AN alleged factual account of a "middle class" Dublin woman's venture into prostitution could act as a spur to impressionable young women to enter a trade that is dangerous and detrimental to mental health, people working with prostitutes have warned.
The book, Between the Sheets, is an account of the alleged double life of a middle-class Dublin woman who lost her job and embarked on a life in prostitution to maintain her "comfortable home and family lifestyle in the face of financial collapse". The author has adopted the pseudonym 'Scarlett O'Kelly'.
There has already been one complaint to Dublin Bus and advertising agencies as a provocative image of men staring at a woman wearing sheer black underwear has begun appearing on advertising boards on buses.
A woman contacted the Rape Crisis Centre in Dublin after she said she had been passed from Dublin Bus to the advertisers to the Advertising Standards Authority without any adequate response about what she described as an "obscene" image.
Ms Ellen O'Malley Dunlop of the Rape Crisis Centre said yesterday: "This person was passed from one organisation to another when she expressed concern. She was really put out by this ad. It is what is happening in terms of young people being sexualised before they are ready. It's unreal what is happening out there in terms of young people being inured to it."
Penguin Ireland, the publishers, claim it will be one of the "most controversial" books of the year and say they are satisfied that the woman's account is genuine, adding: "The book claims to be 'an illuminating and explicit account of a year spent working as an escort in middle Ireland, a gripping account of living a double life -- and the high price it exacts'."
Yet, even before publication, the book is raising concerns among those working with prostitutes and against exploitation of women.
Nusha Yonkova, Anti-Trafficking Project Co-ordinator with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, expressed serious reservations about any work that sought to portray prostitution as in any way a suitable or easy lifestyle.
"Prostitution is dangerous and may have health consequences. There is the mental health aspect; you cannot wake up the following day and get on with your life. It is detrimental in so many ways and it is very sad that it still happens," she said.
"The author is anonymous. It is not possible to gain a full insight into her life. I think it is a very bad choice (as a book). They have to be accountable for what they are doing.
"The book would be read by young people who may be at an unstable point in their lives and this could act as an encouragement. It is very disappointing that Penguin has done this. I think it is purely to gain profits. It is a poor choice.
"The reality is that there are almost no middle-class, middle-aged women (in prostitution). The reality is that they are predominantly migrants from Eastern and Central Europe, poor central American countries and Africa. There are some Irish women, but the majority of them would also have addiction problems. That is the difference. They would not be people who have choices.
"They are strapped for cash and they need cash to survive and they take that temporary decision to do it for a while. In some cases they are completely controlled, indebted to the people who have falsified the migrant services they have received."
Ms Yonkova said the women they had spoken to most often ended up with less money than when they started in prostitution.
The author, 'Scarlett O'Kelly', said the sex industry was nothing like she expected it to be: "I expected it to be seedy and awful and it wasn't." She said that during her time as an escort and prostitute, she had had sex with more than 150 men.
But the image of Irish prostitution portrayed in the book is very different from the reality of most sex workers' lives, according to the Migrant Council of Ireland.
Former Garda Detective Superintendent PJ Browne, who led an investigation into Dublin's vice trade, said that, while he had not read the book, he was concerned about any impression that might be given that prostitution was a "safe" or "lifestyle" choice.
He said: "We found that a large number of young women working in prostitution were from very poor backgrounds and from countries where they could get no work. It is sordid and it is dangerous. I have no idea what experiences this woman had, but the vast majority of women working in this trade in Ireland are young foreign women who are desperate for money.
"They are very vulnerable, both from the aspects of pimps and men who can exploit them, and from dangerous customers.
"Our main concern was for the safety of these young women and to ensure that there was a stop to trafficking and exploitation. Many said they were working voluntarily, and that may be the case, but there are dangers inherent in this work.
"Poor Belinda Periera (the 27-year-old Sri Lankan-born prostitute murdered at an apartment in Liffey Street in Dublin in December 1996) was working alone over the Christmas period in Dublin and met an awful death. It was a very sad life and a terrible death.
"She was working alone in an apartment in a city she knew nothing about. She came over for the Christmas week and was due to go back to London on New Year's Day. Her parents were lovely people who knew nothing of what had happened to their daughter when she had gone to England and that she had been dragged into that type of existence."
Another senior garda concurred that while most of the young foreign women who were involved in lap-dancing clubs and prostitution were here voluntarily, there were concerns among them and among gardai for their safety.
"There is no question but that this can be very dangerous work for young women," he said.