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.