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Ruhama Agency ran the Magdalene Laundries: Round 2 of abusing fallen women, or, how sex workers replaced Magdalenes

The government disappointed survivors and Justice For Magdalenes campaigners yesterday by not apologising for being complicit. Perhaps if more people realised that the Ruhama Agency which is currently advising the government on sex work is run by the same people who ran the Magdalene Laundries, they would be even more outraged. The Magdalene Laundries were started for sex workers, then later began preying on unmarried mothers as well, and on women who committed minor crimes like taking a night off work or not paying for a train ticket. Sex workers were abused and died in the laundries, and now those same people are advising the government on policy which directly affects sex workers. And sex workers weren’t allowed into the Dail hearing where Ruhama was giving evidence to the government.

The Ruhama Agency was started in 1989, and its trustees continued to run both Ruhama Agency and the laundries together, until the last Magdalene laundry closed in 1996. Ruhama have refused to meet with Magdalene Laundries survivors and say they can’t pay compensation. Allegedly, they’ve also silenced sex workers online by taking down sex worker rights ads and paying for Ruhama ads that intercept search engine terms used to find sex workers’ activism sites. They also allegedly censored tweets about Ruhama abusing girls from an abolitionist parody Twitter account, which was suspended three times until yesterday when the Magdalene Laundries report came out. On the day when Ruhama feared the parody account would tweet about the report (or that people would be more interested in the parody), the account was suspended for a fourth time. Ruhama also replied to tweets about abuse, saying they were “serious allegations” when we all know – and the Magdalene Laundries survivors know – that it was all too real.

The next sex work hearing will be secret and will not be streamed, according to Pat O’Neary, as reported by individuals who emailed and phoned him. This is wrong – all policy must be made in the open and sex workers must be included as they’re affected most of all.

The Ruhama Agency is still being listened to and valued by the government while survivors are ignored (the Magdalene Laundries investigation was only started because the UN Commiitee Against Torture required it) and sex workers are not allowed to influence policies which affect them the most out of everyone (or even witness the hearing).

Even now amid the Magdalene Laundries controversy, those responsible are still excercising their power over fallen women – just not confining themselves to a few thousand women in the laundries. This time, the whole of Ireland is their playground. There has been little change – this is just Round Two of their state-sponsored attack on fallen women. Only, now sex workers have replaced the mix of sex workers, unmarried mothers and minor criminals who made up the “magdalenes”, and instead of enslaving women in convents, they’re actually lawmakers now.

Ruhama are contributing to making laws about sex workers by advising government. And the law they’re pushing for is the Swedish model which will result in more rape, murder and trafficking in the sex industry and expose sex workers to unsafe working conditions, abuse by police and control by pimps.  And, funded and listened to by a state which excluded its victims from the hearing, they might just succeed.

Interested? Here’s more…

Ruhama won’t meet with survivors of the Magdalene Laundries and claim they can’t pay compensation – even though they’ve recieved over 14 million euros since 2006 from the Health Service Executive alone. http://www.paddydoyle.com/laundry-orders-run-sex-workers-aid-group/

Media reports that Ruhama is run by those who ran the laundries, and is funded by TWO government depts! http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/0625/1224299584327.html

A sex worker’s rights blog on how Ruhama are harming sex workers: http://www.stop-the-lights.com/old/times.htm

Ruhama does very little work; last year Ruhama only helped 241 women (some of whom were ongoing cases) and none of which were trafficking victims. (They say a few are “suspected” trafficking victims, but list no figure for women who said they were trafficked). Do they really need all that funding from taxpayers? http://www.thejournal.ie/ruhama-reports-18-per-cent-increase-in-demand-for-support-services-567797-Aug2012/ And last year was already a large increase in the numbers!

Ruhama try to silence sex workers online by taking down sex worker rights ads: http://www.turnoffthebluelight.ie/2011/06/08/ruhama-paying-to-stop-people-seeing-what-sex-workers-have-to-say/

Follow #sexworkhearing, #sexwork and #JusticeForMagdalenesNow on Twitter for live tweets of the hearing and more on Ruhama, the laundries and sex work politics.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Sex work

 

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Response to the Rhoda Grant Consultation on Criminalising sexwork

It’s not that good or very well cited, but I know people who are much better at this stuff than me are responding, so hopefully it’s a contribution at least. It took over one and a half hours to write, which is obv a long time but now I wish I’d spent two or three hours on it and made it better or included critique of Rhoda’s consultation paper “statistics”. Well, I can always do another response in my legal name I guess – and I think certain people will have critiqued the statistics, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Anyway, here it is:

Rhoda Grant MSP

Room M1.06

The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

Rhoda.Grant.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Dear Rhoda Grant

I am writing to register my objection to your proposals to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland.

