#MeToo has ‘blind spot’ on prostitution, says survivor

Just one man prosecuted for purchasing sex, but 18 migrant women charged under law

Middle class feminists and the #MeToo movement should “shut up” with the argument that sex work is a “job like any other”, a survivor of prostitution has said.

Fiona Broadfoot (51), who was involved in prostitution in London for 11 years from the age of 15, said it was now her life's work to dispel the "bullshit notion that prostitution is sex work".

“For the privileged few who do [choose sex work] I wish they would shut up and leave us alone to fight the torture and abuse of women, which is largely what it is. That small percentage, they need to go away and let us fight this absolute hell for girls and women.”

She was speaking at the start of a new campaign, Prostitution, We Don't Buy It, initiated to "expose the truth about prostitution and sex trafficking". It aims to counter the argument of some, including the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI), that a proportion of women are in sex work by choice.


“They are dangerous and actually quite sad,” said Ms Broadfoot. “Women are groomed into believing they are empowered and then at the end of it they are crawling out of hell with all kinds of physical and mental health problems. And, actually, I’d like to ask anybody would you see it as a career for your daughter? All these people, professionals in their ivory towers, who promote it as a job, get yourselves down there, do it and then come back and have a conversation with me about it.”

Survivor Rachel Moran said there was a "blind spot" on the issue "within the #MeToo movement . . . you simply can't buy consent".

Survey findings

The campaign, an initiative of organisations working with women affected by prostitution and sexual violence, published findings from Red C that men (41 per cent) were almost twice as likely as women (22 per cent) to view selling sex as “a job like any other” and three times (12 per cent) as likely as women (4 per cent) to believe prostitution is a “freely chosen” activity.

These views are most prevalent among men aged 18-34. The findings indicate a "desensitising of attitudes with increased access to pornography", said Sean Cooke, chief executive of the Men's Development Network (MDN).

A majority (70 per cent) of people know purchasing sex is a criminal offence under the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act, 2017 and 53 per cent see this as positive, the survey finds. The sale of sexual services is no longer a crime.

According to Department of Justice figures, however, just one man has been prosecuted for purchasing sex since March 2017, while 18 migrant women have been, for brothel keeping.

Some 10 were from Romania, five from Hungary and three from China. According to SWAI, most of these are likely to be women working together for safety.

A further six cases are before the courts for organisation of prostitution. These concern four women and two men. The women are Irish, Hungarian, Chinese and Nigerian.

The campaign calls for more resources for gardaí to enforce the legislation.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times