turn off the red light

'The ugly truth about prostitution is that without various forms of force it would collapse'

Former sex workers are calling on the government to pass the Sexual Offences Bill which would make buying sex illegal.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, the Turn Off The Red Light campaign held an event to urge the government to pass the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. The Bill criminalises buying sex, which is currently legal in Ireland.

There is estimated to be a minimum of 1,000 women and girls involved in the sex trade in Ireland at any one time.

Four former sex workers told their stories.

Fiona Broadfoot

Robbie Reynolds Robbie Reynolds

The city of Leeds, where I was bought and sold as a child, as are many others, now has a safe manage zone where men can buy girls and women. In the pilot year, a young Polish woman in her early twenties was battered and murdered. Leeds City Council has since endorsed this pilot as a success and legitimised the tolerance zone.

Many women are so damaged by their experiences, they could be best described as the walking dead. Many are living with chronic health problems; mental, emotional and physical. They self-medicate to block out the abuse they have experienced.

The men who buy and sell women are, of course, invisible. Their day-to-day lives are not affected in the slightest. Their partners, wives, children, colleagues and wider social circle have no idea about their activities. They’re not accountable for their actions and society protects them. They rape and violate women with absolutely no consequences.

The trauma and abuse I experienced did not evaporate on exiting this violent and abusive world. The aftermath is lifelong, and I, and the girls and women I have met, missed out on the transition from childhood to adulthood. Intimate relationships are difficult. Triggers happen in the supermarket, at the cinema, in romantic moments and other random times and places.

It’s been four years since I first came to Ireland to campaign for the passing of the Sexual Offences Bill. In those four years, thousands of vulnerable women and children have been abused through prostitution in Ireland. It’s reached crisis point. We can’t afford to wait any longer. This legislation needs to happen now.

Ne’cole Daniels

Ne'cole Robbie Reynolds Robbie Reynolds

I was taught from the tender age of seven that my worth was between my legs. How I knew this was that I was raped repeatedly by a family member at the age of seven.

It was only reinforced by my mother, who was a prostitute, that my value was between my legs. As long as I had a vagina, I should never be broke. I believed this.

So when I was poached at the age of 15 by yet another family member, I had already been groomed. I lied to myself and stayed in the life until my own daughter was sexually assaulted.

What I know now is that coming from my dysfunctional family home, I didn’t choose this life, this life chose me.

As a frontline service provider, I witness first-hand the damages of the sex-trade – the damage that is caused to women who are bought and sold.

This is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It’s happening at our bus stops. It’s happening down the street from the restaurants we frequent. It’s a billion dollar business. It’s second only to drug-trading and gun dealing.

The average age that a victim is sex-trafficked in the States is 12-14. Many victims are forced or coerced into the sex trade. Some have already suffered sexual abuse as children. Traffickers and pimps are master-manipulators who gain a victim’s trust before forcing them into commercial exploitation – forcing and keeping them compliant by violence or drugs.

The nature of sex trafficking is economic, a demand model. Males demand, which fosters sex trafficking, and pimps become distributors who supply them with women and children.

There are those who like to make a distinction between prostitution and sex trafficking. In reality, however, those who are said to have ‘wilfully’ entered prostitution can be found in almost all cases to have entered the sex trade under some form of duress.

The ugly truth about prostitution is that, not only can it not function without coercion, without various forms of force it would collapse.

Bridget Perrier

Robbie Reynolds Robbie Reynolds

I was lured and debased into prostitution at the age of 12 from a group home. I remained enslaved for 10 years in prostitution.  I was paraded like cattle in front of men who were able to purchase me. And the acts that they did to me was something that no little girl should ever have to endure.

Because of the men, I cannot have children normally because of trauma to my cervix. To this day I still have nightmares, and sometimes I sleep with the lights on. I feel damaged and not worthy.

I was traded in legal establishments, street corners and strip bars. The scariest thing that ever happened to me was being held captive for 43 hours and raped and tortured repeatedly at the age of 14 by a sexual predator who preyed on exploited girls.

My first pimp was a woman who owned an illegal brothel. I was groomed to say I was her daughter’s friend if the police ever asked. My second pimp made me prostitute for money. He was supposed to be my bodyguard, but that turned out to be one big lie. They are both still out there, doing the same things to other little girls.

I believe prostitution is not a choice. It’s lack of choice that keeps women and girls enslaved. Most of us were children who were forgotten, neglected, abused, and not protected.

A huge majority of women and children in prostitution have experienced pimp violence. This is far from the pretty picture that is often painted. We have been afraid, raped, beaten, sold and discarded.

We must hold the buyers of sex accountable for the abuse and physical harm that they are causing to the most vulnerable.

Rachel Moran

Robbie Reynolds Robbie Reynolds

The term sex trade suggests that sex can be bought and sold separate from the individual. The truth is you cannot buy sex. You purchase sexual access.

The difference is of profound importance. It is the difference between a shared sexual experience, and a situation where sex is endured by one party under duress.

There are those still who refuse to acknowledge prostitution as a form of sexual violence while, revealingly, refusing to countenance the idea that their own loved ones might staff the brothels and the red-light zones. The reason is none of us want our loved ones degraded for a living.

If there had been an exit option when I was a 15-year-old homeless girl, I wouldn’t have been in prostitution seven days, let alone seven years. I can absolutely assure you I would have made good use of any assistance.

I, like every other teenager and woman I knew at that time, did not want to have my body used by men I did not know, men I did not like, men routinely old enough to be my grandfather or great-grandfather. If you think I might be overstating my case, consider please that one of the men who used me regularly in my early teens was 83 years old.

Prostitution is the ultimate expression of social injustice. The fact that the seven teenage girls on my corner were all former residents of state care homes should be evidence enough that prostitution is not populated by people who want to exercise autonomy and choice, but by those who never had any to exercise in the first place. It is the socially vulnerable who are corralled into prostitution.

I would like to urge Irish politicians to take the critically important step of passing the Sexual Offences Bill.

Read: “Not all people in prostitution are exploited” – John Halligan defends stance on legalising sex work

Read: Investigation details systematic movement of prostitutes around Ireland’s towns

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