This startling statistic was relayed to all too small a gathering at Garter Lane Theatre where White Ribbon Ireland held a ‘Working Against Gender Violence’ seminar as part of its ’16 Days Of Activism’ campaign.
According to Rebecca Beegan of the Men’s Development Network and Co-ordinator of the ‘Turn Off The Red Light’ campaign, not only were there 14 women selling themselves in Waterford last Wednesday, but there was a total of 886 people “on sale, online nationally”.
Turn Off The Red Light is seeking to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland, and is urging members of the public to contact their local Oireachtas members via www.turnofftheredlight.ie/action to make their voices heard on this issue.
And through the voice of a former prostitute, the campaign bears first person evidence of the ravages that accompany a life in the sex trade.
In a haunting address, former prostitute Mia De Faoite told the gathering of the daily horror of her past life, “but I refuse to let it define who I am today because if it defines me, then it becomes me, and it is not all I am”.
A mother and a grandmother, Ms De Faoite said “you always have to buy the person before you gain access to the body”, before speaking of the first violence she suffered as a prostitute, which occurred during a gang rape.
Describing the attack as “like something that lasted forever,” Ms De Faoite added: “From that night on, I no longer lived – I just existed and in a world in which I could no longer comprehend or make sense of.”
Bruised and bloodied from the rape, the young woman who accompanied Mia that night sadly didn’t survive, dying from a drug overdose two months after the incident.
“The events of that night exposed me to such human wickedness, and it tore me apart to witness what was left of a 27-year-old woman’s sanity disappear before my very eyes, and there’s a little boy who will now grow up never knowing just how hard his mother was trying to get away (from prostitution and addiction), he will never know how kind and wonderful she was; prostitution has robbed him of that, and countless other children as well.”
A year after that attack, Ms De Faoite was raped twice in one night, the second attack committed by a man she described as “a regular”, who raped her while in the knowledge that she’d already been raped that same night.
“We as prostituted women are a prime target for any buyer who wants to fulfil the violent sexual crime of rape, only with us they can do it and get away with it, and both society and the laws that govern it play a major role in keeping it that way, and it will remain unpunishable while it remains legal to buy another human being in the first place.”
Speaking of the “dark cloud of fear” that enveloped her, in which she also succumbed to heroin addiction, Mia De Faoite also referred to living under “the shadow of the constant threat of violence”, something which prostitutes face on a daily basis.
The men who buy sex in Ireland today represent, she continued, the stereotypical ‘model citizen’, as she explained.
“They are in gainful employment, they pay their taxes, they pay their rent, they provide homes for their partners, they have two point four children, they tick every box that society deems to be correct, so we allow them this little indulgence – but how do we allow it? Again, through silence and keeping it legal.
“For the men who bought me, and all the other women, the men who feed this twisted industry, they walk among you every day; they’re fathers, husbands, colleagues, etc. We don’t want to acknowledge that the good citizen can behave like a bad human being…I on the other hand, would have been viewed as a bad citizen: I didn’t have a job, I was supported by the State, I was a heroin addict and, worst of all, I stood on a public street, displaying my wares, luring these good citizens to me, as if they had no choice.
“But I am a good human being. I always have been – and this is the balance you’ll find: between a good citizen and the good human being and which one of us comes first in the queue for protection.”
Ms De Faoite, her voice breaking with emotion, concluded: “Prostitution is not compatible with humanity and we must choose one or the other.”
The seminar was also told that one in five Irish women suffer from some form of violence “at some stages of their lives” and on a number of levels, be it financial, physical, sexual, emotional, cultural and psychological.
According to the MDN’s Rebecca Beegan: “Most victims of violence in Ireland are women and the majority of those who inflict that violence are men, but this victim is often somebody we know – a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt or a friend.”
The 16 Days of Activism campaign runs until tomorrow, December 10th and we’ll have more from the seminar held at Garter Lane in next week’s edition.