A Human Rights Perspective

The purchase of another human being for sex, it is not and never has been the purchase of sex, because neither I nor any of the other women stand on the street or in the brothels with our genitalia and our mouths and throats in neatly wrapped packages which you could borrow and return to us. No, I had to go with them, you had to talk to me first, and my mind was present the whole time. You always have to buy the person before you gain access to their body. The first principle of equality is that no human being should have control over the body of another human being, and that is what prostitution is.

I once answered a questionnaire for a group calling on states to recognise non-state torture, and they rightly believe that prostitution is a form of non-state torture. There were 48 listed acts that are considered to be torturous. I ticked 17 of the boxes and had to write a couple of acts of violence that were committed on me that were not actually listed. I do not know of any other ‘job’ or ‘industry’ where such heinous, often torturous, acts of violence would be tolerated. The violence and rape that happens in prostitution is frightening and disturbing; I am a survivor of multiple rapes including a gang rape, a vicious attack which my friend Jenny did not survive and when you have been exposed to such human wickedness it changes the way you see the world. And any system or industry which allows the violent sexual crime of rape to thrive should be shut down, it shouldn’t even have to be debated.

This law is one I profoundly believe in and as such was one I was prepared to fight for. My question to Ireland was always do we respect human dignity enough for us to assume responsibility for its protection. Bodily integrity is of course at the heart of human dignity and I do not believe that we should get to pick whose bodily integrity we choose to protect, as all humans are equal and as such all humans should be afforded the same rights and protection. This law is about the protection of human dignity, and valuing human dignity above other values finally recognizes it to be among the most resourceful of values, one that can motivate when all else fails and on this issue all else has failed. This law is about the protection of freedom and there are some laws that they in themselves bring freedom and this is most definitely one of them.

I also believe that it is the responsibility of all humans to try in whatever way that we can to leave this world a better and safer place for the next generation. This responsibility lies especially with us, the ones who have been afforded opportunities and educations that many can only dream of. I say this not to evoke a sense of guilt or as a request for sympathy for those we might consider less fortunate then us, for those feelings will change nothing, but more I seek empathy and a sense of compassion, the successful ingredients for sustained hope and positive social change, and also that we remember that there are many on this island that life has not been good or kind to.

Prostitution is, was and always will be an absolute affront to human dignity, it is a gross infringement of human dignity whether the person being bought knows that or not. In fact to me it will always be a crime against humanity because it affects our very humanness; it attacks and destroys the elements of being human that separate us from all other living things, our human consciousness and our ability to reason not to mention the extremely negative impact it has on society in general, on humankind.

The only thing that will end this abuse is human intervention and in whatever form that comes, through education, which I believe is the key to freedom, through laws that protect and enshrine values, by empathic social policies; this is about building a world with structures that allow all humans to thrive, this is about believing in the inherent dignity of man but at the same time being fully aware of the human condition and all its complexities. And sometimes it must be the law that leads if attitudes are to change and values enshrined, if this law is enacted then social change for the greater good is not just a possibility, it is in fact inevitable.

The one sure thing that six years of deeply personal anthropological insight into sexual exploitation has taught me is that prostitution is not compatible with humanity and we either choose one or the other.

Statement by Mia De Faoite, Survivor of Prostitution

The reason I began to speak out about prostitution was that as hard as I tried I could find no justification for what I had experienced there or what I had witnessed others experience. At first I didn’t know where to place that information or even how to write it down, I was still trying to make sense of it all. I could not stop thinking about my friends, I had left them behind. The women I had stood beside for 6 years had wrongly considered me to be of more value than themselves, they felt sorry for me, as one of my friends said one night, “I was born with nothing, I grew up with nothing and I’m still nothing but it must be so hard for you to have had a life and to have lost it all” but I thought no that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Their reaction to me didn’t tell me or confirm to me that I was in some way special, no it told me one thing and one thing only, just how little value they placed on their own lives. That isn’t the way it should be where young girls grow up believing they are nothing and believing that the way they are treated is acceptable or justifiable because of their background or the street they were born on. That, they except being raped or beaten as just part of it, a consequence of their actions. The violence and rape that happens in prostitution is frightening and disturbing. I am also a survivor of multiple rapes. And any system or industry which allows the violent sexual crime of rape to thrive should be shut down; we shouldn’t even have to debate it. Some of my friends on the street had figured that if anyone was to make it off the street that it would be me. They were right and believe me, given the disturbing statistics, I truly know how lucky I am and because of that I now believe that I have an absolute responsibility to ensure in whatever way I can, that the true face of prostitution is made visible.

For me prostitution is when a woman ceases to be seen as human and becomes a trapped mind that lives in a body which no longer belongs to her. How our trapped minds cope depends on a wide range of things, too complex to explain briefly here. You see, prostitution is like inception and it messes with your mind. I knew women who used their real names and would defend their position, to me this was frightening because it meant they had lost all realistic hope that this could change and had begun to find a sense of value in their own exploitation, contented acceptance, fuelled also by the master manipulation of buyers. I believe that there is a fundamental difference between, “Choosing to become” and “defending what has become of you” and the wise researcher gets and understands this concept. We learn and pick up survival skills; we use laughter as a coping mechanism, we only trust each other for we know what the world thinks of us, those messages come in loud and clear. There are no messages that we are ever welcome back, we have become the worst insult a woman can call a woman or a man can bestow on a woman. We sign a social contract that comes with the highest cost. In the small print of this contract the terms and conditions are harsh, disturbing and unjustifiable. So it would appear to most that we stand free on the street and yet everywhere we are in chains.

I walked off the Burlington Road, on the 10th October, 2010. It was a social worker who took me away from the street; she could see choices that I just could not see. I knew that I had done some serious damage to my mind and I was terrified about what would happen once the heroin, which blocked it out, was removed. She placed me into the care of a consultant who took care of me medically and assigned a clinical psychologist to work with me to help overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and disassociation. I worked with her for nearly five months, which was so hard and intense at times. I then went to Ruhama, which is an organization which looks after women affected by prostitution, and was assigned a case worker who helped me examine every part of my life, from the practical to the painful. And then I began my educational journey with an access to third level course which then lead to me gaining a place at university. So even though it took me reaching inside myself and drawing on every piece of strength I owned to overcome and find my want back to normality, it didn’t begin with that. That strength grew with time. I didn’t just decide one day that I had had enough. I didn’t have some sort or an epiphany. The only thing that saved me was human intervention and lots of it.

I have always felt that although it was heroin that bought me to the street it was prostitution that bought me to me knees. It exposed me to such human wickedness, wickedness that was to change the way I saw the world forever. For although the rapes and beatings I endured broke me down bit by bit, it was witnessing the suffering of others and not being in a position to do anything to stop it that broke me inside. I am now in that position and have been for the past four years, when I joined a remarkable team of people and together we have fought for a law which we profoundly believe in, which can put a halt to the suffering. The reason this law works is that it makes those responsible for its existence accountable for their actions.

I had lived and had valuable insight into the system. The ability to empathize with the prostituted appeared to be blocked. I had insight into what it meant to be prostituted and how it felt like to be there. I could put a human face to the research. I wanted for people to forget what they had ever read or heard or imagined about prostitution and come with me when I spoke and see the world how I saw it and then see if they could find a justification for it. The best research comes from long in-depth interviews with a reliable informant and I am one.