I find it very hard to articulate rage coherently, without turning it into gallows humour, or bitter intellectual pyrotechnics, but when Margaret Cho decided to sit down with her phone and no make up and share the rage and pain of of the girl she once was without resorting to either I had to try.
Something came up since that makes me blind with rage. I couldn’t even think of a way of putting it…and then I realised I could just show you.
I found this today, it was written and published on the internet by Sarah Benson CEO of an organisation called Ruhama on 29 September 2012 (note that date because it is important later):
29th September, 2012
A concerted campaign to discredit the reputation of Ruhama is currently being orchestrated by a group with a vested financial interest in prostitution. This campaign is calling into question Ruhama’s Government funding which provides vital services to women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking. Ruhama has a very transparent mission and purpose; to assist women who for one reason or another find themselves in prostitution. In this country, hundreds of women in prostitution are abused, denied choice, humiliated, assaulted, and raped every year – and Ruhama is in many cases their only ally or point of assistance.
One aspect of the group’s campaign strategy is, quite remarkably, to link Ruhama with Magdalene laundries. Ruhama is a limited company, with charitable status, adhering to best practice and good governance procedures, and its services have no link whatever to the Magdalene laundries issue. Ruhama is however a major supporter of the ‘Turn off the Red Light’ campaign, which is clearly causing concern for those who organise and make such massive profits from prostitution in this country.
We fully acknowledge that our Trustees were involved in the Magdalene laundries in the past, and for vested interests to try and use this as a way of undermining Ruhama’s work, is perhaps indicative of the positive contribution we are making today in highlighting the brutal and humiliating experience of many women in prostitution.
Ruhama may not be good for the business of organised prostitution, but we are good for women who need assistance and we are good at highlighting the secret and abusive underworld, which is the sex trade.
Do you ever see something like that and wonder how it came to be and what the truth is behind it?
Let me show you…look at the date on this email I sent to the same Sarah Benson under the pseudonym “Eileen Lang” that I used when I still thought I could keep my own life private (full dialogue here )
From: Eileen Lang
Date: Wed, 25 Jan 2012 19:55:42 +0000
To: Sarah Benson
Subject: Being honest…
I don’t think I can meet you after all, I would just be taking too big a risk for too little advantage.
It is not you, I have a gut feeling that you are very sincere, albeit a little too brittle and defensive. I do not think you would deliberately harm anyone…and if you did it inadvertantly I think you would probably punish yourself far more than anyone else could when you realised…
…but you trust people who have given me every reason to distrust them, for many years. I have been going back over it all in my mind and I realise I would want to be off my head to put you in a position to be able to identify me…
I believe that one day you will realise that everything I have been saying is 100% right…but how much harm could come to me before that?
I am going to tell you something off record, and just keep an open mind, even for your own sake. Many years ago, when it became apparent that I had a very strong voice lobbying for recognition of the reality and the needs of women in prostitution, and that I had absolutely no intention of suspending my powers of critical thinking and giving unquestioning devotion to Ruhama and the WHP, one of the Nuns took it upon herself to start a rumour among the more robust women in the canal and Mount Street areas that I was bringing young junkies out onto the streets.
Understand the context. The 1993 law had just been enacted, instead of being able to focus on dissociating, getting the job done and getting home with the money in reasonable safety (though money was no longer easy to come by because of the recession), the women were suddenly plunged into a parallel universe where the Police that used protect them where no one instructions to hunt them, and, as people do when they have no taste for what they must do, were apt to work themselves up into something of a defensive frenzy over it.
The women who once stayed off drink and drugs during working hours for sense and safety were now nervous wrecks who had to be half cut or loaded with valium to handle it. Ruhama and the WHP has started an irresponsible panic about AIDS just to consolidate their power base, and the organised crime elements were already taking advantage of the changed circumstances to seize control.
In that climate, spreading a rumour that someone was bringing out young drug addicts was to place their life at significant risk. Luckily for me, the women knew more than the nun did. In her contempt for prostitutes she had assumed I only claimed to be gone from the streets for effect…but the women knew differently, that I had not been in or near the town for more than six months, so three of them made it their business to tell me what had happened
I confronted the nun in question and she did not even bother to deny it.
Seriously, do you not even see a little irony in the fact that both orders involved were still involved in the Magdelene Laundries, treating vulnerable women as badly, or worse than any trafficker ever did, when Ruhama was formed, and that now they are spending all their time using a campaign against the way they were only recently treating vulnerable women themselves as a springboard to obtain government funding for residential and vocational services again, while still refusing to compensate the victims of their own previous transgressions (so no remorse there)
At least one of the nuns involved in the foundation of Ruhama came from the Magdelene Asylum in Belfast…the Magdelene Laundry in Waterford that did not close until 1996 was operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters, at the same time as Ruhama.
It was the sale of a derelict Magdelene Laundry belonging to the sisters of charity that exposed the truth…they asked for permission to exhume the bodies of 133 inmates that they had death certificates for, but 155 bodies were found, nobody knows who the other 22 were, nor how, or why they got buried there unrecorded. Their lives stolen from them god knows how, behind high walls and locked windows.
Can you even imagine what it was like to be trapped in one of those places with even the Nuns you are accustomed to dealing with having the power of life and death over you…and do not take the view that you would never let yourself get in that situation, rather find out exactly *HOW* women came to be in that situation…trust me…just because of the way you look you would have been at as much risk as anyone else.
