Punched in the face, kicked down stairs, bitten, starved and beaten - women involved in prostitution in Ireland are increasingly at risk of violence. Does this rise in sexual aggression identify a link between degradation of women and the universal availability of hard pornography?
THE NEWS that demand for prostitute services has been unaffected by the recession was hardly surprising. But like many conscience-free corporations, that hasn’t stopped the industry demanding more productivity from its workers, so the fact that women in prostitution are being forced to take bigger risks is hardly surprising either.
The release last week of the annual report from Ruhama, the charity for women affected by prostitution, triggered a mild flurry of curiosity about the lives of one of the most contentious groups in society.
Last year, these women “reported horrific levels of sexual, physical and emotional abuse”, said the charity’s chief executive, Sarah Benson. They were punched in the face, in the stomach, were kicked down stairs, beaten for refusing to have sex with men, were locked in, were refused food, were burned and bitten.
“Women were told by buyers that they were ‘ugly’, ‘not very good’, that they ‘should at least try to look like you’re enjoying it’ while their bodies were used in whatever way the buyer wished,” said Benson. Which means “turning yourself into a public toilet”, in the words of one former prostitute this week.
The notion of a mutually pleasurable, damage-free transaction – as promoted by the industry and supporters of legalisation – sits wildly at odds with the reality of these engagements. Were it not for the wreckage they leave behind, the self-delusion of the average sex buyer would be laughable.
On an unfiltered “escorts” website, where Irish males using hard-man pseudonyms such as “Mountdick” and “BigLad” post “reviews” of the human merchandise, the inherent contradictions are mind-boggling. “She’s putty in my hands”, exults “Scankman”.
Another writes: “from the second i met her she was all over me kissing me passionatly”.
A man who had “booked a couple of Nasty Bitches”, turned up to find two normal looking women and was about to leave, until “they assured me that I was in the right place, and they both wanted me to use them like nasty pieces of filth”.
A career every father wants for his daughter surely?
At one level, these men – some of whom pay for sex up to 10 times a month, according to their own posts – must delude themselves that the women find them irresistible. At another, they must also believe that the same women are sub-human: “Met this thing a number of months ago. She went by a different name then . . . She hates her clients, hates the job, hates the world. Stay well away from it.”
Another reviewer, whose human receptacle failed to perform as programmed, writes: “The window did not open, and the room was very warm, and Amanda got an attitude about how much I was sweating. I wanted to drive my c*** down her throat until she gagged on it, but she insisted on doing it her way . . . Certainly not the experience I had been anticipating, as I have met with some very charming and accommodating Czech and Slovakian ladies who have gagged and slurped on my c*** . . . To be 100% honest, and fair to other punters, they list a few things on their profile that they don’t actually do [he lists them diligently] like in the porno movies.”
Mr Loneranger complained that on his visit to “Sweet Rebeka”, no shower was offered and that “oral was coverred”.
Unusually, Rebeka replied on the website: “if iwill ask you to go in the shower, you will said that maybe i think you are not clean,and I did’t want to offend you, if you really want to make a shower you could ask. but now I realised i should ask you to go to the shower, that was the reason for coverred oral, my healt is more important than a bad review.”
In a single paragraph, Rebeka distils the daily life of a woman in prostitution: her fear of offending the client, however repulsive, malodorous or degrading; the continuous risk to her own health; and – less obviously – a constant concern about her pimp’s reaction to poor “reviews” and consequent need to defend herself. It is believed that posts from both sides are often placed and/or closely scrutinised by those who control the women and their takings.
IN THIS FANTASY WORLDof mass denial and self-delusion – where many buyers' complaints are about misleading photographs, poor command of English, refusal to engage in French kissing (despite the array of other deeply degrading services on offer) or in acts without a condom – a more typical response from a poorly reviewed woman is one that reads: "tanks for your councils. I hope one day you give me another chance."
What is obvious after this depressing trawl, is that the 527 alleged "Irish females" on offer this week on this one website – based in London, for Irish users – were almost exclusively non-Irish. Many of them declared themselves to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering an array of "services" for which most people would require a glossary. It's a long way from Pretty Woman.
Describing her life in “indoor” prostitution, “Marie”, a Ruhama client, outlines the mobile nature of the business now.
“The pimps move the women down the country for anything from a week to two weeks; the only human communication you have is with clients. You’re sitting in the apartment for anything from 6 to 13 days, alone, and you must be available for 12- to 16-hour days, in an apartment with the curtains always closed, never seeing natural light.”
The men are getting younger, she says, and more physically aggressive. “They come in groups of twos and threes and will egg each other on for more aggressive and violent acts.”
The stories about lonely men just wanting to chat, are a myth in her experience. All men show a violent disposition once they’re with a prostitute, she says: “Whether calling her ‘bitch’, ‘slut’, pinning her down or aggressive penetration . . . He just wants to ejaculate and whether it hurts the woman’s body or not, he doesn’t care.”
The use of prostitutes in Ireland is now so normalised, Marie says, “that men will sit and talk openly about some of the stuff they’ve done. It’s an accepted thing now for men to assume they will get oral without a condom, and some women are afraid to refuse in case they will lose the client and the money for the pimp.”
And the pimp, of course, is greatly feared.
Marie agrees that there are women who freely choose prostitution for the money. The problem for those women, she says, is that they discover only in later years how degraded and broken they have become because of their choice: “These women are not happy with what they are doing but happy with the money they get.”
The reality, though, is that while a woman in prostitution is reckoned to be worth over €100,000 a year, the vast bulk of it goes to her controllers and the website operators.
The link between increased aggression and more degrading demands from younger men with the universal availability of hard pornography is impossible to ignore.
“It’s the desensitisation that goes on,” says Ellen O’Malley Dunlop of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
In July, the helpline at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre alone heard from 62 first-time callers in relation to recent rapes, three reporting marital rapes, four relating to “drug” rape and 11 recent sexual assaults.
Clearly, the wide availability of sex for sale throughout rural Ireland – increasingly in counties such as Longford, Roscommon, Monaghan and Wexford – has not reduced sexual crime in the wider population.
Ten years ago, the Swedish government cut through the niceties about “harm reduction” for women working in prostitution and the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary prostitution. Working on the premise that prostitution entails serious harm to both individuals and society, and that without demand, there would be no prostitution, it became the first country in the world to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase, but not the sale, of sexual services.
Since then, street prostitution has been halved, according to a Swedish Ministry of Justice report in July, while in neighbouring Norway and Denmark it increased dramatically.
While internet prostitution has increased in all three countries, there is nothing to indicate that Sweden’s problem is any greater than the others. In other words, the ban did not result in a wholesale shift from street prostitution to the internet. And prostitution has not been driven underground, as was feared.
“People working in the field do not consider that there has been an increase in prostitution since the ban was introduced,” says the ministry. “According to the National Criminal Police, it is clear that the ban . . . acts as a barrier to human traffickers and procurers considering establishing themselves in Sweden.”
The most dramatic result, perhaps, is the marked shift of attitude that has come over the Swedish population in 10 years. More than 70 per cent now take a positive view of the ban, in sharp contrast with Norway and Denmark. As for the women who work in prostitution, the pattern tells its own story. “It is clear, and it seems logical,” says the report, “that those who have extricated themselves from prostitution take a positive view of criminalisation, while those who are still exploited in prostitution are critical of the ban.”
- Rape Crisis Centre Call the National Helpline on 1800 77 88 88 or see drcc.ie
- Ruhama Call 01-836 0292 or see ruhama.ie