expectation of not being challenged on several levels. That, I thought, was that. Nothing could have prepared me for the message I got from M yesterday, it blew my mind and cost the taxpayer quite a lot of Kleenex.
Hi, I had to message you because I'm mortified about the debate we had on FB a while ago about prostitution, remember when we talked about whether the men should be prosecuted for solicitation? I'm mortified because I 'thought' I knew what I was talking about but I have since seen the documentary on Channel 4 that you featured in (and while I was shocked and believe me I was shocked that you featured in the documentary), I can't believe I argued with you on the subject when I clearly wasn't as clued in as you! I have since done a lot of research on the subject and now agree that I may have been a little narrow minded. I want you to know that I now know what you do for a living (and I don't make any judgements on what you do) but I also think you are still a fabulous, wonderful woman that not only provides a service for some men that 'really, really' need it but also stand up for women everywhere and are an advocate for women's choice. I think you're very brave (I've Googled you, and seen all you've done), so I think you're incredible the way you stand up for what you believe in, and if you follow my FB page you know I am all about workers rights, human rights, animal rights etc...(but workers rights being the operative word here), I stand by you and believe in you...that's all, M. xxx
Tuesday, 3 September 2013
On August 22nd you published an article in your paper entitled - "People who trivialise prostitution ‘ignorant of reality’." The piece included several quotes from Niall Collins TD, around his encounter with street sex workers in Limerick.
Firstly, Mr Collins states that "In Sweden, prostitution has reportedly been reduced by 70% through legislation." That is both erroneous in fact and hugely misleading. There is no evidence from Sweden whatsoever to suggest that overall prostitution has been reduced, other than a small reduction in street prostitution. In itself street sex work is but a tiny part of a huge industry. In many cases the sex workers simply moved from the street to an indoor place of work where, arguably, they are in more danger as they cannot rely on each other for support. To make such a bald statement as a '70% reduction' is, simply, wrong - especially since the Swedish Police's final report on Prostitution and Trafficking published in February 2011 showed a 569% increase in reported cases of the purchase of sexual services between 2008 and 2010.
Secondly, Mr. Collins goes on to say, "People should realise 99% of these women have been abused and trafficked into this country." It would be interesting to see if he has any evidence to support this figure as, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, during my twenty years of experience in the industry I have never met a trafficked or abused sex worker in Ireland. On any given day there will be between 800 - 1,000 sex workers advertising online, many of them from countries other than Ireland. However, that's not to say that they are abused or trafficked; a distinction needs to be drawn between a 'migrant' and a 'trafficked' sex worker.
There is no doubt that there are issues surrounding some street sex workers such as drug addiction and poverty, but these are exacerbated when further criminalisation is introduced, because outreach services struggle to reach those workers who do so badly need help. With regard to the assertion that the sex worker Mr. Collins spoke to was 14, it should be noted that there is no such thing as an underage sex worker, only a child victim of rape, and I do hope Mr. Collins has taken the necessary steps and called the Gardai.
The solution for Limerick is a tolerance zone, away from the city centre, where the Gardai can work with the sex workers rather than against them. This model has shown to be very successful in Merseyside, where the crime rate has plummeted along with other associated anti-social behaviours.
It is impossible for any society to completely eradicate prostitution, what is required is a sensible approach to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that the safety of all is paramount.
International Union of Sex Workers
We are nominating Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs (NUM), for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards for Personal Safety 2013, category Inspiring Individual Award.
This is a group nomination and we are asking people to give it their support. If you or your organisation will support this group nomination please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can just send you name, or you can also write a personal recommendation that we can attach to the main group nomination.
The closing date is 6pm on 4th October 2013. Please email us by 3rd October 2013.
You give the Suzy Lamplugh Trust permission to use any material sent to them in the course of nominating a person for an award on their website and/or at the awards ceremony, so please don’t submit any private information. (If you are a sex worker, please feel free to use your working name.)
The group nomination is appended below:
We would like to nominate Alex Bryce, Manager of National Ugly Mugs (NUM), for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust Awards for Personal Safety 2013, category Inspiring Individual Award.
NUM is a UK nationwide third party crime reporting scheme for sex workers launched in July 2012.
NUM provides all sex workers in the UK with a means to report crime and receive alerts about potential dangers. Alex’s day to day work involves introducing new sex workers to NUM, taking reports of crimes committed against sex workers, supporting sex worker victims of crime, and issuing alerts to all sex workers, to help them stay safe and avoid dangerous people and situations.
Having a nationwide ugly mugs scheme is really important, because not all sex workers have a local scheme and many sex workers travel frequently. NUM brings intelligence about offenders who target sex workers together into a national database for the first time. If reporting sex workers agree, details of offenders can be shared with police intelligence, and this information can then be used by police and crime analysts to help deal with and prevent sex crime.
Alex also travels nationwide to train and educate police and others about violence against sex workers. There is strong evidence that sex workers are far more likely to be victims of violence and other crimes than non sex workers and are far less likely to report incidents to the police. Policing can have negative consequences for sex worker safety. Alex works to help police understand the issues facing sex workers, improve attitudes, approaches and practices in regard to sex work, and recognition that sex workers can be made vulnerable by their circumstances and the stigma associated with their work and the police need to work to protect them.
NUM supports and complements existing ugly mug schemes run by local sex work projects or others, and Alex promotes best practice, knowledge sharing and cooperation between ugly mug schemes.
The NUM service is online, which is ideal for reaching the growing numbers of sex workers that use the Internet, but also means Alex has to manage a complex and ground-breaking Internet service with numerous security requirements.
Alex listens and responds to criticism. He further developed the NUM website to include a new number checking service this year in response to feedback from sex workers.
Alex always finds the time to talk sex workers, sex work projects, escort websites, the police, health services, academics, students, politicians and the media, and is a tireless champion of sex worker safety and promoting the well-being and rights of sex workers.
Alex frequently writes articles and engages with the media to raise awareness. He does not shy away from political debate and has spoken out against the Swedish Model and other sex work laws and policies that are problematic and impact detrimentally on the safety, health and rights of sex workers. He calls for legislation that has a solid evidence-based foundation, and works to promote the Merseyside Model of crimes against sex workers being treated as hate crimes, which has been highly successful in improving sex worker safety. He recognises the harm of continued stigmatisation of sex workers and works to educate people about sex work, dispel myths and end discrimination.
