Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Guest post by English Kate - Ruhama, how they "assist" women.
Today I want to tell you about a friend of mine. This is someone I met just over a year and a half a go. She is younger than me and a larger than life character, with a great sense of humour and you can't help but feel relaxed in her company. When we met for the first time, I instantly took a liking to her and some how knew that we would be good friends. Having said that, due to the nature of the job, we have not met in the flesh again since, but now things have changed, I do hope that will change too and we will make time to do that, as good friends are hard to come by.
My friend I shall call Sophie for the sake of this blog, has not been in the best place for the last couple of years and this is her story...
Two years ago while working as an Escort she was attacked and robbed. She was struggling mentally and emotionally with sex work as a consequence and finding it very difficult to continue working after the attack, but had no choice. She was terrified! She was so terrified, she could barely bring herself to sleep while working away from home and was having to use all the will she had to get over her fear of working.
Having heard of Ruhama and the fact that they were there to help sex workers get out of sex work, Sophie decided that she would contact them to see what they could do to help her. She needed help, as she just couldn't see a way out by herself and she dreamed that they would whisk her away from this awful situation that she had found herself in.
Sophie was nervous, too nervous to ring them on the phone and terrified about speaking to someone outside the sex industry about her job. Thankfully Ruhama have a website with a contact form on it, so she decided to fill out the form on the website stating her problems she was having and her desperate need to leave the business, as it was affecting her mentally in a bad way.
A few days later she received a reply from Ruhama, but sadly it was a generic reply with information from their website, saying that it sounds like she could do with some counselling and giving her a telephone number to ring to make an appointment. This brought her straight back to square one, with facing the dilemma of using the telephone to contact a stranger outside of the sex industry who may judge her for what she does. Sophie could not bring herself to pick up the phone, she just couldn't do it. Instead she continued to force herself to work. In the mean time she kept checking her emails to see if there was light at the end of the tunnel, to see if Ruhama had contacted her again, but they never did.
After some time and coming to terms with the fact that she wasn't going to get any help from Ruhama Sophie started job hunting. Two years passed by and not one single interview had come her way. She had registered as self-employed and was paying taxes, but being self-employed didn't seem to help with regards to getting a job, as no one was biting.
Again Sophie looked to Ruhama for help and filled out another form on the website. This time she was delighted to have got a more human response and was given the opportunity to book an appointment via email. However although she was based in the North of Ireland, she was instructed to go to Dublin in D9 for the appointment and it was in a very busy, well used building.
Ironically Sophie had to organise a tour to Dublin and work to enable her to attend the meeting, as she couldn't afford to get there otherwise. The Week before the appointment was really bad workwise and she was not making any money. She had hoped with all her heart to make some money right up to the day before the appointment so she could attend, just one client would have paid for the taxi, but no work came her way. With a heavy heart she had to cancel the appointment, as she couldn't afford the taxi fare there and back again.
Feeling despondent Sophie decided again to try and get a job herself. She re-worked her CV several times and still was not even getting an interview for a job, so after 3 more miserable months she tried again to contact Ruhama and booked another appointment. She had tried to get an appointment with them a bit closer to home, but there was no budging, she would have to go back to Dublin again.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Again Sophie had to go and work in Dublin to get close by to Ruhama and had hoped to make some money, but this time it was deadly quiet due to an article in the papers exposing raids and sex workers. Thankfully despite this Sophie had €50 left after paying her expenses, so reluctantly she used the money to get to the appointment knowing that was all she had. She was so nervous and she found the place not at all discreet and felt like she might as well have a neon sign over her head saying 'hooker'.
Sophie met up with a lady named Sheila Crawley. She thought she was very nice and went through all the help they can offer her, which included advice with regards to benefits, careers, counselling and also offering massage and reflexology. Sophie told her about how difficult it was to get out to the appointment and that she didn't live in Dublin and that work had been bad, which meant that she had spent the only money that she had made to come and see her that day. Consequently Sheila told her she would assign her a Support Worker that would work with her and that they would focus on getting her signed on to benefits, get her some counselling and career advice.
Sophie had gone into the appointment nervous, but hopeful; she left believing that these people can't help, as it was clear that they didn't help people very often and the questions that they were asking her made it evident that they were not accustomed to talking to indoor sex workers and hadn't got a clue as to how they work.
A Week had passed by and Sophie had not heard back from Ruhama or her Support Worker, so she sent them an email asking about it. Shortly afterwards she received a phone call. Again the lady sounded lovely on the phone and Sophie explained that she had done some research and had been informed that she was not entitled to benefits, so benefits were not the way forward and again she expressed her determination and need to find a job outside of sex work. Her Support Worker arranged a meeting with her, but it wouldn't be for a Month to start things off and a few days later she sent her a number for the citizens advice bureau on benefits.
It seemed pointless after that and Sophie felt bewildered. Sophie didn't want to go onto benefits, but more importantly, she had already done the research and knew that she was not entitled to them and had explained this clearly to the support worker. Sophie felt exasperated and disappointed, as all they seemed to want to do was to get her on benefits, give her counselling and a massage. She also couldn't afford another €50 and seven hours on a bus there and back to go to an appointment for them to not offer her the help that she was actually asking for. She had more important things to spend the little money she was struggling on to pay bills and live. They didn't even contact her to see if she was okay, she could have been dead for all they cared.
In the mean time Sophie was in touch with another Escort and it was great, as she was able to speak with her and have conversations about work with someone who knew where she was coming from, who was non judgmental and understood what she was going through. They talked about Sophie wanting out and how long she had been looking for a job and even that she had gone to see Ruhama and that she was being asked to go back to Dublin again and wait another Month, but she wanted out now and she couldn't afford it. Her friend asked to see her C.V. and although it took her a while to email it over, eventually she did. Straight away her friend could see that the format for the CV was way out of date and focusing on the wrong things. It was an easy adjustment to make, but also vital, as the C.V is how you open doors to getting interviews. With a little help Sophie was guided as to how to make the changes and adapt each CV to the employer and straight away started applying for jobs.
