Ruhama, Rescue and Other Rubbish 2012

The cruelty of the rescue industry

I HATED sex work…I can’t tell you how much…and I definately have PTSD from aspects of it…but I had no choice so I got my head down and got on with it…like the way a lot of people have to with a lot of different things. Just the way the cards are sometimes dealt.

I even campaigned, in ’93, to make people recognise that sex workers are not “naughty Jezebels making a point who need putting in their place and bringing into line” but often, people who do not have a better choice in life.

Honestly? I didn’t even realise there were people who did not mind sex work, let alone liked it until very recently.

BUT…HUGE “BUT”…that is not even relevant.

Hating sex work certainly did not make me, or anyone able to survive without the money (which is what the rescue industry want to take away to “solve” the problem of people hating sex work)

I always ended the statement with:

“…if they need the money badly enough to do it, they have a right to be left in peace to get on with it as best they can because persecuting them, and making their lives even harder is just cruel and wrong…”

…and here is another big “BUT” to go along with that:

It wasn’t my clients’ fault that I hated it…none of them even knew, if I had been honest about that they would have stayed away and the income I needed would have vanished (so they mustn’t have been quite so keen on “rape” as these people try to claim!). I did not hate it because of anything my clients did that was wrong or abusive either, I hated it because of aspects of who I am that are still there, affecting other things about my life in various ways to this day. My clients had no affect on that one way or another.

…and it certainly wasn’t the fault of any pimp that I had no better choice than sex work (frankly, you would pay for tickets to see one try! But nobody ever tried…pity, it might have been fun, despite the cleaning up after )

The people who fecked with my head and my life and left me without a chance at any better options who were to blame…I wouldn’t mind suing them…

It was also the fault of organisations like Ruhama who raked in funds by claiming to “help” women out of sex work but just played “feck with the head”, including but not limited to trying to browbeat them into compliance with a fictional alternative reality of their own invention, doing untold mental and emotional damage along the way, and made their lives impossible instead.

First they try to break down the defences the women need to work, then just leave them there, still dependent on selling sex, but now also psychologically dependent on the organisation as well. Covertly, they actually blocked any attempt at creating opportunities to offer them real work that paid real money instead…because every time a woman really leaves sex work their potential power base gets smaller.

I don’t think I have ever said this to anyone before, but you have no idea how deeply it hurt to want and need a way out of sex work as badly as I did while Ruhama and co aggressively pretended to offer all I needed, but only really offered an empty, mentally and emotionally destructive sham instead. Even 5 years after I found a way to leave by myself, not one, single sex worker, even those fully compliant with Ruhama’s programs, had even been given a real chance to get out.

It is like an incredibly cruel joke…all day…every day…and there is nowhere else to go for help because “It is Ruhama who help people like you” – a vicious circle with no end.

THAT caused PTSD all right! But if you don’t mind, unless I can sue ’em, I would rather not blog about them, day in, day out…it would just wind me up and depress me!

So now they are campaigning to take the income of sex workers away…at least partly in the hope of forcing people who already see them for what they are to engage with them anyway, so they can go on getting more funding, in an economic climate where unless the do something drastic, their funding could be gone any minute…


In their last filed accounts at Ruhama showed an total income of €655,989 which they state does not include government grants for some expenditure thus:

“The company adopts a policy of deferring grant income. This policy ensures that income received for future grant projects is deferred in the financial statements, and is offset against the expenditure associated with that particular project.”

Obviously, perfectly legal, but does make it impossible to estimate the true level of grant funding over and above that declared.

It is only possible to estimate their income from donations based on previous years but it is unlikely to exceed €65,000, which would leave them anywhere between 80% and 90% Government funded.

Out of this income they spent €428,176 on wages and salaries plus €39,324 on Social Welfare Costs – easily 2/3 of their income even before other administrative costs are taken into account.

Like a lot of NGOs they decline to respond the question “What is your CEO salary?”

The primary activity of Ruhama appears to be lobbying for laws to decrease and remove the income of sex workers that many of them need to survive. Little, if any of their funding seems to be allocated to funding projects that assist sex workers in any tangible way.

The Trouble With Ruhama

Maybe I am going to make myself unpopular here, but as far as I can tell Ruhama is effectively redundant.

We already have stringent laws against trafficking that need enforcing, and *ALL* victims of trafficking (whether sexual or not) are equally abused and traumatised and deserving of the same treatment and resources as sexually trafficked women…but trafficking is a totally different issue to prostitution…and should be kept seperate.