NUM was launched in July 2012, with one year’s pilot funding from the Home Office, with the aim of making the lives of sex workers safer and bringing to justice those who commit crimes against them.
Initial research has established that already many sex workers are benefiting from NUM and working more safely as a direct result of NUM alerts. NUM now has over 1,200 individual sex workers directly signed up and over 250 organisations offering frontline support to sex workers potentially reaching tens of thousands of sex workers. The NUM Pilot Evaluation found that as a direct result of NUM alerts and warnings 16% of sex workers had avoided a specific individual or refused a booking. NUM has also led to the arrest and imprisonment of numerous offenders, including violent robbers, rapists, fraudsters and serial offenders. This has all been achieved on a limited budget with a very small team of two.
Alex is absolutely dedicated to helping and supporting sex workers and frequently goes above and beyond to help sex workers, including personally acting as an intermediary between sex workers and the police where he can help.
Alex has dedicated himself to NUM wholly including sharing his own personal good and bad experiences of police, and his own personal experiences of being a victim of sexual assault. He has reached out to all sex workers, not forgetting that sex workers are a diverse group and that, as well as female, there are also male and trans* sex workers.
Alex has also had to take on the challenge of fundraising to keep NUM up and running since its initial pilot funding ran out after the first year in May 2013. Alex has managed the NUM scheme since the outset, with only one other staff member, Kerri Swindells, to assist him.
NUM is a pioneering project that provides vital practical help and support to sex workers. Alex has worked tirelessly since the beginning to run and promote NUM, raise awareness of crime against sex workers, and promote sex worker rights and well-being. The work of NUM is also bringing justice to offenders that pose a risk to sex workers and all members of the public.
We believe Alex deserves this award for his unwavering commitment to NUM, and his fantastic achievements to date. It is also of vital importance that the work of Alex and NUM is now recognised. Sex workers are a minority group who are disproportionately targeted by criminals. For too long the safety of sex workers has not been addressed and this has had terrible consequences for sex workers and wider society. Alex and NUM can save lives.
Please help us achieve support for this group nomination by re-blogging this on your own blog if you have one, posting about this on twitter or other social media you use, and emailing people you know who might be supporters to ask them to add their support.
Saturday, 10 August 2013
As hard as the recent battle in Scotland was against the anti's, it was manageable. Oh sure, we had the misrepresentation of statistics, the 'Nefarious' roadshow, the dogged determination of Abolition Scotland to convince us all of the existence of thousands of sex slaves in Scotland to name but a few, but we got there. Ireland on the other hand is a work of art when it comes to anti's antics, they are literally running amok.
At roughly the same time as the consultation on prostitution began, Ruhama wheeled out a 'survivor' of the 'horrors' of the sex trade, to speak in favour of the introduction of the Swedish model. Enter stage left - Rachel Moran. To my regular readers, Ruhama need no introduction, I've written about their background as the same nuns behind the Magdalene scandal, not to mention their extensive government funding here.
From the very beginning, I sat up when they introduced Moran. In many respects she's perfect to front their cause. She's young, she's very attractive but not quite well spoken enough as to arouse any disbelief. Her book, which I've read, is the classic tale of rising from the ashes of a car crash existence to putting herself through Uni to where she is today. All very admirable, but something was irking me and I needed to work out what that was.
Moran and I worked in Dublin at the same time, the early nineties. I worked in the same brothels, for the same escort agencies and had regular contact through the drop in clinic on Haddington road with the same women, she says she stood on street corners with. One of those women is now a prominent activist working alongside me and is prepared to swear an affidavit to the effect that she has never set eyes on Moran until her book launch. That's not to say that Moran is falsifying the fact that she worked on the street, but isn't it odd that they never met ?
The picture I've included for you above is of the first brothel I worked in, which sits just behind the main shopping thoroughfare of Grafton Street. It was run by Tom McDonnell, a notorious pimp who went on to serve time in Portlaoise prison and fell foul of the Criminal Assets Bureau. Now, you might think that my description of Tom as a notorious pimp means that I had a terrible time working there, not at all. Actually, Tom and I were rather begrudgingly fond of each other. In fact, when I wrote this piece on Back to brothels and spoke with fondness of the day I got sacked for the third time for laughing about his 'tubular drier', it was Tom I was talking about.
Each Christmas Tom threw a party, and we tried anything and everything to get out of it. It was referred to in our circles (affectionately) as 'The Hoor's Ball', and in spite of loud protestations, we were taken out for a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, followed by enough booze to float the Titanic. Writing this, I realise that I still miss the comeraderie of brothels. Yes, we bitched and we fought, but at the base of it there was an unbreakable bond between the women, it was us against the world. It was in Tom's that I learned of the 'tain't' (t'aint one or the other) - aka the perineum, that area of a man which is super sensitive and the best place to head if you want to end an appointment early because the take away has just arrived in the staff room. It was in Tom's where I held my head very low after I learned that a request for 'water sports' didn't in fact mean a day on a yacht and was more to do with a shower cubicle and lots of towels. Yes, the other women laughed, but it was good natured and the protective arm was always there, looking after me as a newbie.
As a sex worker in Ireland in the early nineties, I began to spread my wings, and 'touring' became the norm. I visited Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Galway. At that time we all worked for the same lady, Marian, and although I can't say that she looked out for us as Tom did, she certainly never did us any wrong.
So I struggle, I really do, to see why Moran hasn't been more forthcoming in her 'memoirs'. I worked for them all. Tom, Marian, Karen, Alan and Raymond (the chuckle brothers), Melanie, Amanda. Those names will mean nothing to you, but to a sex worker who was in Dublin at that time, she should know exactly who I'm talking about. Why the secrecy ? Why the blanket claim that all of her experiences were so horrifying ? It simply doesn't add up. Moran says that in seven years of sex work she never met one client who showed her a shred of empathy or kindness. That's incredible. Because in all of my time there, I met some lovely guys. What, she never met the motorbike Garda we all christened 'Chips' ? He was a dude, and always gave us the heads up if there was going to a crackdown.
