Prostitution in Ireland: Selling your body and your soul

A FORMER, well-paid HSE employee, Mia became a prostitute on Dublin’s Burlington Road, selling herself for €40 to feed a drug habit.

Six years later, aged 39, she left the sex industry so psychologically damaged that her therapist had a third chair in the counselling room. The chair was for Mia’s alter ego, ‘Lucy,’ the unacknowledged part of Mia who got paid for sex: “I suffered a lot of psychological damage,” she says.

“I had post-traumatic stress disorder for about five months after I left. I had a constant sensation of skin-crawling, and violent nightmares. Disassociation is one of the biggest symptoms of being a prostitute — you become a trapped mind in a body that no longer belongs to you,” says Mia, 42.

Former prostitute, Rachel Moran, whose book, Paid For— My Journey Through Prostitution, exposes the violence and exploitation of prostitution, says the majority of prostitutes disassociate from the emotional and physical nightmare that is daily life.

“When we were working, we’d often talk about the different ways women would zone out, and disassociate themselves from what they were doing — I never met a women who didn’t disassociate when she was at work,” she says.

Mia, who went into prostitution after developing an addiction to cocaine and heroin, disassociated for the first time following a gang rape in a Dublin hotel.

“I naively agreed to do a Christmas party, in an apartment at a well-known hotel, with another girl.

“There were supposed to be five men there, but it turned out to be eight. Everything was okay at the beginning, but then they started taking alcohol and cocaine.

“When we started to leave at the end of the evening, they wouldn’t let us go. They said they weren’t finished with us,” Mia says. The two women were subjected to a vicious sexual attack.

“It was frenzied. Their faces didn’t even seem human,” she says. Mia was injured, stinking of urine and covered in bruises.

“I was anally raped several times. I was bleeding from my rectum, because they had inserted objects inside me,” she says.

Injuries from assaults, and anal and vaginal fissures from rough sex several times a day, are common among prostitutes, while unsafe sex can result in sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea, says Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, an organisation which supports women affected by prostitution and trafficking.

But Mia didn’t report the assault to the Gardaí.

“I felt that, as a prostitute, you didn’t have permission to use the word ‘rape’, never mind complain about it,” she says.

Those six years were the worst of Mia’s life.

“I lost everything in the space of a few years. I went from having a job, a house, family and friends to selling myself on the street for as little as €40.”

Although Mia entered prostitution to feed a drug habit, many non-users become addicted to drugs to block out the horror of life in the sex industry.

“Most addicted women I met had developed it in prostitution — it’s the psychological torment of dealing with the daily reality of having your body mauled, poked and penetrated,” says Moran, who spent seven years in the sex industry, after becoming a prostitute at the age of 15.

Although the sex industry in Ireland is conservatively estimated to be worth €250m, the concept of the well-heeled happy hooker is a myth, says the writer.

“I never met one and I worked on every level of prostitution, from the streets to the low-end knocking shops and the massage parlours to the escort agencies, stripping and photographic porn,” says Moran, who was taken into care from a textbook dysfunctional home life, before becoming homeless in her teens.

RTÉ crime correspondent Paul Reynolds, and author of Sex in the City, has only ever seen the down side of prostitution.

“Prostitutes are, essentially, men and women who are troubled or damaged — they are people who have drifted in, or been forced into it, and they are being used and abused by people in the vice trade,” he says.

“The happy hooker with a good career and fat wallet is a myth. I’ve never seen one example of it.”

The reasons why people go into prostitution, say Reynolds and Moran, have nothing to do with free choice, nor because the sex industry promises a rewarding career.

“There are complex and varied reasons as to why they do it — psychological, emotional, self-esteem, poverty, addiction, homelessness, child abuse — is that really free choice? I don’t think it is,” says Reynolds.

“These are often damaged, disturbed and troubled people to begin with.”

Says Mia: “I never met a woman who gave up a good lifestyle to go into prostitution. You’re driven into it by a need.”

The money may seem good but, says Reynolds, you must pay the pimp — and, it appears, most prostitutes working in Ireland have pimps — plus, you have all the stresses of the work.

“If you’re making money on your own, criminals will find a way to beat you up and rob you,” says Reynolds.

On the subject of earnings, Moran is blunt. “Almost every woman I’ve met who has left prostitution has left it as poor as she was going into it,” she says.

Justine went into prostitution for financial reasons. While she initially had a good lifestyle, she says, she was homeless and living in a van by the time she left in 2008.

“I see plenty of pimps driving around in big cars, but I’ve yet to see a prostitute driving her own Ferrari,” she says.

Sexual bullying is routine. “A man would hold your head while you were giving him oral sex and he’d be pushing you as hard as possible so as to get his penis down your throat,” recalls Moran.

“You knew if you protested or struggled against the hand on the back of your neck he’d probably just ram his penis as far as possible and on top of that you’d get a few thumps.

“The threat of violence was ever-present. You navigated your way around it — you did your best to keep it at arms’ length.”

And it’s getting worse. Internet porn has had a massive influence, not only on what punters want from a prostitute, but also on the way they behave, says Justine, now in her mid-40s.

“I was working when the internet started to take off and the things clients were coming in and asking us to do were unbelievable — we’d never heard of some of it.

“You’d ask where they heard about it and they’d say, ‘On the internet’. Customers became increasingly arrogant and dominant as a result of watching internet porn,” she says.

Mia researched the internet following the hotel attack: “I found a video very similar to what those men did to us — the anal rape and the use of objects; it was like that night I had in the hotel.”

Benson agrees. Prostitutes are reporting an increase in younger men buying sex, and their wants are more typical of the porn culture.

“The most prolific form of porn on the internet normalises a very aggressive, rough, and violent sex. Porn plays a strong role in what men want to enact and the sex acts they want to do. There is a strong expectation of unsafe oral sex,” she says.

Yet Irish legislation is doing little to protect prostitutes. Since leaving the sex industry in 1998, at the age of 22, Moran has earned a degree in journalism from Dublin City University and joined the Space campaign to introduce the Nordic model of prostitution legislation here.

Introduced in Sweden to huge effect in 1999, it makes it a criminal offence to buy sex.

Yet in Ireland, the client is not criminalised in indoor prostitution, which is where the vast majority of business takes place.

There are an estimated 1,000 prostitutes working in massage parlours, agencies, and brothels where clients are not punishable by law — and just a few hundred remaining on the streets, where it’s an offence to buy or sell sex.

The current legislation is practically useless, says Moran, now in her mid-30s. “If it was any good, we wouldn’t have all these criminal gangs bringing girls in from all over the world.

“There are about a thousand women advertised online in Ireland every day and many of them are coming from impoverished countries like South America, Asian and Eastern Europe.”

* Ruhama, 01- 8360292,


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