Ruhama are claiming to support and speak for “women in prostitution” but I cannot find any “women in prostitution” who want the legislation to take their incomes away and/or eradicate their livelihood that Ruhama have lately devoted themselves to campaigning for. I can’t even find any women in prostitution who want to engage with Ruhama at all beyond being polite and/or appeasing them.

I chose that last word “appeasing” with care because, right from the start (in 1989) until now, the most universal attitude to Ruhama I have found among sex workers is a sense of needing to appease Ruhama, “or else”.

That, in and of itself, is wrong.The government should not be funding any organisation that makes the people it claims to support feel threatened!

Whatever the original intention (and with the same two orders not closing their Magdalene Laundries until 1996, 7 years after founding Ruhama, it requires some serious mental gymnastics to assume those intentions to have been spotless by today’s standards) Ruhama has consistently failed to win the trust, or meet the needs, of women in prostitution for 23 years.

23 years after they were founded, Ruhama still does not seems to have any sex workers or former sex workers on salary as cleaners, let alone at decision making levels!

Sex workers are not children or pound dogs…they are more than capable of articulating their needs, limits and opinions for themselves, so there does come a time when you have to ask yourself why on earth the state is paying €700,000 pa for an organisation that excludes them and claims to speak for them without mandate, or even real consultation?

Think how many women could be offered real chances to exit prostitution from within mainstream educational, vocational and other services with that €700,000 instead?

The recession has hit, the days of big, grant harvesting NGOs is over in a far more general sense, more of them are losing funding (largely due to value for money issues) every year and their places are being taken over by far more effective and representative self funding stakeholder co-operatives in every area, why not also sex work?

Give sex workers a legal amnesty for the next 3 years and full facillitation to set up their own peer representative group or union, and let whatever remains of Ruhama be amalgamated with their sister organisations, Irish Council for Immigration and Doras Luimni, into a single organisation concerned with trafficking, asylum seekers and the significant human rights issues in our immigration services that can be tackled more easily now we are bust and nobody much wants to immigrate anyway…so there is really no excuse for retaining punitive deterrant arrangements for asylum seekers.

Sex Work and Rescue

n the one hand, the Rescue industry (Ruhama et al) portrays all sex workers as forced, coerced or having slipped into “this lifestyle as a result of an abusive/dysfunctional background or as a result of manipulation/grooming or addiction/desperation. The “Pretty Woman” scenario is at the other end of the spectrum and is probably a highly fictionalised and glamorised version of the true reality and experiences of the vast majority of sex workers.

The truth is that sex work probably encompasses a broad spectrum of methods of work and experiences ranging from complete slavery (Muslim women in the Bosnian war) and the type of underage sex work associated with places such as Thailand to high class trophy mistresses maintained at great expense in luxury.

There is a middle ground, where women choose to undertake this work, albeit without any glamorised preconceptions and high expectations of job satisfaction. The distinction can be made, from the prostitute’s perspective, between “survival” prostitution where it is the last possible option to ensure financial survival/dig ones way out of debt,  and “elective” prostitution, made as a choice after a number of less than ideal options have been analysed and prostitution seems the most financially attractive.

The rescue industry are pushing their own agenda here, whether from a radical feminist perspective, from a moralistic/theological perspective or from a somewhat less altruistic perspective, the desire to exert influence and control over others and to gain backing/funding to allow them to continue to operate and draw good salaries.

I have no objection to Ruhama or any other organisation offering help to those who need and want to avail of that help or who set out to combat enforced sexual slavery or involuntary exploitation, but it is a giant leap to move from this standpoint to tell people that “we know what is in your best interests” and “we will force the type of help on you that we decide, irrespective of whether you need it or want it”.

I think this is all about making themselves relevant in society by championing a perceived just cause by portraying it as a simple two sided moral debate, and using this to extend their influence and justify increased funding.

Ruhama would not be the first “NGO”, which a group of concerned professionals (usually from the social sciences/caring disciplines) set up to advance a cause/agenda and to secure state funding, so that they could essentially compete with areas of the public/civil service including the HSE etc., who are already addressing these types of service needs anyway.

I have seen statistics being massaged and the range of services provided and the numbers being assisted greatly exaggerated in order to justify exchequer funding and to enhance public fundraising campaign and event. Many of these NGOs are nothing more than duplicative self-serving white elephants and the easiest way to identify them is to compare the proportion of their income that goes on salaries and on publicity/campaigning/advocacy compared to the actual services that they are intended to deliver to their target market. That is the proof of the pudding.