Turning to the language employed by Moran, it's here that I find the biggest discrepancies, it is literally like she is reading from a script. In a recent interview at a Waterford 'roadshow', she described some of the terminology used by the sex industry to 'sanitise' the whole transaction. Not a chance in hell are they her words, I'll wager anything on it. Similarly, the devil is in the detail and in her book, she repeatedly refers to 'domination'. The only issue I have with that is that back then, we never used that word, it was always 'discipline'. These might seem like minor discrepancies to you but to me it just added to the overall feeling of unease I had.
I was right. Having sat back and studied Moran for weeks, a very brave co-activist came forward and confirmed that Ruhama had approached her. She alleges (and I absolutely trust her word) that they offered her money to 'turn' and campaign for their side. In fact, they offered her a book deal and a tour too, exactly as Moran has now. She refused, because she has a conscience. So do I, and it is for this reason I can no longer stay quiet about the blatant lying that the anti's are doing. For people who purport to care about 'vulnerable women', it would seem that the truth can step aside to make room for continued funding.
It is an appalling situation and I will be doing everything in my power to access the working group which I understand is to convene following summer break. One final point. As I understand it, the anti's in Ireland have a habit (every pun intended) of collaberating with a Sunday newspaper which routinely outs sex workers and makes their lives unmanageable. I hold a letter from that newspaper, dating back to the early nineties, promising not to publish my details or make mention of my (and I quote) 'vice activities'. Pictorial evidence available. I wouldn't, if I were you.
Friday, 9 August 2013
This morning I had a response from the Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter.
Dear Ms. Lee,
I refer to your recent email concerning the future direction of legislation on prostitution.
In June 2012, the Minister published a discussion document on the future direction of legislation on prostitution. The purpose of the discussion document is to facilitate a public consultation process. On its publication, the Minister referred the discussion document to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The joint committee conducted its consultation process independently and published its report on 27 June.
The Minister has not yet had the opportunity to fully consider its contents.
The report of the Joint Committee and the views expressed at a conference on prostitution hosted by the Department last October will be fully considered in the framing of any necessary legislative proposals to be submitted to Government in due course.
Private Secretary to the
Minister for Justice and Equality
I have just sent this email by way of response.
Thank you for your email and I note what you say.
In considering fully the recommendations of the Joint Committee, it is worth noting that the voices of those who will be impaired by the legislation, sex workers, were for a large part of the consultation process, excluded.
I should be much obliged if you would ask Minister Shatter to have a brief meeting with me in Dublin.
I look forward to hearing from you.
International Union of Sex Workers
I will of course update as and when any further developments occur.
Tuesday, 30 July 2013
date: 30 July 2013 12:47
subject: Proposed changes to legislation on paid sex
Dear Mr. Shatter,
I am an independent Irish sex worker of some twenty years experience.
I began my career in Ireland and worked all over the country in hotels, flats and massage parlours. I worked in Dublin at the same time as Rachel Moran and can speak to the realities of the industry, both then and now.
The further criminalisation of the sex industry in Ireland is dangerous, I know first hand of the damage the 1993 Act did and I simply can't sit back and watch it happen all over again. I have long considered the implications of such a move on my part, when my own family have asked me to take a step back from Irish politics. I can't, it's too important.
I don't have an agenda, or a book to sell. I'm just passionate about the rights of sex workers and their continued welfare. I ask that we meet, at a time and place of your choosing. I am now Glasgow based and an hour's flight away. It has never been more important to consider the position of those who will be most influenced by any change to the law. I look forward to hearing from you.
Is mise le meas,
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
In Scotland we celebrated, as we heard that at long last, Rhoda Grant's attempt to implement the Swedish model had fallen, having not received the cross party support required. Our joy was short lived however, when we learned of the death of Petite Jasmine, brutally murdered by her abusive partner having already lost her children to him. Jasmine was a passionate sex workers' rights activist and a staunch opponent of the Swedish model because she knew first hand the harm it could do.
On Friday, the Swedish Rose Alliance released this statement on Facebook: “Our board member, fierce activist, and friend Petite Jasmine got brutally murdered yesterday (11 July 2013). Several years ago she lost custody of her children as she was considered to be an unfit parent due to being a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine. They told her she didn’t know what was good for her and that she was “romanticizing” prostitution, they said she lacked insight and didn’t realise sex work was a form of self-harm. He threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions. She was never offered any protection. She fought the system through four trials and had finally started seeing her children again. Yesterday the father of her children killed her. She always said, “Even if I can’t get my kids back I will make sure this never happens to any other sex worker.” We will continue her fight. Justice for Jasmine!”
I cried when I learned of Jasmine's death, for many reasons. I thought of how she must have felt in those last remaining terrifying moments of her life, I thought of the feeling of emptiness that she had without her children and I felt her immense frustration when she spoke of the State's failure to support her, all because she was a sex worker. I sobbed as I thought of my love for my daughter when I read this passage from Jasmine's blog -
"After one year and three months finally see her standing in front of me. The feeling when she runs into my arms and hug me, to get sniff her hair immediately becomes soaking wet of my tears, drag your finger along her small nose and chin, stroking her little hand and hold on her tiny body hard in my embrace and kiss her eleven thousand times in the forehead. To finally get to see her in the eye and say seventeen thousand times how missed and loved she is. And never want to let go again, but must. Created by my body when we two have been and we are part of each other forever. The love for my children is indescribable. (And justice system as said joint custody and half the time, where were you when everything was going on?)"
But right now as I write this, something wonderful is happening. Sex workers around the world are taking to the streets to protest. On Friday 19th July, sex workers from twenty three cities on three continents are going to march on the embassies of Sweden and Turkey, because we have also lost a Turkish sex worker, Dora Oezer. We are going to tell them that we have had enough of being treated as second class citizens and that we are tired of the stigma which KILLS.
Would you like to support us ? Here's what you can do. Check this website for details of your local protest and come and join us. Please remember to keep checking the site as the week progresses because more and more sex worker groups are coming on board all the time and new protests are being established.
