I didn’t really want to write about prostitution again. When I did so in 1981, research exposed a horrible world of sexual violation and violence. I didn’t really want to go there again, but was challenged by Patricia Kelleher who did the research for Turn Off the Red Light, the Immigrant Council of Ireland campaign. When articles by women who I had considered feminists started appearing in the press, defending prostitutes’ right to choose to work in the sex industry, and by implication, men’s right to continue to dehumanise and violate women, I felt I could not be silent any more. Reading Rachel Moran’s book, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution (Dublin: Gill and McMillan, 2013), persuaded me to support the demand to fight prostitution by criminalising clients, hence this article. I was going to use Moran’s photograph to illustrate the article, but decided not to objectify her – her words speak for themselves. Please read the book.
To complete the argument, I am also pasting below the Israeli journalist Vered Lee’s article, calling to criminalise clients, not prostitutes.
The proposal by the Oireachtas (Irish houses of Parliament) to adopt the ‘Swedish model’ that seeks to abolish prostitution by criminalising the buyers rather than the sellers of sex, has incurred opposition by several Irish academics. In a recent Irish Times article Dr Eílis Ward of NUI Galway criticised the lack of evidence for this proposal, based on the ‘Turn off the Red Light’ campaign. Her liberal feminist argument that women should be free to be sex workers ignores the violence, coercion and abuse that dominate the sex trade, in Ireland and throughout the world. Prostitution, she argues, without a shred of evidence, cannot be abolished.
Unlike Ward, I did research the topic. In April 1981 Geraldine Niland and I published a two part series in the Irish Times on the lives of real prostitutes in Dublin. We spent several weeks ‘on the beat’ with the women, interviewing many prostitutes and male clients. The women insisted that without clients, prostitution would not exist. Clients came from all walks of life. From married men seeking casual sex on Percy Place on the way home from the pub, to priests whose dog collars on the back seat gave them away, and who the women described as ‘taking from the poor to give to the poor’. Many of the women were abused as children, most had a drug habit and all spoke of their wish to leave prostitution. For most the decision to enter ‘the life’ was a lack of real choice. Most of the women we interviewed would agree with how one of them described herself: ‘you’re dirt, and no good to anyone’. Read more