Yesterday I met a woman around my age outside Leinster House. Her name was Fiona. My namesake. We joked that there are not many Fionas around these days.
Beyond our names and being of a similar age, however, I quickly discovered our life experiences couldn’t have been more different.
Whereas my life at age 15 revolved around hockey, youth club and friends, Fiona Broadfoot, who grew up in Leeds, was exploited into prostitution at the age of 15. “I immediately lost my identity and my self-esteem,” she said.
Fiona left the world of prostitution in 1996 following the murder of a relative who had also been pimped into prostitution at the age of 15.
’For the past 20 years Fiona has been working with girls and young women involved in, or at risk of, sexual exploitation and adult women working in street prostitution. She set up a support group, Street Exit, which helps former prostitutes rebuild their lives. Many of the women she works with say they have been so traumatised that they describe themselves as “the walking dead”.
Fiona is adamant that the buying and selling of a human body should not be happening in this day and age. “We are not cattle, we are not born with price tags or bar codes on our bodies,” she said. “We won’t stop until all enslaved women and girls are free.”
Fiona was one of four prostitution survivors speaking at a Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) press briefing in Buswell’s Hotel. TORL, a coalition of 76 organisations (including IGG), is urging the government to enact the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 and target those who purchase sex and who traffic vulnerable women and children.
It was incredibly moving listening to the stories of the four women. It was courageous of them to speak so honestly and openly about their horrific experiences. You could have heard a pin drop.
It was good that there was a number of TDs and Senators present as well as media and all appeared to agree with John Cunningham, Chair of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, when he praised the four “warrior women” and said he hoped the Dáil would take this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the right thing” (enacting the Sexual Offences Bill).
Rachel Moran’s route into prostitution was teenage homelessness in Dublin when she was just 14 years old. The four other girls who ‘worked’ the same corner as her had all been in state care. A recurrent theme during the press conference was that it is the marginalised who are the most likely to be coerced into prostitution.
Rachel now works with women across seven countries in the survivor group SPACE International, which seeks to raise awareness about the harmful impacts of prostitution and encourages people to pay political attention to the fact that the vast majority of those harmed globally are women and children.
Education proved the route back to a healthy life for Rachel when she went to college in 2000 two years after she got out of prostitution at the age of 22. Her book, Paid For, has been published in many countries and has drawn critical acclaim from leading human rights campaigners.
“Prostitution is experienced not by those who want to exercise autonomy and choice,” said Rachel. “We urge Irish politicians to take the enormously important step of enacting the Sexual Offences Bill. We owe it to girls and women.”
Ne’cole Daniels from the USA was introduced to the world of prostitution when she was raped by a family member at the age of seven. “I learned at the age of seven that my value was between my legs,” she said.
Ne’cole was a third generation prostitute but succeeded in breaking the cycle before her own daughter was at risk. She has spent the past 15 years working with marginalised populations and her advocacy experience includes speaking at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
The physical and psychological effects of prostitution can last a lifetime. “Because of the men, I cannot have a child naturally,” Bridget said. “Sometimes I feel frozen; my trauma is deep, I feel damaged and not worthy.”
Despite the devastating impact on her, Bridget succeeded in exiting prostitution in 2000. “My exploiters tried to break me in but I refused to give in,” she said. “I was able to exit prostitution and rebuild my life.”
In 2007 Bridget co-founded Sextrade101, a survivor-led organisation that educates the public about the real truths surrounding prostitution and trafficking as well as supporting those caught up in the cycle of prostitution with advocacy, exiting and mentorship. “Women and children need huge support in exiting prostitution,” she said.
“Prostitution is racism, it’s ignorance, it’s hatred against women. I would be hugely overjoyed to see Ireland take a stand against prostitution.”
1,000 women, children and men are advertised for sex in Ireland every day. 87-98% are migrant women, many from impoverished backgrounds. People selling sex should be offered health, education and, if sought, exit services. 98% of women would prefer to leave the sex trade, if they could, and we must support this.
No-one has the right to pay for access to someone else’s body. You cannot buy consent.
If you agree, please take part in TORL’s email campaign urging TDs to enact the Sexual Offences Bill (it only takes 2 minutes) >> http://www.turnofftheredlight.ie/action/.
~ Fiona Murdoch, Communications Officer, Irish Girl Guides