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An excellent article by our new author SexworkIE.
No More Traffik (NMT) SEE HERE
is a week of anti-trafficking events taking place in Northern Ireland. It starts next Saturday, 11th May, and this is its second year running. As Northern Irish anti-trafficking groups and individuals are getting exited I instead find myself concerned by developments here.
Whilst the organisers say NMT is not a Christian charity, a prayer room is being provided for the week and many of the events, sponsors, partners and individuals involved are clearly religious.
NMT is fundraising for their work and when I looked at their website a few days ago I noticed they are also fundraising for an organisation called Solas Trust SEE HERE
Solas Trust’s mission is to provide residential care, refuge, restoration and rehabilitation for women and young girls who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and/or prostitution and NMT is fundraising specifically for security features for their new safe house.
Solas Trust has produced two videos about their plans which I found disturbing viewing. These slick videos both open with emotive made-up stories of women and girls being sex trafficked in Ireland.
The first video SEE HERE
goes on to introduce Mike and Ros Oman, the religious couple who plan to run the Solas Trust home, and others involved in anti-trafficking efforts in Northern Ireland. Ros Oman says women will stay in the home for 45 days to 2 years, and Solas Trust won’t be doing the “rescuing” themselves, rather they will be taking rescued women from other sources, possibly Women’s Aid or Migrant Help in Northern Ireland, or from other countries. Mike Oman, who self-styles himself as the “father of the fatherless” talks about wanting to be a father to these abused women and girls and of helping them discover God and experience restoration in Christ. Frankly I find him creepy.
The second video SEE HERE
also starts with a fictional story, this time of a “little girl” sex trafficked into Ireland. The narrator tells us this girl will be repeatedly forced to do “things no decent person would ever imagine”. Whilst nobody is advocating for forced or underage prostitution, Solas Trust appear to be saying here that prostitution itself is something no “decent” person could imagine, revealing that they are also anti-sex work. The video goes on to show a potter making a vase out of scraps of clay, this being a symbolism of the reclamation of sex trafficked girls.
You can look upon all this as religious people wanting to do good work and help victims of sex trafficking and see nothing wrong with it. But things that have happened in other countries and in Irish history tell us we should be concerned by these developments in Northern Ireland.
Whilst the focus of NMT is abolition of trafficking, we know that many anti-trafficking groups and individuals in Northern Ireland are equally anti-sex work. There are currently political moves for Northern Ireland to adopt the “Swedish Model” of criminalising the purchase of sex.
The anti-trafficking movement in Northern Ireland is very Protestant and there are a great number of anti-trafficking organisations.
In the US Protestant theology on sexual morality was allowed to dominate Government policy on trafficking under the Bush Administration and this led to damaging policies being introduced, like the 2003 Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath (APLO), which required NGOs and health service providers receiving funding through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to sign an oath opposing prostitution. This oath made it impossible for organisations that serve sex workers around the world to get US funding and halted the distribution of condoms amongst other essential services.
For a fuller understanding of how Protestantism has influenced US anti-trafficking policy in recent years I’d recommend Yvonne Zimmerman’s Other Dreams of Freedom, which also explores other ideas of freedom in relation to sex work and sex trafficking, beyond Protestant ideology on sex.
Getting back to Northern Ireland, sex workers and sex worker allies don’t want to see people abused in prostitution. It would be nice if anti-trafficking organisations recognised that and made efforts to include sex workers. If people are being forced into prostitution, sex workers and others who know the sex industry are ideally placed to be part of efforts to try to stop such abuses.
It also needs to be noted that when we talk about sex trafficking victims, we may very well actually be talking about sex workers. Under UK law for sex trafficking there is no requirement for force or coercion to be involved. One sex worker buying another sex worker a plane ticket, one sex worker giving another sex worker a lift between two places, these everyday scenarios can all be interpreted by the police as trafficking. UK law also forces sex workers to work alone in order to work legally. Sex workers in Northern Ireland have been heard to say that when they are visited by police and found to be not working alone that the police instead of pressing a brothel keeping charge now simply say that they are trafficked. Trafficking is now where the money is and is much easier to prove because of the wide interpretation within the law.
Potentially Solas Trust might not even be the only organisation planning to open a home for sex trafficking victims. The Freedom Project Ireland’s SEE HERE
front page says “As more victims are rescued, FPI intends to develop an intensive rehabilitation service to assist victims as they heal.” Money seems to feature high on the radar of these anti trafficking groups.
A check back on the NMT website reveals they’ve just added a new fundraising project, details are “coming soon” entitled “Rescue Operations” and the International Justice Mission (IJM) logo is shown. Again I am concerned. This would be the same IJM whose brothel raids conducted with police to “rescue” sex workers have drawn criticism from human rights advocates around the world. Melissa Gira Grant SEE HERE
offers useful further reading on this topic.
Ireland is a country with a long history of so called “fallen women” being rehabilitated in homes operated by the religious. The Catholic “Magdalene Laundries” the last of which only closed in 1996, have now been shown beyond all doubt to have been inhumane forced labour institutions. This topic has been in the world news recently as this year the Irish Government finally accepted the State’s collusion in the admission of thousands of women into these institutions. I am talking about the Catholic Church and the Republic of Ireland here not Northern Ireland and the Protestant Church, although there were also Northern Irish and Protestant operated institutions for “fallen women.”
I am sure Solas Trust and others involved in anti-trafficking work in Northern Ireland would say any plans they have to run homes for sex trafficking victims would be nothing like Magdalene Laundries. But the religious running such homes in Ireland have always promoted themselves as all wonderful, whilst the reality for people living in them has often been horrific. Questions must be asked about the suitability of religious operating homes for vulnerable people because of the history of such institutions in Ireland (and indeed the world).
I’m also irked to find this video of the “Father of the fatherless” and his wife discussing running a home for sex trafficking victims in Northern Ireland, because it is clear that this will also be a home where rescued “victims” will be subjected to Protestant religious indoctrination. I believe in respecting people and their beliefs. This type of pushing of ideology and religion onto vulnerable people concerns me greatly.
I am also concerned that Solas Trust says it may receive “rescued” women and girls from Northern Irish organisations like Women’s Aid or Migrant Help. These two organisations are Government funded to support potential victims of trafficking. I find the idea of persons identified by the police as potential victims of trafficking being referred to Women’s Aid or Migrant Help, then ending up in a religious run home for 45 days to 2 years very concerning. I find the idea of people being brought from anywhere in the world into such a home concerning. Its one thing adults who freely decide they want to enter a religious home doing so but in this case we are talking about potentially very vulnerable people here. Ireland’s history of placing women and girls who were sexually abused or sex workers into religious homes is long and shameful and we must make sure it doesn’t happen again.