If you have a Twitter account you can tweet a link to that site to raise awareness and support too, using the hashtags #JusticeForJasmine and #JusticeForDora. Also, on Friday 19th, we aim to get the hashtag #stigmakills trending. So please do what you can and let's get our voices heard. It has never been more important.
Sunday, 23 June 2013
The Oxford English dictionary defines stigma as - 'a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person'. Invariably, when it comes to sex work, stigma applies right across the board, regardless of what form of sex work you undertake. Similarly, stigma bears no relation to your background, ethnicity or chosen faith. It's a badge which is acquired the first time you accept payment for sex, whether you like it or not - and it's what stops so many sex workers 'coming out'.
Time and time again I get emails from sex workers thanking my colleagues and I for the campaigning work we do but saying - 'I'd love to help you but you know what it's like'. I certainly do, and I'm not suggesting for one moment that every sex worker should come 'out', not at all. It's a huge decision to make and can have ramifications you hadn't even thought of, for instance read this piece here by Maggie McNeill and also the comment from Dr. Brooke Magnanti.
This is a society, where, should I wish to, I can go out on a Friday night, get hopelessly drunk and jump into bed with Mr. A. Random. Because I'm non compos mentis then the chances are any form of protection will go out the window, as will any form of valid consent. As a society, we deem that okay, because everyone does it, right ? If I go to a hotel, meet Mr. A. Random in the middle of an afternoon, spend a couple of pleasant protected hours and get paid for it - pearls everywhere are clutched and horror levels soar. But in my second example, I'm safer. I know his name, his phone number, where he is staying and I am in a hotel surrounded by people. I'm in charge of what I'm doing and am completely free to say 'no'. Once money changes hands, what started as a mutually beneficial and pleasurable experience becomes demonized, because stigma enters the equation.
I have a theory and it is simply this - I don't believe that sex work itself is inherently harmful. What is more harmful is the scorn, social isolation and constant questioning of integrity poured upon those of us who choose to sell sex, by a society filled with hypocrisies. Keeping what you do for a living a secret, is very hard work and involves layers of deception and secrecy. For those who have been 'outed' against their will, it's even harder as large groups of people make huge assumptions about your identity and your standards and to have to defend yourself against those who rail against you on a continual basis is nothing short of exhausting.
If you're wondering what I mean by a 'society filled with hypocrisies' let's consider the 'Cougar'. Here is a woman who will proactively seek younger men to partner on an almost predatory basis and certainly because she can give him a better lifestyle in exchange for great sex. There's nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned but I do wonder why that exchange is free from stigma whilst the exchange of cash is not. A long time ago and in a brothel far away, one of my colleagues remarked - 'this is the most honest money you'll ever earn in your life', and I believe she's right. No strings, no bows, no promises of being elevated to a higher social echelon - I simply date for cash.
Although I am blessed to be surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and allies, I still experience stigma, albeit to a lesser degree. It's the beatific smile filled with pity, it's the group of women who fall silent as soon as I enter the room and it's the man who shook my hand in a green room and when he thought I wasn't looking, wiped his hand 'clean'. And that, my friends - is what needs to change.
Thursday, 20 June 2013
It's nine days until we discover whether Ms. Grant has secured the required cross party support to bring her bill forward, criminalizing the purchase of sex in Scotland. At the time of writing, that support isn't in evidence.
The article claims that none of our current laws 'protect those who are prostituted' - but rape is an offence, as is assault and many forms of harassment. Human trafficking is also already covered by statute, although I support the proposal to implement a new law re 'aggravated trafficking'. So the laws to protect us are already in place.
As sex workers on the front line, Ms. Grant has steadfastly ignored us from the outset. We have presented statistics, personal testimony and evidence from around the world as to the damage the Swedish model would do and we have simply been told either that we are not representative or that she is in possession of (seriously flawed) evidence to suggest otherwise.
There is a further suggestion that all reports indicate that abuse is rampant within the industry. I would like to see some evidence to support such a sweeping statement. How odd, that when I have twenty years experience right through the industry that I have never encountered 'rampant abuse'. Neither have my very many colleagues. Later on, Grant herself calls for evidence to 'demonstrate that they (clients) are reporting instances of trafficking in great numbers'.
In order for there to be evidence of trafficking in great numbers, there needs to be trafficking in great numbers. There isn't, it's really that simple. Not quite what Abolition Scotland would have you believe when they rolled out the 'Nefarious' roadshow, each screening of which I believe told attendees of greatly exaggerated trafficking figures and urged them to write in support of this bill.
New Zealand (we are told) exists in a very different context to us and their immigration polices help to ensure that people who enter the country are protected through a buddy scheme. I'm not quite sure what different 'context' New Zealand enjoys, but we have a buddy scheme in the UK too, designed specifically for sex workers to look out for each other. Here's a link to the site for reference.
Having regard to the suggestion that Grant's proposed legislation is not flying in the face of worldwide recommendations, I quote Wendy Lyon - "Rhoda Grant is quite wrong to suggest that UN groups have only come out against criminalisation of sex workers, not of their clients. A 2012 joint report by UNAIDS, UNDP and UNFPA very explicitly opposed the criminalisation of clients and endorsed the New Zealand/New South Wales decriminalisation approach. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover, has also stated that removing criminal penalties against clients makes it easier to promote responsible client sexual behaviour."
Finally, to allege that those of us who speak up for our industry do so just because we are 'pimps' is as nonsensical as it is uncalled for. Grant is only too aware that several of us openly advertise as independent escorts.
One commentator sums up the discourse around this proposed legislation beautifully -
"Sex workers know more about the industry than anyone else....Why can't you grasp that simple fact?"
Thursday, 30 May 2013
30th May 2013
Today, Scottish charity SCOT-PEP criticised Ms Grant’s summary of responses for her dismissal of the voices of sex workers and other experts on the regulation of sex work in Scotland. Over 900 responses were submitted to the public consultation which closed in December 2012 and Ms Grant claims most were in support of her proposals. SCOT-PEP however maintain that she has ignored the overwhelming evidence from renowned academics, un-biased experts and international bodies warning of the dangers of her proposed legislative approach, as well as the lived experiences of sex workers themselves. Instead, she favours the unsubstantiated views of those who support her position, relying on a combination of selective quotes from research findings, ‘studies’ that have been widely criticised for breaching ethical codes and in many cases a complete misrepresentation of the available evidence.