As many of you are no doubt aware, the two religious congregations who established Ruhama have a long history of working with those affected by prostitution; but it was not just prostitutes per say, but also women who had pregnancies out of wedlock, women who were being abused through no fault of their own, young women who were maybe just a bit too free and easy, or provided too much temptation to men, and women and children who were deemed unable to look after themselves due to poverty.

For these women and children, the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters (amongst others) offered help through a penitential life of prayer and obedience and hard work (mostly washing clothes). They were basically forced to live the life of nuns within an enclosed order, without having freely chosen that life style and were exploited for their labour by these good Christians.

The Magdalene laundries incarcerated women and children and broke their spirits and institutionalised many of them, and those that got out where often very poorly educated and were ill equipped to make a go of life on they outside. This was allowed to happen because society at large, the state (politicians, health care system, education, legal system, gardai) and the church all colluded in hiding what did not fit our idealised view of holy Catholic Ireland from the nation……..and of course, much of this edifice was state funded.

Today, neither Ruhama, nor any other organisation would get away with what was done to these people over decades in the past,  at least one would hope they wouldn’t, but you do have to question people trying to force an agenda on society, offering help and solutions to people who have not been asked what type of help they really need or if they even want help, and justifying their existence as a provider of “help” to secure public funding. If Ruhama want to know what would help prostitutes, they should go and ask prostitutes, because they should know better than anyone else what they want or need.

In the meantime, it is easier to peddle questionable statistics from unrepresentative sample populations and get the public to buy into black and white soundbites i.e. prostitution = trafficking and trafficking = prostitution.

Of course not all trafficked people are prostitutes and not all prostitutes have been trafficked or coerced in some manner, and we already have quite strong laws against trafficking which just need to be rigorously enforced and of course policed.

So instead of throwing money at Ruhama to police the bedroom antics of consenting men and woman, how about resourcing the gardai to tackle trafficking and organised and controlled prostitution instead? If Primetime could do, and if TV3 can do it tonight, and if a single guy behind a computer screen in the back of beyond can do it for the best part of two years, then the money that goes in Ruhama, if redirected to the gardai, should well and truely be able to do it.

Ruhama are not trying to tackle human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution, rather they want to stop prostitution in all its manifestations. To stop prostitution effectively, they need to cut off both the supply and demand side. On the demand side,  you have the differences between the male and female libido and the fact that it is much easier for a woman to have her needs met according to her choice. The needs of men are more driven and not so easily met, so a demand for sexual services exists.

An escort recently posted a thread on interesting facts that you may not have know about Ireland. It looks like it was late 90s vintage, but what was interesting in relation to this debate was the following: men going out with a girlfriend had sex on average 4 times per week, married men on average 1.5 times per week, and unattached singles on average once per six months. If we assume that the guys having sex 4 times per week are an average representative of Irish males of a legal and sexually active age and indicate how often guys would have sex or like to have sex if the opportunity presented itself, then a lot of Irish males are not getting their sexual needs met.

The case from Limerick last November gave an insight into some of the types of men that resort to frequenting prostitutes. I would imagine that for quite a few, prostitution was the only means of experiencing physical intimacy with another human being.

The sad fact of life is that there just isn’t somebody for everybody in the audience. Whether a person has a disability, is not physically attractive, is getting on in years, lacks social confidence or graces or self-esteem, is socially isolated or just isn’t having their needs met in the manner they would like them to be met for whatever reason; the factors which create demand are all around us. Apart from targeting clients and turning some lonely, some elderly, some disabled or some sexually unfulfilled men into criminals, having them fined, named and shamed and put on a sex offenders register, does Ruhama have any answer to dealing with these underlying factors of demand?……other than prayer and offering it up to God as some form of penance. If the clergy with their oath of celibacy can’t keep their hands of women, other men (and unfortunately children in too many cases), what hope exists for us mere mortals.

Now to the supply side. If we exclude the forced aspects of prostitution such as trafficking, coercion, violence, blackmail, and those who are conned into it by false promises or who are manipulated and groomed for it via abusive/dysfunctional life situations/experiences, we are left with those who make a conscious voluntary choice through lack of other viable choices or because it might be better financially than the realistic alternatives on offer.

If Ruhama had their way and clients were criminalised, then this means of earning an income would be taken from these people or they would end up being driven into much more clandestine and dangerous situations in trying to earn a living. Therefore while claiming to work to help people affected by prostitution, Ruhama’s help is to effectively make life more dangerous for prostitutes and try to deny them a living from sex work.  But other than counselling and training courses (though worthwhile and beneficial from a personal development perspective for those in need of this) they don’t provide access to any employment opportunities or to social benefits or some form of safety net, that isn’t already being provided for by some state agency or other.