Beyond that…when Anne produced a link to that Swedish report I was at a loss for words, everything about it is so far removed from reality that the only way my mind would sum it up is as “Monty Python and the Swedish Vice laws” I am not being unkind, that is the most concise description of the way it strikes me.
Even the Swedish government’s own figures and statistics do not support the arguments they are putting forward, and it is all predicated on welfare resources that still have not *really* happened 12 years later (imaginary resources invented to *sell* the idea are not much use at the coal face)..
It would all be academic, and interesting to debate if two religious orders had not used every NGO they are involved in to whip up a frenzy aimed at taking away the very last chance less than 0.1% of the women in this country will have of keeping their lives and families together during a depression set to be more lethal and terrifying than the ’30s.
If it was about genuine concern for the best interests of the women then they would be campaigning for exit resources, not punitive laws…but they have never done that yet. You can’t get away from that…it tells it’s own story.
If it was about giving the women a real voice to assert their real needs then it would not be necessary for the women to be offered a choice between Ruhama and prosecution by the Gardai before they would engage at all (which is, by the way, very clearcut bullying).
If it was about stamping out trafficking and pimping they would be fighting for decriminalisation in order to get the women, and their clients, on board to assist in tracking down and prosecuting real instances of trafficking. Note I say “decriminalisation” not legalisation.
Full legalisation does not work on so many levels, but informal decriminalisation between 1982 and 1993 effectively eradicated pimping and criminal involvement – that is hard fact that everyone is determined to ignore and brush under the carpet.
Ruhama claims to have assisted 60 trafficked women in 2010…a year in which the first and only Irish prosecution for trafficking was put before the DPP. 1 trafficker to 60 women? I don’t think so, but if you want to argue the point let me remind you if that is a reasonable ratio there could not be more than about 10 traffickers in the country…use the independent women and their clients to help nail them and it is over.
This is not about concern for the women at all but rather about playing to public order issues and sacrificing the women’s lives to sustained or increased funding.
But leave all that aside, how can an organisation that devotes itself to deliberate and determined denial of most of the factors affecting the women’s real lives and circumstances possibly relate to their needs well enough to give them any effective help? How can counselling biased by a totally alien ideology even be helpful? Let alone mentally and emotionally healthy?
Punitive legislation that attacks their earning capacity and safety, is only an attempt to force that inappropriate “aid” upon them against their wishes and best interests…again, a very serious form of bullying imposed on people who are already far too badly damaged and vulnerable…
Sarah, whatever you, personally, genuinely want to achieve, that is not real help for anyone, and, after 8 years on the Women’s Aid helplines familiarising yourself with how the complexities of pathological control and emotional abuse pan out there must be at least a part of you that already suspects that independent of anything I might say, but if you should openly challenge it you are likely to find yourself on the fast track to realising I have not been making anything up.
Most of the women can stand Ruhama because they claim to speak for them and yet say the opposite to what they want and need, and they have spent more than 20 years dreading what Ruhama will do to make their lives harder next…and knowing how little point there is in trying to reason with Ruhama on either score…
It is already coming perilously close to a revised model of the Magdelene Laundries for the 21st century…women being coerced by legislation, police and NGO into engaging with an organisation that has little insight and fewer scruples about what will actually become of them. Both Orders are currently up to their eyes in questionable and rigidly controlled residential services.
I would say that, by now, whatever you first thought, you realise there is absolutely no chance of intellectually overwhelming me…and I can assure you there is literally nothing Ruhama could offer, however desperate I was, that would buy my silence, let alone my compliance or support, so you would have had a wasted journey anyway.
I hope that we do meet some day, and that when we do, whatever makes you brittle and defensive is only a dim memory. I know you have seen terrible suffering and abuses and been deeply affected and moved by them, which is to your credit, But even so, that is very different to being personally trapped in those situations, with no safety to go home to on evenings and weekends.
When my life hits the wall that is rushing towards me like an express train I may once again have 3 choices:
- I can commit suicide
- I can slide into living on the street in a destitute state with no hope of future recovery
- I can sell sex and keep most of my life together until there was an opportunity to sort out something better
I wish I could sit and explain to you more thoroughly than the book exactly why that is, and how it works, just so you would realise that can actually happen, but if I did that I would not only, almost certainly, identify myself, I would also be providing a detailed catalogue of how to do me no end of harm at will. My nerves could not take that.
Just take my word for it, and for the fact that, terrified as I am, I would genuinely be far better off with any of the options above than with allowing Ruhama the slightest control over my life.
I believe that I have a fundamental human right to sell sex to save my own life if I can face it…and that trying to take that fundamental human right away from me, or anyone is a very great sin indeed.
I will, literally, fight this legislation to the death if I have to, as a moral obligation to all the women, and children who will get pushed through the cracks and suffer terribly if it goes through.
I have every confidence that one day you will see the truth of this for yourself, and I do not think of you unkindly at all…
…and don’t worry there is no point in endless circular arguments with people who are so determined to impose their belief system, by hook or by crook, on the lives of others less fortunate than themselves that they cannot even take the time to grasp the basic arithmetic involved let alone the hard facts.
It becomes like being trapped in a kind of insanity…very unhealthy.
You will not have to ban me.