Criminalising buyers leads to more trafficking and scares off the educated and safe buyers who would have a lot to lose if they were caught. It just leaves the clients who already have criminal records and don’t care about being caught. This law wouldn’t affect the high-end escorts; they’d just stop sexwork and continue working their other jobs or studying. But it would affect the more vulnerable sexworkers who rely on their earnings, or are drug-addicted. As the safer clients are scared off, they’re forced to take the criminal clients – and put their lives in danger. Clients may also want street sexworkers to get into cars quickly, and may pick up street workers late at night or in remote spots to avoid being caught. This is very dangerous for sexworkers. If you care about vulnerable sexworkers, you cannot support criminalising sexwork.

Criminalising clients has turned out very badly in Sweden, leading to trafficking to Russia, police secretly filming sexworkers having sex (which is a kind of sexual assault), condoms being used as evidence in court, as well as forced evidence-taking from the genitals of any woman suspected of being a sexworker – which of course is state-sanctioned sexual assault.

From the USA to Norway and Sweden, carrying condoms or marijuana can get you suspected by police of being a sexworker. Schools and clinics handing out condoms is seen as encouraging prostitution – which makes it hard for governments, local authorities, universities and schools to fight HIV and promote safe sex.

Other results are increased whorephobia and stigmatisation of sex workers; a university student was thrown out of her uni when a lecturer discovered she was stripping and doing sexwork on the side. This increase in whorephobia can also lead to more similar misogyny, such as slut-shaming and stigmatisation of female lone parents.

Although I’m not a representative sexworker, I have been paid for sex twice in the last 7 months and criminalising my client would have upset me and made me feel guilty. Forcibly taking evidence from me, as mentioned above, would for me have been equivalent to sexual assault/rape. Being forced to attend a court hearing against this person would also have made me very unhappy. This law would have wasted the court’s/police’s time, taxpayer’s money, caused emotional damage to both of us, possibly resulted in our identities being made known in the press, possibly got me fired, possibly destroyed a company and therefore left many employees jobless – in a recession where they will wait some time before being able to find new jobs. My client’s family would also be affected; as he is in an open marriage his wife would not mind him seeing other women, as she has several lovers too. But jailing her husband would have brought misery to all the family. In short, no good thing and many, many bad things would have resulted.

Also, if I could choose, I’d rather be sexually assaulted by my client than by the police. At least that way I could get justice through the courts, but if the police sexually assaulted me it’d be sanctioned by the state as “evidence gathering”!

A few points on why decriminalization is good for sexworkers and other members of the community, much better than either criminalization or legalization:

Decriminalization (the current UK situation) is:

Less hypocritical

Health/control disease by voluntary checkups

Allows welfare provision and exiting strategies as well as allowing freedom to be a sex worker at the same time, thus allowing sex workers to choose their destiny

Avoids stigmatisation by the criminal justice system and social attitudes

Sex work is not harmful/is consensual so law has no right to intervene

Laws protect workers from exploitation, unlike legalization

Sex workers can report violence to police without fear, so they are more safe

Trafficking rates low as British people willing to do sex work as it’s not a crime, they can choose how they work and they don’t have to register their legal name

More detailed points

Yes, some sex workers are recipients of violence or use drugs, but they are in the minority and are usually streetwalkers; exiting strategies and training programmes are helping them quit sex work if they wish to. They are already recieving the help they need – or, if they’re not recieving enough, pehaps we should throw our money at creating more of these programmes instead of at police officers breaking down hotel room doors to arrest people for sex work and jail them. And foster carers to take in children whose parents are jailed for sex work. And prison guards…social services…police monitoring devices…prosecutors…

We live in a democracy, and any action we take on real or percieved problems must be proportionate.  There’s no need for a blanket ban when streamlining exiting programmes and  increasing agency and massage parlour inspections will do. What about a website where sex workers can anonymously name agencies/parlours they think need to be inspected? More clinics and health services solely for sex workers (there are some)? There – a couple of my on-the-spot, half-baked ideas; no doubt the experts and politicians can come up with more. So, maybe we should discuss these and other options before imprisoning consenting adults? Perhaps reasonable, informed debate is more appropriate than moralistic knee-jerk reactions from people who aren’t sex workers?

And what about the other consequences? The cost to the state when released prisoners can’t get jobs and use state benefits? Or perhaps an engineer or solicitor who paid for sex, went to jail and now can’t get a job they’re qualified for after a criminal record, so they work in a bakery or as a waitress/waiter. They won’t make much, so the state has to give them Work Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. And what about their children when they’re in jail? Couples pay sex workers too – as a gift to one of the partners or as a threesome if the sex worker and one of the partners is bisexual. Both male and female sex workers are paid by couples.

The consultation begs these questions: Would you see women paying for sex from men as a problem, given that they’re concerned over men objectifying women? If a woman pays for sex, should she be jailed, or is it perfectly acceptable because she is a woman? What about if both she and her husband have sex with the sex worker? Is that bad, because the husband is objectifying the sex worker? Or is it okay, too, as long as the sex worker is male – because a man objectifying another man is fine?

