Revealed: the life of a 'working girl' in Ireland today
Following recent calls to criminalise prostitution, a female sex worker defends her 'choice' of profession to Jim Cusack
An "independent" sex worker who travels between here and Britain has spoken out against attempts to outlaw female prostitution and to criminalise men who pay women for sex.
The female escort is a member of the recently established campaign group Turn off the Blue Light, which represents Irish sex workers.
And last week the group wrote to TDs and senators to warn that a total ban on sex workers would drive the industry underground and into the clutches of pimps.
The move follows a call by the Dublin-based NGO Ruhama, which works with women affected by prostitution, to make it a criminal offence for a man to pay a woman for sex.
Geraldine Rowley, spokeswoman for Ruhama -- which is Hebrew for renewed life -- had claimed that the sex industry in Ireland had strong links to human trafficking and that female sex workers were "subject to abuse and violence".
But the female member of Turn off the Blue Light denied she was being exploited, saying she chose to become a sex worker.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent on the grounds of anonymity, she said that not all women in the trade were trafficking or sex abuse victims, or under other forms of severe pressure.
"I was working as a clerk in a transport company (in London), slowly building up massive debt and getting incredibly bored. I noticed an ad in a magazine looking for a full-time 'lady's maid'. I was 19, and insatiably curious.
"The lady was an escort, working from ads in magazines and in call boxes. I answered her telephone and took her appointments. More or less a general dogsbody but she paid me £80 per day. She later left London for South Africa so I then took a job doing the calls for an escort agency. This led to managing it until the death of the owner.
"By then I had started to see clients also. I guess seeing them everyday and talking to them made it all seem far less filthy than I had imagined. I did want a family and children though, and when I met my husband I took a job in a hotel. My marriage wasn't successful. I came back to escorting last year, arriving in Ireland in June. I travel extensively, stay in lovely places and put up with some odd things in return.
"I find my work very easy, but that's probably down to the way I work, I only accept clients I like and can reference. My clients tend to be in their forties and married."
Speaking about the "down" side of sex working and what she feels would be best for sex workers, she said: "I have had one or two bad experiences, but nothing on a scale of some of the things I have heard about since arriving in Ireland. The attitude of the police (gardai) is pretty unpredictable, and it is always thought better to not involve them at all, which leaves us vulnerable at all times. We also have to be careful of agencies, who do not like independent escorts arriving in their town.
"I would like it if we had a dedicated police liaison service, with a strong public message that we are still women and violence against us will not be tolerated. It would be disaster for us to further criminalise our work. It would not stop prostitution, far from it. All it would achieve is criminalisation and vilification of some decent men, make us more afraid to speak out, less visible but easily abused, and far more at risk of violence."
Turn off the Blue Light is "campaigning against calls to criminalise the purchase of sex, and for the health, safety, human, civil and labour rights of sex workers".
In the group's letter to TDs and senators, they stated: "Although it is not illegal to work as a prostitute in Ireland (provided you work alone and in private), persons working in the sex industry are a much marginalised group in society and are often poorly treated. Currently it is a criminal offence to pay for sex with a trafficked person, but consenting adults are not criminalised for privately purchasing sex from other consenting adults, and we don't believe they should be.
"We are very concerned about the impact a total ban on buying sex would have. It would drive the sex industry further underground and make it much more dangerous for all. It would negatively impact on sex workers like us, who have made an informed choice to be sex workers, and create a more clandestine and criminal sex industry, where exploitation and trafficking could thrive and the rights of all sex workers would be greatly infringed on. We believe it is time to put the welfare of sex workers above calls to further criminalise sex work for moralistic reasons.
"Garda resources should be directed at exploitation and trafficking, not consenting adults. A balanced look needs to be taken at sex work now, and sex workers must be heard.
"At the moment Ruhama is using government funding to lobby the government to have their own religious beliefs enacted as law. There are sex workers in every constituency in Ireland, and we appeal to you to speak up for sex workers.
"We would very much like to communicate with you and answer any questions you may have. The rights of sex workers must not be cast aside any further. Please help us to be heard."