SCOT-PEP noted with interest Rhoda Grant’s reliance on the supposed success of the ‘Swedish model’. This is despite the fact that the Swedish government itself acknowledges the failure of the law - albeit in the small print. In 2007, the Swedish national health board wrote, “we cannot give any unambiguous answer to [the question of whether prostitution has increased or decreased] … no causal connections can be proven between legislation and changes in prostitution”. Expert on trafficking and labour exploitation Ann Jordan has repeatedly noted that there is “no evidence” that the Swedish law has decreased trafficking, and furthermore, in 2005 Swedish police complained of a decrease in information about trafficking, leading to zero convictions. Self-evidently, the police having no information and thus being unable to secure convictions against traffickers is hardly a victory against exploitation.
Even on its own terms, then, the Swedish model has failed: it has not reduced the amount of sex work, nor has it tackled trafficking. It has ushered in numerous harms for those working in the Swedish sex industry, with the most vulnerable workers the most badly affected. Sex workers report increased fear of violence, and increased stigma against them - which the Swedish government characterised as “positive”.
A SCOT-PEP Board member went into more detail on the damage of the Swedish model: “Legislation that criminalises the purchase of sex results in harmful outcomes for sex workers, including increasing their HIV risk, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation and limiting their access to effective healthcare and support services. This has been well documented around the world”, adding, “... with the alternative approach of decriminalisation being recommended by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and most recently the World Health Organization. We fail to see why Rhoda Grant thinks she is better placed to decide the best model of legislation than global experts”.
Sex workers who are part of the SCOT-PEP network have come out in force against the lack of inclusion of their voices and recommendations in Rhoda’s summary.
An anonymous female sex worker said, “Ms Grant may be good at saving puddings but she sure doesn't show the same level of understanding and support when it comes to saving women. Where was she with her help 10 years ago when I had nowhere to spend the night and no money to buy food? Now, when through sex work I have a home, a comfortable life and, above all, a job that gives me purpose in life and pride in my own achievements, she suddenly wants to take it all away from me. How is this helping me? If she really wanted to protect women, she'd be dealing with what makes women enter prostitution in the first place: poverty, cuts and poor child support. With the law she's proposing she simply creates more poverty, misery and inequality."
Another anonymous female sex worker also noted that Rhoda Grant, despite her ‘feminist’ credentials, apparently has no care for women who are currently working. “I feel extremely let down. Has she forgotten that she entered politics to represent the people and not just to pursue her own agenda? I wonder if Ms Grant has any suggestions as to how I should support my family if she succeeds in effectively taking away my livelihood.”
Lily, a sex worker, said: "If Rhoda would open her closed mind and listen to the voices of sex workers she would hear stories of resilience, strength and pride, all of which she sidelines in her portrayal of us as victims in need of rescue and rehabilitation. We deserve the right to work and live free from violence, discrimination and labour exploitation, all of which will flourish under the legal system Rhoda is proposing.”
Laura Lee, a sex worker, expressed dismay at Rhoda Grant’s cavalier disregard of solid evidence. “I am appalled that Rhoda Grant has chosen to ignore the evidence as presented to her on numerous occasions as to the harm that this proposal will do to the very women she is purporting to protect.”
Sia, a sex worker, highlighted that Rhoda Grant’s understanding of the sex industry shows women less respect than the clients she imagines as universally abusive. “The definition of commercial sex work as a form of violence against women is extremely offensive to both us women who have made autonomous decisions to engage in commercial sex work as well as to the clients who treat us with respect and dignity. Something Rhoda Grant seems incapable of affording to adult women.”
Luca, a male sex worker, noted how dangerous Rhoda’s proposals are. "Many reports from Sweden and internationally show that the criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective but dangerous. To ensure sex worker's access to rights, health and justice, the right legal framework is decriminalisation".
Veronica, a sauna-based sex worker, said, “Rhoda Grant seems to think that any sex worker who disagrees with her is by definition ‘not representative’. This is a handy device for pre-emptively ignoring the many voices of those working who think her understanding of the sex industry is both flawed and dangerous. The women I work with in the saunas aren’t fancy, we don’t have lovely Holyrood careers. We just want the legal protections that come from recognising our work as work. If she had listened to any of us she would know that.”
SCOT-PEP particularly deplores that the serious and nuanced debate around tackling exploitation has been reduced in Rhoda Grant’s proposal to such a simplistic and poorly evidenced series of catch-phrases. The voices of sex workers - who are the people who know best how to tackle exploitation within the sex industry - are backed up by a huge body of international evidence which has shown repeatedly that, in the words of the most recent World Health Organization guidelines (December 2012), “countries should work toward decriminalisation of sex work”.
Telephone: (+44) 0131 622 7550
Saturday, 25 May 2013
As achievements go, masturbating myself into my local A & E has never really been up there on my 'top ten to do before I die', but achieve it I did. Y'see, recently it was my birthday and ever the kind soul that he is, one of my long standing clients in Belfast asked me what I would like. No contest, I asked for a Hitachi magic wand. For those of you not familiar with said device, in terms of stimulating a woman, it gets you from nought to sixty before you can say 'HEADS' - on the break during Coronation Street.
Eager as I was to try my new toy, I rushed back to my hotel room and sure enough, found that euphoria in record time. There was just one small problem, I developed a very bad headache, to the point where I thought it might be a migraine, although I've never had one of those in my life. So I darkened the room and lay down and in time it passed. Fast forward some two weeks and I'm demonstrating the benefits of a wand to a bemused client in his hotel room, rather like a late night shopping channel, naked.
With the rush of fluids and moans and all things gorgeous which go to prove that the good lord did indeed intend us to have sex ad infinitum - came the worst headache I have ever had in my life. It was at the back of my head and was pulsating, literally taking my breath away. What to do ?
As it happened I had a routine appointment with my GP several days later and gingerly raised the issue. She said she was going to consult with her colleagues and call me back, and in the meantime I was to find something to keep me amused 'above the waist', as she delicately put it. So, I threw my case into the boot of my car and hit the road for Inverness, as had been the plan. Having just reached the bottom of the A9, the phone went and it was my GP.
