Criminalising buyers of sex‘Inside me was a disconnected, drug addicted, walking, talking rape victim.’

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Selling sex for money. It’s an issue of law, it’s been an issue for theological commentary for millennia, and it’s a matter of politics.

It’s also a profoundly personal matter, particularly for the women who have been in the position of offering their bodies for the sexual gratification of others.

Two of those women appeared on Today with Sean O’Rourke today, each with her our own distinct and contrasting view of new legislation passed in the Dáil last night criminalising the purchase of sex, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.

But before the host, Sean O’Rourke, spoke to the two women, Mia de Faoite, survivor-activist and core partner with the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, and Kate McGrew, sex worker and co-ordinator of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, listeners heard from reporter Brian O’Connell, and his interview with one man who explained his reasons and justifications for purchasing sex.

“I looked through a great many escort profiles online. I identified one that I was very confident was definitely working as her own boss…. An awful lot of what I have heard in the public debate has referred to things I don’t recognise from my own experience. Like, that the majority of sex workers are trafficked. I’ve never met one who is trafficked.”

The man in Brian O’Connell’s report has been single, he says, for eight years and has a yearning for companionship and intimacy. Sometimes, the time he pays for with a sex worker may not involve sex at all, but more often than not, it does. In relation to the new legislation, he had this to say. “If this law is passed, then I might face the prospect of never legally having sex in this country again.” But he concluded by reiterating his confidence that the women from whom he purchases sex are engaging in that transaction of their own free will.

“I wouldn’t have any reluctance based on a fear that the woman is being exploited. I have been in that bedroom and I know what happens, and I know that I don’t present a danger to them.”

However, when the debate returned to studio, Mia de Faoite dismissed his justification, citing her own experience and reacting to the man’s claim that he can ‘vet’ these women himself.

“He is not qualified to do that. He can never say for 100% that he has never bought the body of a coerced woman or trafficked woman. I spent plenty of time with men like himself who maybe felt there was some connection. But I never told him. I smiled, I would have been polite, performed whatever, and left with my money.”

As a woman who describes herself as a “survivor” of the sex industry and core partner with the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, Mia de Faoite’s comments were extremely powerful.

“I would never have admitted to him that inside me was a disconnected, drug addicted, walking, talking rape victim. We don’t tell. So he is not qualified to spot the signs of that trauma, bonding, fear, addiction…..”

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill was passed in the Dáil last night by 94 votes to six. The legislation criminalised those who purchase sexual services, rather than those selling their services. Now it returns to the Seanad, where it originated, for consideration of the amendments made in the Dáil.

According to its advocates, the bill will reduce demand for paid-for sex. And in the opinion of Mia, welcoming the legislation, this will in turn reduce supply.

Kate McGrew, on the other hand, thinks it will exacerbate the current problems facing sex workers, including herself, increasing their vulnerability.

This was an extensive debate, with visceral personal stories and well articulated arguments, whatever your position. To listen back in full, click here.

© The Listener 2017

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