I believe that you simply cannot formulate policy that covers educated prostitutes who earn hundreds or thousands off each client and may be sex activists and/or doing prostitution part time while studying or working other jobs and that also covers prostitutes earning £10-£30 off each client, who have no other job and use prostitution to pay for drug addictions, bills/rent or pay it to boyfriends or pimps. These women usually have a history of abuse and suffer from illness and sleep deprivation, and according to reports are often barely able to stand up as they negotiate with clients. Most were forced into it or started very young so their agency is doubtful, in contrast with sex activists who form coalitions such as PLAN, COYOTE or the UK Trade Union for sex workers. Streetwalkers usually fall into the second group, while those that work through agencies, from home or from massage parlours usually fall into the first. So you cannot have one policy to cover both situations. In the first category, the problem seems to be victimization by society and the criminal justice system itself; the solution is freedom/nonintervention. In the second category, a laissez-faire approach would be irresponsible.

And this is what we have; related streetwalking offences like soliciting and kerb-crawling are criminalised while buying sex isn’t.

Putting clients’ photos on billboards or jailing them is cruel and disproportionate. Putting them on a sex offenders’ register is only confusing rape and sex, which is a disaster as people will not feel that rape is a very serious crime, since other, harmless fun activities are confused with it. We need to be very, very clear on what is rape and what isn’t. We need to see rape as a big deal. Only then can we prevent it.

The focus on men objectifying women is very confusing and simplistic, as many men are sexworkers selling sex to men or women (sometimes both). And some female sexworkers sell sex to couples or to women.

If you want to criminalise sexwork, it would be more apt to criminalise other careers, as labour trafficking is far more prevalent than sex trafficking. The moral panic and junk stats over sex trafficking are just the lies of long-debunked junk science by Melissa Farley and NGOs such as the Ruhama Agency fuelling moral panics. These NGOs are well funded by Christian organisations – many anti-sexwork NGOS are funded by the same one (Magnanti 2012) and are run by radical feminists who are anti-pornography and anti-sexwork simply on principle, without studying the issues.

Ruhama was the organisation behind the abuse and torture of “fallen” women in the Magdalene laundries as recent as 1996.They shouldn’t be allowed to influence laws on young women or continue their obsession with nonvirginal or fallen women. Ruhama also previously claimed that women in lapdancing clubs were trafficked – this was found to be untrue by the huge Garda operation that followed.

Criminalising sexwork stigmatises it as somehow different from all other work and marginalises sexworkers. Also, if it is criminalised, sexworkers and clients will simply sign up to sexwork-disguised-as-dating sites such as seekarrangement.com (a site which pairs up female students and graduates with rich ‘sugar daddies’ who give a monthly allowance and expensive gifts in exchange for sex).

Criminalising consensual sex between adults is simply moralising and puritanism masquerading as “feminism”. REAL feminists would never ignore international evidence and deliberately endanger sexworkers – most of whom are women. It also creates a “women are pure so would never sell sex willingly; therefore they must be helpless trafficked victims” sort of view. This view only inflames sexual double standards and virgin/whore dichotomies – as well as silencing sexworkers’ own stories and lived experiences. This law leads to a sex-negative society – one even more sex-negative than the society in which we, unfortunately, currently live.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Kalika Gold a.k.a The VirginWhoreTM

 

 

 

References:

R. Matthews (1986) “Beyond Wolfenden? Prostitution, Politics and the Law” in R. Matthews and J. Young (eds) Confronting Crime, London: Sage

R. Matthews (2008) “Prostitution, vulnerability and victimisation” in Prostitution, Politics and Policy, Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish

http://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/close-reading-rhoda/ (the flaws and lies in Rhoda’s paper).

The Scottish Executive (2004) Being Outside: A Response to Street Prostitution (about exiting strategies and small red light zones in non-residential areas of cities. Proves that there’s only about 2,000 prostitutes in all of Scotland who streetwalk or work out of flats. However, this isn’t counting call girls and those who work in massage parlours/saunas so is an underestimation.) Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/30859/0024989.pdf)

J. Phoenix (2000) “Prostitute Identities: Men, Money and Violence” British Journal of Criminology 40 (1) 37-55  (There is violence, but it’s not as bad as some NGO’s make it seem, and it’s hard to see how criminalization would enable these sex workers to report violence to the police or leave violent boyfriends. Oh, and non-sexworkers also experience domestic abuse, even rape.)

R. Matthews (1993) Kerb-Crawling, Prostitution and Multi-Agency Policing”, Police Research Group Paper 43, London: Home Office

The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti (proves human trafficking into the UK is almost nonexistent with ALL migrant sex workers legally classified as ‘trafficked’. Two massive operations to find trafficking victims found 0 and 2 cases respectively, if I remember correctly).

http://www.citypages.com/2011-03-23/news/women-s-funding-network-sex-trafficking-study-is-junk-science/

https://t.co/rcUYce34

https://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/our-bodies-our-selves/

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Feminism, Sex work

 

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