"Can you get to A & E as soon as possible please ?"
"Sure, I'll be back from Inverness on Thursd ...."
And so it was that I found myself flat on my back for five days, whilst they ran test after test to ensure I hadn't ruptured something or was in danger of doing so. The first day or two were great, and the novelty of having a television and a bed all to myself without -
3. 'FIFTEEN MINUTE QUICKIES LOVE?'
...was delicious. In time though, I got so bored, I thought they were going to have to transfer me to the psych ward. Finally, on day number five, the most goddamn beautiful doctor I have ever seen in my life came to see me. I was good to go, he explained, but my stress levels were through the roof and that's what was most likely contributing to the headaches, chest pains, racing heartbeat and insomnia. (I know, I know.) Rather predictably, I phoned my Dad.
"Hola Padre, I have seen the error of my ways and am coming home. I plan on checking myself into a convent where I shall self flagellate for the rest of my pitiful existence."
"Hilarious. See you on Saturday".
So we sat, my father and I for some considerable length of time and deep into the night in his garden, chewing the fat and contemplating what needs to change. I know that ideally he'd like me to go and work in an animal sanctuary for the rest of my life, but for the moment, that's not going to happen. Nope, I'm going to have some fun.
I'm taking June until October off study completely, although I had originally planned on doubling up on modules. I'm going to let my hair down and I'm going to chill-the-feck-out. So, for those of you wondering why I have suddenly organised a group session in Glasgow, it's because I want to, it's something I thoroughly enjoy and if it goes well I will do it again.
Before I sign off, let me just say a HUGE thank you to everyone who phoned, texted and emailed after Sex on Wheels. I have no regrets about doing it at all, I think it's an important issue which needs to be addressed and I will continue to campaign as hard as I can. The only regret I have is when they filmed me speaking to a potential client on the phone and saying - 'I'm closely trimmed'. I'm sorry, but that information is not required to be known by the disco mummies, my neighbours and very definitely not my Dad. Memo to self - in future when the camera is rolling - astound everyone by simply SHUTTING UP.
P.S : My availability diary is now done until the end of July, although subject to change. I will be in both Leeds and Bristol so do drop me an email. 'Tis about time I ventured South to see what all the fuss is about.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Today saw the announcement that the Highland Council has granted a licence for a strip club to open in the capital of the highlands, Inverness. As the local MSP, Rhoda Grant was not best impressed by the news and was quoted as saying - “Introducing a lap dancing venue to the city is a step in the wrong direction and a blow to equality and woman’s rights." The Women's Support project weren't exactly hanging out the bunting either, saying - "Lap Dancing is recognised as a form of violence against women, as highlighted in the Scottish Government national approach to– “Safer Lives Changed Lives.”
As a former pole/lap dancer and a survivor of real violence, I strongly oppose the views expressed above.
When I lived in London (and that was a long time ago) I worked for a spell as a lap dancer. I wouldn't say I was particularly good, my talents came into play after the voyeuristic gentleman who had just paid for a private dance would ask me to join him in his booth for a glass of champagne. This was a sure sign that at some point we would negotiate a deal and I would go back to his hotel for a couple of hours. In reality, the club didn't care provided we ensured the men kept buying over priced and horrendous bubbly. Some of the girls who worked at the club however, operated a different strategy entirely.
Touching any of the dancers was strictly prohibited, and any 'gent' who attempted it was ejected, rules were rules. Some dancers used that rule to it's maximum effect and simply danced all night, doing very well on tips and private dances and at the end of the night, they simply packed up and went home. Whether you simply danced the night away or went back to the gent's hotel room, both activities fell under the umbrella of the sex industry. So, is dancing around a pole or going back to a hotel to indulge in paid consensual sex 'violence against women' ?
A long time ago whilst still in Dublin I had a partner, let's call him P. He told me that he imported and exported furniture, which would of course explain his beautiful car and wads of cash. I was later to find out that what he imported could best be described as 'recreational substances', but by then it was too late and I couldn't leave him, quite simply because I was too afraid.
It started with a push, late one night after I had been out with friends for a few drinks and hadn't called him to say I was on my way home. When I eventually did get home, he pushed me with both hands such that I flew backwards and hit the hob of the cooker, bruising and injuring my back. All the colour drained from his face and he burst into tears - 'I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me and I'll never do it again'. We went to bed in silence, and I vowed then to begin the process of breaking up with him, but it would need to be slowly, and it would need to look like it was the best thing for him in the long run, because as a controller, he never liked to lose.
Fast forward some six weeks and P and I were out for a meal, it was getting late. The waiter was overly friendly as they tend to be when they're looking for a huge tip and made a fawning ceremony over giving me an Irish coffee, saying that phone numbers were part of the required price. I could see the fury building up in P's face and I knew there was going to be trouble. I tried to appease him before we left the restaurant and whilst we were still in public but to no avail, he was cutting me off with one word answers and flatly refused to look me in the eye. We settled the bill and headed out to the car, in public P liked to be seen as a gentleman and so when he leaned in behind me towards the passenger door, I thought he was going to open it in an exaggerated gesture of chivalry. Not quite.
He grabbed my hair at the back of my head and smashed my face down on to the roof of the car with such force that I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. My nose exploded and the blood just seemed surreal to me, like I was looking at the aftermath of someone else's injury. Bundling me into the car, he drove like a lunatic through the streets of Dublin until we reached his flat and he took me out of the car in what looked like a protective gesture, with my head bowed so that none of the neighbours could see what was really happening.
After that began the beatings, and they came regularly - often with no reason that I could determine at all. Full force punches to the face, and as he was right handed, it was my left eye which took the worst of it, yep - the one which hangs a little lower and twitches. Leaving me in such a state was a double plus for a brutal psychopath like P, because not only could he take out all of his angers and frustrations on someone who was terrified of him, he also knew that when I was badly marked I wouldn't leave the apartment, and so he had control, because with abusers, it is ALWAYS about control.