It all sounds a bit like a faith based self-help group such as maybe AA, except it’s for prostitutes. Now if I were a recovering alcoholic, I would listen and hopefully learn from the experiences of a similar other, but if I were contemplating marriage I wouldn’t sit down to be lectured at by a celibate Catholic priest, and if I were a prostitute I would wish to engage with others who understand prostitutes and prostitution from first hand experience.

What exactly do Ruhama have to offer to the voluntary prostitute who hates the work and would love to exit prostitution above and beyond what other agencies etc can offer, such as employment in a reasonably well paid and rewarding job, that gives her financial security, has advancement potential, gives her the flexibility she might need (as a sole parent for example) etc.? Can Ruhama extricate him/her from the mire that causes the person to enter prostitution in the first place?

If we are talking low self-esteem, dependence, coming to terms with a history of abuse, then maybe they can put something in place to help people come to terms with these issues and rescue the individual concerned and start them on a new life. But if they can’t provide them with a financial safety-net that meets their needs, then why are they insisting on the one that currently exists for those that need it.

This all reminds me of a Late Late Show I saw some time back, where a female former member of the Irish Defence forces was a guest. She had written a book about her experiences of a peace keeping mission to Ethiopia or Sudan or Eritrea (that general part of the world in any event). When a new Irish battalion arrived at the base, the soldiers including this female soldier were issued with a large supply of condoms on their first day.

There was very little in the locality (off the base) with the exception of bars cum brothels. Many Irish troops would socialise there for both the drink and the sex. Seemingly many of the men in the village either went elsewhere for work, or were fighting in some war/civil war or had died or been killed; in any event the place was basically just women and children surviving in abject poverty.

The ex-soldier recounted that very often women would provide sexual services in exchange for food for themselves and their children; in some cases a pizza would get a peace keeper what he desired. No doubt, in many cases the soldiers gave away food to these people without any strings attached, but if they were based there for six months, away from wives/girlfriends etc. they soon found out that food or small amounts of money could get them the sort of “home comforts” that the army does not provide.

I wondered why Pat Kenny at the time never asked her where the other organs of the UN or all the various NGOs were who make a big issue of helping these people or fund raise for this purpose. The food and money that the women got could very often be traded for essential medicines or other essentials also. It seems to me that Irish punters in uniform kept women and children alive when nobody else was there. Of course the program and the book caused something of an outrage, after all the Irish Army was placed under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary some decades ago. If I can recollect, I think the condom distribution was discontinued thereafter and the village may have been placed out of bonds. Whether or not something else was put in place for those women, I don’t know.

So if Ruhama was to shut down the supply of prostitution, they need to be able to do what no police force, what no government, what no NGO, what no supranational body or organisation, including the United Nations has ever managed to do. Because trafficking and prostitution are both international issues, and involve moments of people whether by force or by choice, they would need to:

* end poverty and relative or comparative poverty on a world-wide scale.

* provide full employment everywhere

* end exclusion or discrimination against women (education,social, employment) everywhere

* combat trafficking, sex-tourism ect. everywhere.

* put in place decent social provisions for everyone at risk of falling through the cracks (unemployment assistance, single parent benefits, child benefits, rent allowances, deserted wives benefits, heath care, training/education) worldwide.

Ruhama might make a small start by lobbying the government to rescind some of the welfare and allowance cutbacks and ease off on taxing the already hard pressed citizens and driving them into the black economy including possibly sex work. If they prostitute the entire nation to pay off the gambling debts of bankers and developers, do they really expect us just to lie back, shut up and smile, and take whatever is shoved at us and then to really rub the salt into the wounds, accept the likes of Ruhama taking away the livelihood of 1000+ women and criminalising tens of thousands of men.

The proposed law is a lunacy on many fronts. They spend their time criminalising that which does not need to be criminalised (see blasphemy law), they won’t criminalise the sort of reckless behaviour which has the country in the state it is in, and they haven’t got the resources to deal with the serious criminality that currently abounds.

They don’t seem to have much of an answer to anything these days that makes sense. A legal response to prostitution will not work. The legal response to trafficking or involuntary prostitution is already there and needs to be properly resourced. The only response to voluntary prostitution that has a chance of success, is no different to what the entire country is in need of, and that’s an economic one.

It’s the economy, stupid, and to the good people behind Ruhama I say, if prayer has worked for you for the past 2000 years, then back into your enclosed orders and the protection of high walls and continue with your excellent life of prayer, rest assured, we won’t be disturbing you with the ills of the world.