Status quo could be safest place for 'working girls'
Prostitute Clara tells Joanna Kiernan laws criminalising buyers of sex would put women like her in more danger
FOR Clara, prostitution was a career choice. Clara, who is originally from New Zealand, works across Ireland, Britain and a number of other countries, where she provides escorting and sexual services to men for money.
Her story is not another harrowing tale of human trafficking, of being forced into a seedy and often violent underworld against her will.
And Clara is vehemently against the proposed legislation currently being considered by the Government, which may see the buyers of sex in Ireland criminalised, in a move to target the demand for prostitution here.
She works independently, discreetly, and is keen to point out that she has not been coerced into sex work in any way.
"Personally, I don't think it's a very good idea," Clara told the Sunday Independent. "Automatically it will put people like me, who are doing this as a living, in danger.
"At the moment, for example, if somebody were to attack me or do violent things to me I would call the guards, but if such a law existed you would be hesitant to do that," Clara said. "As soon as you phone the guards, they can then watch your residence, so if you meet anyone they can charge them because it's criminal. The laws can also be used in different ways, like there is a city in Norway which has these laws and takes them very seriously and the police threaten hotels and landlords that they're going to charge them if ladies work in their apartments or hotels, so that encourages street workers."
Clara is aware of the reasons for bringing in such laws and the need to protect vulnerable women and girls from being trafficked and forced into the sex industry; however, she claims that these laws will not help with these issues and simply result in unintended side-effects for those who choose to engage in prostitution willingly in this country.
"I know this is all about trafficking and I don't disagree, that does happen and is happening worldwide," Clara added.
"I think that there are other ways of dealing with something like this though because, going back to Sweden and Norway, who have the laws already, if you go on to their main websites any day you'll see that there are still people working there, the numbers haven't dropped."
Clara began working as an escort in London.
"It wasn't planned at all," she said. "I was in entertainment before, dancing and modelling and a few things like that, and a friend of mine was doing part-time escorting and she told me it was like being paid to date.
"I tried it and that's pretty much how I started and I enjoyed it," Clara said. "It is a whole different world, dinner dates and not all just bedroom stuff. You aren't earning tons of money, but at the moment I am maintaining a certain lifestyle that I like."
Clara will not reveal her earnings per annum, but she works three days a week, covers her travel expenses and pays for her part-time college course on her "comfortable" wages.
"I'm making a decent living, but people have this misconception that you're making huge amounts. It's not like I'm meeting people every hour," she explains. "I'm very selective about who I see. I am educated as well, so I could probably get a really good job. It's just not people doing this who can't do anything else."
Clara does, however, admit that escorting is a risky business, with an ever-present danger of the unknown. As a result she takes every precaution when accepting new clients.
"I would check if they had met somebody else and if they had references, that type of thing," she explained. "I would have someone verify them and if they were new people I would contact their employment and making sure that they are employed where they said. I haven't had any problems, but I am very careful.
"I need to know that they are gentlemen. I don't meet people who want strange things or intend on violent situations or have no respect for women. I like to meet gentlemen who want some companionship," Clara adds.
"It's not all about the bedroom stuff. There are a lot of people out there who might be divorced, who might be single, who can't meet anyone, possibly a disabled person – I cater to disabled people as well and they might never have the chance of any intimacy."
A number of advocacy groups throughout Ireland are calling on the Government to implement proposed legislation, similar to the model currently used in Sweden, which criminalises the buyers of sex.
This week, the Women's Rights Committee of the European Parliament voted to punish sex buyers in a bid to curb prostitution and put an end to sex trafficking across Europe.
According to Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, an Irish NGO working with women in prostitution and victims of sex trafficking, a small number of women in prostitution in Ireland work independently.
"The women in Ireland who work independently would certainly constitute the minority," Ms Benson told the Sunday Independent.
"The sex trade itself and the environment in which they operate is extremely high risk and dangerous. The women we work with who are independent, are in many cases reporting to us that they are not only subject to the same risks as any other women in terms of the potential of rape and sexual assault and degrading treatment from buyers, but at the same time they are also being threatened by those who are organising prostitution. They'll receive phone calls, some have been robbed, some have been beaten, they have been warned away from areas – so the fact is, irrespective of how somebody comes to be in prostitution, it is an extremely dangerous, high-risk environment and you can't regulate that risk away."