One Friday afternoon, having spent three days in hiding, I ventured out of the apartment to go the bank and pay some bills, head bowed and in large sunglasses. I (quite literally) ran into a local Rathmines Garda, who was only too familiar with P and his notoriety and I suppose, our relationship. "If you don't leave him, he is going to kill you, it's just a matter of time. You do know that, right ?" I knew he was right and so I planned my escape with all the precision of a bank raid. I waited until I knew he was going to be out for at least six hours and caught a cab to Dublin airport, all I knew was I was going to London and after that, I would work it out. It was the longest hour of my life waiting for that flight to be called and I waited for the call, or the hand on my shoulder.
I landed in London Heathrow with 160 Irish punts in my purse and found a cheap hotel near Soho. As green as I was, I thought if you wanted a job in the sex industry in London, then Soho is where you went to, and I found a job that first night in a clip joint, which I didn't know was all about ripping the client off. I didn't want to stay there and hated it, and it can't have gone unnoticed because an older lady, Rosa, came to my rescue. She was Spanish and very kind, in a matronly manner.
"Why you here ? Why you no dance, huh ?"
I tried to explain that I didn't have a clue what I was doing, much less where I was going but she reassured me that she had a room to rent in Willesden Green because her son was in Spain for the summer with his father.
"You come with me".
Well, my options were rather limited and I was about to run out of money, so I did as instructed and the next night, Rosa took me to the first of many 'gentleman's clubs' I was to work in. To this day I remain firmly of the belief that sometimes, people are put in your path for a reason, either to get you out of a tight spot or to teach you something about yourself. Rosa and I are still in touch to this day and I can never thank her enough for what she did.
In that club, I found solidarity and I found camaraderie with the other women. I also found independence and a freedom from fear. I was safe, at last.
In summary, do you still think lap dancing is 'violence against women' ? In my case, it probably saved my life.
Monday, 29 April 2013
Let me make this clear from the outset - I hate vomiting, it's the most disgusting sight, smell and sensation, EVER.
Sometimes though, I guess it's a necessary evil, the body's way of getting rid of that which doesn't belong or will cause harm, such as the bug which provided me with a very rude awakening at 4am this morning. I looked skywards as I often do and loudly remonstrated with anyone else who happened to be awake - "YOU ARE HAVING A GIRAFFE, RIGHT ?" This was the morning I was to jet off to London for three days to fulfill an exciting schedule and meet up with some old friends too. Alas, it was not to be and I have spent the majority of today in the bathroom, so much so that if I am ever called upon to go on Mastermind, my chosen area of expertise will no longer be the sex industry. No, it will be the ingredients of every shampoo and toilet cleaner ever invented.
Come the afternoon, I had reached the conclusion that there couldn't rationally be ANYTHING else left to come up, so I took several ginger sips of water and headed out to do some messages and praying to God that I wouldn't run into a client looking like something Boy Cat had coughed up. My first port of call was a place which was all too familiar to me, bored looking employees trying to look vaguely interested in a pep talk being given to them by their line manager, who was playing to the crowd more than anything else - David Brent is alive and well and working in financial services in Ayrshire. I thought back to my time on the corporate hamster wheel and gave thanks to the Goddess for Fallen Women that I am now a very happily self employed hooker. No more pep talks for me, no sirree.
I was once sent on a course on the effective management of waste paper, which lasted three days - I kid you not. I amused myself by playing hangman with a lad from Inverness, who insisted 'Dallas' only had one 'l' to the point where the supervisor asked if we had something we would like to share with the rest of the group. Actually, we had - but it was most certainly not up for discussion with the course attendees and that very morning over breakfast we had vowed to never speak of it again. (Well, what do you expect ? Put some young delegates in a Glasgow hotel for three nights and give them twenty pounds dinner allowance, one pound will be spent on a bowl of chips and the rest on alcohol. QED.) Those course 'facilitators' had a knack of making us feel like we had the intellectual abilities of a turnip, I still recall with horror the opening line every morning - "Let's start with a fun game, a wee ice breaker". The only fun to be had with that was going in my mind from ice breaker to ice pick and entertaining a horrific imaginary scene of corporate violence.
Having 'enjoyed' all of those memories whilst standing in the queue, I realized it was almost my turn to reach the counter. I also realized that my stomach was starting to churn. Then came the sweating and the dry throat, that awful sensation when you just know what's coming. As I saw it I had two choices - run out onto the street and try and find a bin or upchuck right there and then. The street was out because it was lunchtime and literally heaving with sandwich laden suits. With seconds to spare I just made it to the waste paper basket beside David Brent before decorating it in style with the accompanying sound effects. There was a sharp intake of horror and a laden silence. This one would have to be brazened out.
"I hope you've all brushed up on your disposal techniques, yes ? Have a lovely afternoon".
With a flick of my hair and a flash of my broadest smile, I strode out the door and into the sunshine. Perhaps vomiting isn't so bad after all.
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
With the final arrival of Spring comes the promise of new life and hope, unless of course, you're an Edinburgh panda.
Many years ago I was dating a lovely chap who was very much of the 'open your mouth and think later' school of thought. We were watching television in my parents' lounge which is what you did when you were romantically linked and aged fourteen. Much to my delight, one of my favourite advertisements of all time came on, that Kit Kat ad with the dancing pandas, tormenting a photographer. The future father to my children watched agog, before asking in amazement - "Jaysus, how did they train the pandas to do that ?"
The Mother sucked air in through her teeth and my dad muttered 'Jesus Christ' under his breath before exiting stage left, to let the dogs out for a toilet break and I imagine, kick various inanimate objects around the back garden. At that moment, the future father to my children became my future nothing at all, but my love of pandas had just begun.
As a sex worker, I know that the male of the species can have severe anxiety around their performance at the best of times. Scores of people filing past the enclosure every day staring at you is bad enough, but when you have people in white coats with clipboards doing all but roar -"GO ON MY SON", then I think we need to take a step back and just let nature do it's thing.
To add to their angst, the pandas are socially aware too. Don't believe me ? They're on Twitter (@TheJockPandas) and recently tweeted this - "I guess unless we knock out a baby Panda soon we're going to get clobbered for the Bedroom Tax?" Well, it would seem that the worry is going to be taken out of the whole transaction as it now emerges that Yang Guang is a 'different animal' to last year (for which read so horny he's about to explode) and Tian Tian is to be artificially inseminated.
