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Opinion: Buyers of sex are getting more violent, increasingly influenced by what they see in porn

There is a whole generation of violent porn-watchers and they are seeking more and more extreme things from the women in prostitution, writes a Ruhama caseworker.

Ashley Judd, at a conference on violence in prostitution, in Paris Nov 2018
Ashley Judd, at a conference on violence in prostitution, in Paris Nov 2018
Image: Michel Euler/AP/Shutterstock

I DIDN’T KNOW much about prostitution when I started working for Ruhama 17 years ago.

I knew an act took place and money changed hands but little else about the reality of life for the women. 

I knew nothing about the kind of men who bought sex from women either. When I think about it now, I had led a very sheltered life.

When I started working with Ruhama I read incessantly about prostitution to learn as much as I could-  but it was in our outreach van where I learned the most.

I remember my first time in the van – I was shocked to my socks. One of the first women I met was very heavily pregnant and I couldn’t get my head around it.

She was in obvious discomfort and I remember wondering – what kind of man would think it was okay to buy sex from that woman?

As time went on, I learned more about the links between domestic violence and the abuse that happens in prostitution and started to gain a real insight into the lives of the women.

Patterns of abuse, poverty and coercion emerged and I began to see the links between the theory I had read and the complex lives of the women I met.

The women

My work brings me primarily into contact with Irish women, in both indoor and street prostitution.

Almost all of the women I’ve worked with have suffered abuse in their early years.

This is consistent with the backgrounds of women in the sex trade worldwide.

Poverty is a massive driver into prostitution and so is addiction.

If women don’t enter prostitution as a result of addiction, often they end up misusing substances in order to cope with it. For a lot of them, it would be impossible to sell sex sober.

Domestic violence and coercive control are central elements in the lives of many of the women I work with. Often they end up in prostitution because someone they trusted – a boyfriend, a friend, a family member – has groomed or coerced them into it.

The sex-buyers

The buyers should be under no illusion – the women despise them.

They think these men are vile. They don’t want to engage on any emotional level with the men, they don’t want to hug them and they don’t want to kiss them.

Worryingly the men are becoming more violent. Buyers are increasingly influenced by what they see in pornography. There is a whole generation of violent porn-watchers that see violence in sex as the norm.

The men paying for sex feel emboldened to seek more and more extreme things and act them out on the women in prostitution.

They think they can ask for anything because they’re paying for it.

The women end up having to see all types of men, from all backgrounds, who see them as merely a ‘vagina’.

It’s incredibly sad for us, as a society, that women are reduced to this. These women try and hold on to their power in the situation but in their world the man holds the power.

Personal impact

Working for Ruhama has had a huge impact on my life. I’ve had to work really hard to remind myself that not all men are like this.

I think of my father and my brothers who would never do this. I have to keep reminding myself that these men who buy sex are in the minority.

A real man would be able to see prostitution for what it is and find the idea of sexually exploiting women as abhorrent as I do.

Sometimes the stories from the women can be difficult to process. As workers, we have internal and external supervision, including from trained psychotherapists to support us – as some of the cases are traumatic to deal with. 

Our team is close and we look out for each other’s wellbeing. I have some routines, like visualisation or spending time with my dogs that helps me to cope too after a tough day.

It’s so important to debrief, we have to look after our own mental health so that we are in a position to keep supporting the women. 

When I’m working with a woman, then my absolute priority is her safety. When she feels safe she will share her story.

A lot of women will actually tell their story in the third person so that they feel some way removed from the story and that protects them.

Recovery

People don’t talk about the issue of prostitution very much. I think they don’t want to look at the underbelly of society.

As Ruhama staff we are exposed to it, as are our committed volunteers.

We have seen a lot of women with positive outcomes and this is what I hold on to throughout the most difficult and traumatic cases.

I always encourage women to discover the power that they have within themselves.

The strength is in them; I help them to build their foundations and tell them to use me as their scaffold until their foundations are set up.

Women do recover from sexual exploitation and that keeps me going.

I work with amazing, strong women and have learned so much about life from those I have encountered over the past 17 years.

The Ruhama caseworker has asked to remain anonymous in order to protect confidentiality. 

Ruhama urges anyone who finds themselves in a difficult situation in Ireland’s sex trade, or who is concerned about someone they know, to contact them for support on (01) 836 0292, or text the word REACH for free to 50100 for a free, confidential call-back. 

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About the author:

Anonymous Ruhama Caseworker

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