Sophie was also glad of the emotional support as well as the guidance, just having someone she could off load to and be honest with about what had happened to her and how she feels.
Just a few Weeks later Sophie got news of two interviews, both in the same Week. Within a Week of the interviews Sophie was offered a job and is now happily working very hard in a normal job. She had gotten her life sorted out and is starting to feel the happiest she has been in years. The job she now has is not easy, in fact she's just worked 30+ hours over her first few days, but she wouldn't swap it for the world and as her friend, that makes me so very proud and happy and it also makes me so angry and frustrated that Ruhama were not there for her and couldn't do something as basic as a simple CV.
Sophie feels that Ruhama don't have any idea about indoor sex work, which is the now the majority of sex workers working in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, with only a tiny percentage still working outside. They need to realise it's very difficult for touring Escorts to be in Dublin to go to D9 for an appointment and the costs incurred, especially when work is difficult, as in her case where she was attacked and robbed and actually afraid to work. Ireland does not start and end with D9 and there are 32 other counties out there.
Sophie would hate to think if someone who was trafficked, how they would be able to get the help they needed, with the service being so inflexible. How exactly do they help them?
Now the official bit.
In the Official (Hansard) document dated 9th January 2014 - Committee for Justice - Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill: Ruhama
Ms Geraldine Rowley of Ruhama states that:
'When Ruhama was set up 25 years ago, prostitution was predominantly based in the major urban regions such as Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick on the island of Ireland. However, over the years, particularly over the past decade, we have seen huge increase in prostitution. Because of the internet and because of less border control across Europe and on our own island, we have seen huge mobility in the sex trade. Due to that - our figures show this - the majority of women we have worked with in our services over the past number of years are foreign women who come from countries in eastern Europe, South America and Africa. It is very mobile, so we work with women who are located in and have been moved around Northern Ireland, and we have worked with victims of trafficking who were based in Northern Ireland.'
So... they are fully aware that sex workers today are mobile and they are not all in Dublin and that many are up in Northern Ireland and yet here Sophie is being given no help within her region, but is being told she has to go to Dublin to seek help and this is something she could not afford, which they were also aware of. How exactly are they helping these people if this is their normal response?
Ms Geraldine Rowley continues to say...
'Last year, we worked with 170 women in casework. Overall, we worked with 258 women.'
I am wondering if Sophie was classed as one of the 170, or one of the 258? Either way, they did nothing for her other than to cost her money, time and frustration. She was forced to work a whole Week in Dublin to secure that €50 in order to reach their office. When they were told of her plight they assigned her a support worker, who also ultimately wanted her to go to Dublin at her own expense. Not one euro of the funding that they get was offered her, so that she would not have to work in order to see them, despite them knowing that is what she was having to do to get there.
Further more Ms Rowley says...
'We provide a lot of face-to-face work. That is time-consuming. We also give support over the phone to women. If they are still involved in prostitution, they may not be able to travel to Dublin, so we try to help women to access their services locally in the community, wherever they are.'
I think the word 'try' is the most appropriate here. In Sophie's case they were suggesting she should go to the Citizen's Advice Bureau, which I'm sure she would have done herself if it had been the right place to go. They say they give job advice, but none was actually offered unless she went over to Dublin for a 3rd trip. They may 'try' to help, but they don't have the skill base and knowledge in which do so and that is the problem. They can't actually help most Sex Workers, as they are not geared up to work with today's sex worker.
In 2012, which is the year when Sophie first went for help and had that awful experience where she could not afford to make the appointment due to lack of work and funds, Ruhama had income of €602,284 of which €599,560 was used on administration fees. Can someone please explain to me how any business can spend that amount of money on administration fees in one year? Do they not have anyone to make sure they are paying the best possible prices and using the money given to them effectively so it reaches those that need it and not lines the pockets of others? I find this alone outrageous! No wonder they couldn't offer Sophie any help with transportation, or send someone over to her.
If Sophie is a typical case, then how many people approaching Ruhama actually get the help they need? How many fall along the way side and find themselves stuck in a situation that is eating them up inside? How many of them reach despair and end up taking their own lives or living a life not worth living? Yes there are people who need help out there. I am not disputing that, but I do dispute if they are getting the help they need and indeed if Ruhama are the people to give it to them. Would it not be better if there were Sex Workers actually involved or ex Sex Workers, who have a much better understanding of the conditions, the job and the problems involved? Women who are intelligent, skilled and more able to help? Women with a clear understanding, who are not looking to rid the streets of prostitution, but make it a better place to exist or exit from according to their needs.
Is this not money going down the drain where quite possibly the majority of those that reach out for help are not heard or seen, because of their inflexibility and inability to hear what people really need? So many assumptions being made, so much political involvement that leads to bias and distrust for all concerned. In my mind a body set up to help prostitutes should not show any bias, they should not show contempt for the people they are meant to be helping, they should purely show support and give it as best possible. They should grow with the trends and adapt. They should listen and learn and provide. I don't see Ruhama doing any of that, but they are certainly spending money and doing an awful lot of political campaigning, which in turn alienates them from the very people they claim to help.
Will this new law help those that need help the most? No! So why do Ruhama want it so bad? Who exactly will gain from this legislation? I'll leave it there for you to decide for yourself.
Thank you Sophie for sharing your story with me and I wish you all the best in your new life where you now feel safe and secure and for the first time in years... Happy!