Personally I deem it a great shame that they can't be allowed to just get on with it, although I do love this quote from STV - 'The panda cams have been switched off in preparation for the love tunnel being opened'. Whoever penned that can't have had a straight face.
Friday, 29 March 2013
If there's one thing which maddens me beyond all reason, it's the portrayal of clients/punters/call them what you will in the media. With the proposed introduction of the Swedish model, never before has it been more evident that those in 'power' really don't have a clue about the realities of our client base. Truly, I am sick to death of hearing my clients described as little more than lust filled animals with all the sensibilities of a zombie.
Just as sex workers are individual human beings, so too are our clients. Speaking for myself, I have an extremely diverse client base, it's really impossible to bracket them into one group, because they come from all walks of life, backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities. I don't ask a lot of my guys, just that they treat me with respect and that they meet my standards of discretion and hygiene. After that, they can worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care, once they don't think they're going to convert me to Pastafarianism.
Over and over again, I hear in debates that we need to stop those men, those who 'feed the industry' with their demands, using coercion and force to get what they want. We really need to step back from the stereotype of a dirty old man in a mac looking around him furtively as he negotiates a price with a girl on a street corner.
Here are some client profiles -
1. He got married at 20, he's now 50. He adores his wife, who's given him three beautiful children and would do anything for her. They haven't had sex for five years now, because she's developed MS. For those five years, he has battled with his conscience. He can't have an affair because well, that involves feelings and people will get hurt, but he can't deny the physical needs he has.
2. As a young man, he left a job in the city to care for his father full time. He gets four hours reprieve a week when a carer paid for by the state comes in, and he uses this time to visit a local escort, where they open a bottle of wine and share a bubble bath together. It is this time which he treasures.
3. He got married young and it quickly became apparent that the marriage was wrong. There is violence in the marital home, she regularly assaults him, but because he has now become a public figure he can never report that, much less leave her. Provided he keeps her credit card topped up, she turns a blind eye when he books into a hotel one night a month and hires an escort.
4. As a teenager he was reckless and fell in with the wrong crowd. He began 'joy riding' which culminated in a horrific smash. Since then, he has been confined to a wheelchair and has no sensation from the waist down. He feels his injuries are God's way of punishing him for his behaviour and he frequently sinks into long bouts of black depression, even contemplating ending his life. What keeps him going is the periodic visits he gets from a sex worker, when he enjoys a sensual massage.
5. As a young boy, he was repeatedly and savagely raped by a close family member. He has serious issues with body dysmorphia and self esteem as a result. He wants to learn to enjoy sex as an act of love and tenderness, so that he can disassociate it from violence and terror.
The above examples are real clients, my clients. Are these the men we need to criminalise ? No. The men we need to (further) criminalise are the traffickers, those who trade in misery and suffering. Leave the men who are already dealing with their own misery and suffering alone.
Sunday, 10 March 2013
Ironic, isn't it, that my first bout of 'sex education' came from a Catholic nun, Sr. Noreen, or Boreen Noreen as she was affectionately known. Noreen was a kind soul and deeply uncomfortable with the subject matter. Mortified, she explained that sanitary towels were always to be worn with the sticky side down, because to fail in that could lead to abject discomfort.
I say ironic because on International Women's Day, I was listening to the Sisters of Mercy try to defend the indefensible with regard to the Magdalene Laundries. I very nearly pitied them. Until I remembered that the same order of nuns responsible for the atrocities committed in the laundries are now the chief anti sex work protagonists in Ireland. Now known as Ruhama, the same nuns that bullied and victimised those 'fallen women' for generations are still at it, although if the interview I just heard is anything to go by, it's nothing to do with funding, it's from the goodness of their hearts, obviously. You'd have to wonder then, exactly what they've done with over fourteen million euros since 2006.
Asked about whether the work the women endured in the laundries was 'slavery', the nuns replied, with regard to prostitution - " The women who work in our towns and villages today, that's slavery. Doing stuff you don't want to do under coercion". That was a pretty impressive deflection attempt, but nowhere near successful. The fact remains, the Magdalene women were forced to work long hours, and (allegedly) had to endure physical, mental and sexual abuse. They were separated from their babies, their families and their friends and in some cases became so institutionalised that the only solution was for them to remain in the laundries until they died. If that's not slavery then I don't know what is.
To refer to sex workers who choose to travel around Ireland having consensual sex as slaves is erroneous and quite frankly, offensive. I say offensive because it paints a picture of poor vulnerable women who can't or won't choose their own destinies and are at the mercy of abusers. Not true. The vast majority of women in prostitution in Ireland are there by choice and are more than capable of controlling their own lives, I know because I am one of them and have met many others, over many years.
The nuns who were being interviewed were then asked about their decision to remain anonymous and their reply was very interesting to say the least. They said that they are being 'cast out into the desert to get rid of the stigma' and that should their identities become known, they would be 'stoned'. What about the women who were cast out of society for the 'sin' of bearing a child ? Those women had to endure stigma as do the many sex workers in Ireland today. It also begs the question, if the nuns are so resolute in their claims of innocence, what have they got to hide ? Why the secrecy ?
One question I was very interested in the reply to centred around funding, and they were asked what became of the money that was earned in the laundries. They replied that it was used to pay for the keep of the women and that actually, the nuns led very frugal lives. How odd then, that I can easily source a report from The Irish Examiner which estimates the wealth of The Sisters of Mercy at €1.6bn. Having regard to that figure, can anyone really claim that an award of compensation of €200,000 per victim is excessive ? How can one begin to quantify the pain and suffering those women endured, losing their precious babies and years of their lives ?
Further on in the interview, the nuns went on to explain that as a society, we are "looking with today eyes at a totally different era". Therein lies the ultimate irony, because I believe that unless Ruhama and their co-abolitionists are stopped from State sponsored bullying of sex workers, then another apology from Enda Kenny's successor will not be enough. As an enlightened and modern society, the oppression of Irish and migrant sex workers can no longer be justified.