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This emphasis on ‘trafficking’ feeds sex-slavery fantasy

I was made aware of this article talking about the hysteria being whipped up in Ireland over trafficking to justify punitive legislation. It just makes you sick that the media colludes so easily in feeding a frenzy based on prejudice.
Read the full article “HERE” by Eilis O’Hanlon in the Independent IE.

The nature of prostitution remains the same. It’s vulnerable and damaged women, often with addiction or childhood abuse issues, degrading themselves for some temporary financial fix. Whether they’re from Roscommon or Romania is beside the point’

SOMETIMES it seems as if Ruhama, the non-governmental organisation which helps women involved in prostitution, won’t be happy until every kerb-crawler in Ireland is behind bars. “The sex trade is a multi-million euro industry fuelled by their demand,” as chief executive Sarah Benson put it last week on the publication of the agency’s annual report. “A positive step in overcoming this growth in the sex trade would be to stem demand by criminalising the buyers through legislative change.”

Fair enough. If that’s what they think will do the trick, go right ahead. Knock yourselves out, girls. Go get ’em. Personally, I don’t think that criminalising users will have any more effect than criminalising women, which generally just wastes police and court time; or indeed any of the countless other ruses which have been tried down the centuries.

There’s little point going over the evidence again, because it’s now become a matter of faith for campaigners rather than reason; but even in Sweden, often lauded for its law criminalising clients, no man who wanted to hire a prostitute has ever been forced to give up the ghost and spend a quiet evening in reading the Bible instead.

Even if the Garda Commissioner did start a rolling policy of targeting the purchasers of sex rather than the suppliers, as he recently indicated he might, prostitution would merely adapt to new circumstances. It always has. The law of supply and demand is too clever and robust to wither in the face of the gimmicky efforts of well-meaning angels of virtue.

Nevertheless, if that’s what they genuinely believe, they have every right to campaign for a change in the law. What’s becoming increasingly frustrating is the obsession of Ruhama and other organisations with so-called “sex trafficking” as an argument for arresting men who visit prostitutes. Now not only are they filthy beasts who deserve everything they get for using money to lure women into their beds, they’re also being held responsible for the alleged growth in human trafficking.

Ruhama’s annual report says last year that it helped 80 women who had been trafficked to Ireland. But while organisations may deal with women from many countries who come here to take part in the booming sex trade, whether they’re what people generally think of when they picture the victims of sex trafficking is another matter altogether.

Foreign women working as prostitutes in Ireland have been “trafficked” in the loose sense that they may have paid criminals to bring them here, but they’re not so much the victims of the trade as active participants in it — and they certainly weren’t “forced into the sex trade”, as one newspaper report shrilly described it last week.

No one denies that it’s a horrible and demeaning business in which to be involved; that it can be terrifying and dangerous, and that the women who do it have messed-up lives and desperately need help. But it’s still essentially an illegal immigration issue rather than the media fantasy of modern day slavery — a fact borne out by the official evidence.

In the UK, a six-month crackdown involving every single police force in England which raided thousands of brothels failed to find a single victim of trafficking in its truest sense — an embarrassing result which the police and UK Home Office desperately tried to hush up.

What the operation did find was lots of young foreign women working as prostitutes, many of whom, ironically, were subsequently charged with various immigration and drugs offences.

Same here. Before graduating, every garda now has to complete training to help identity the victims of trafficking; thousands have received additional specialist instruction. As in the UK, there have been some high-profile operations, resulting in a small number of prosecutions for various activities defined legislatively as human trafficking. Nonetheless, as Jim Cusack reported in these pages last week, the overwhelming majority of those prosecuted for brothel keeping in Ireland are still young foreign women working independently or in small groups with one another.

Ireland’s Anti Human Trafficking Unit also published a report in 2009 which took a sample of 60 possible or potential victims of trafficking in the period covered and found that only one claimed — and the word ‘claimed’ is important because there is no further verification provided — to have been forced to come to Ireland against their will. In the 2010 report, that number rose to two. Most came at the behest of families and friends, to work illegally, or to study. That they ended up in the sex trade isn’t at issue, but to turn around and call that “sex trafficking” is melodramatic to say the least.

Failing to differentiate between forced prostitution and illegal immigration for the purposes of prostitution simply contributes to a moral panic about a practice which, despite many horror stories, remains in the realm of anecdote rather than evidence.

It’s only right that women picked up in garda operations are treated with compassion — though the fact that women who claim to have been trafficked get special treatment in the immigration system, and extra help subsequently in finding work and accommodation, does complicate matters somewhat, giving them an incentive to falsely claim to have been trafficked — but they’ve not been rescued from slavery. They’ve been caught after coming to this country deliberately to break the law. Sent home, many of them come back again at the first opportunity, for the same reason that Irish women become prostitutes too, because there’s money to be made.

The nature of prostitution remains the same. It’s vulnerable and damaged women, often with addiction or childhood abuse issues, degrading themselves for some temporary financial fix. Whether they’re from Roscommon or Romania is beside the point.

The underlying objection to prostitution among campaigners is probably best highlighted by the words of “Amy”, an anonymous escort whose testimony forms part of Ruhama’s annual report: “Men and women will never be equal as long as prostitution exists.”

If that’s so, then men and women will never be equal, because prostitution will always be around. Where you have something that someone else wants, and they’re willing to pay for it, there can’t not be a market. Thankfully, I refuse to allow my daughters’ path to equality to be forever barred because a small number of women sell their bodies. To make that the only marker of a society is not only ridiculous, it’s perverse.

Originally published in


About Douglas Fox

3 comments on “This emphasis on ‘trafficking’ feeds sex-slavery fantasy

  1. Maggie McNeill
    30 August, 2011

    I find it incredibly depressing that even most of those in the general public who are more or less on our side still buy into these ignorant, insulting fantasies of “vulnerable and damaged women, often with addiction or childhood abuse issues, degrading themselves for some temporary financial fix.”

  2. Douglas Fox
    30 August, 2011

    I agree Maggie. It is something I complain about all the time. The media; even when positive, still have to have snide asides that pander to their prejudices about the sort of women (rarely men) who they think sell sex.

    I am not convinced these prejudices are shared by the general public but they certainly are prejudices shared within the media and within government. Battling that prejudice is not easy.

  3. Eva
    6 March, 2012

    Escort are not always as described here …

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This entry was posted on 29 August, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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