We have to learn how to come out of unclean situations cleaner than we were, and even how to wash ourselves with dirty water when we need to. - Friedrich Nietzsche
Though the Catholic Church had always held prostitution to be a “necessary evil”, this view started to change in the 13th century; the idea then arose that whores were “fallen women” who could be “reclaimed”, often by confining them against their will in order to “cleanse them of their sins” by penance, usually unpaid drudgery of the type generally performed by peasant women. Though most of the “Magdalene homes” where these women were imprisoned were closed during the Black Death, the practice was revived in the English-speaking world in the mid-18th century, then dramatically increased with the rise of the “purity movement” in the late 19th. Though they vanished everywhere else by the First World War, they survived in Ireland because the nuns who ran them had recognized that they could be run as profitable commercial laundries staffed by slave labor, many of whom were condemned to that condition by the Irish government from 1922 onward.
In 1993, the discovery of hundreds of bodies in unmarked graves on the site of a closed laundry triggered a public outcry which resulted in the closure of the last few in 1996. Over the next few years articles, television documentaries and a movie (The Magdalene Sisters, 2002) called more public attention to the long-ignored atrocities, and the outpouring of sympathy inspired many former inmates (who had previously felt too intimidated by the Church) to tell their stories. But though the Irish government admitted in 2001 that the women were abused by the nuns, it refused to apologize for its part in the outrage, to pay compensation or even to investigate the matter on the grounds that the laundries were “privately run”. Finally the group Justice for Magdalenes presented its case to the United Nations Committee on Torture in 2011, and on June 6th that body strongly urged the Irish government to set up an inquest. The government grudgingly capitulated, and the 1182 page report of that investigation was at long last released last Tuesday, February 5th. As you might expect from a governmental self-analysis, it attempts to whitewash and provide feeble excuses for the brutal enslavement of over 10,000 women:
The committee…to inquire into the Magdalene laundries has found clear evidence of state involvement in the religious…work houses. However, it notes that there was a legal basis for the way the state operated…more than a quarter of 10,000 women who entered the laundries were referred there by the state. But it paints a more benign picture of life in the laundries than may be popularly believed…The committee did not find physical abuse or torture…and there was no evidence that the women were sexually abused…
The prime minister then issued a mealy-mouthed “apology” which was basically the political equivalent of “I’m sorry you’re ugly”:
Enda Kenny…said he was sorry thousands of women had to live in austere conditions…after a report said the state was responsible for sending many women and girls to the laundries…“I am sorry for those people that they lived in that kind of environment…I want to see that those women who are still with us…that the state provides for them with the very best of facilities and supports that they need in their lives.” But, survivors quickly rejected his apology and demanded a fuller and more frank admission from government and the religious orders involved…Justice for Magdalenes said it welcomed the report’s central findings and said it ensured that it can no longer be claimed that these institutions were private and that the ‘vast majority’ of the girls and women entered voluntarily. The group added that it is calling on the Irish government to establish a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process that includes the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services.
The government’s hypocrisy is most obviously revealed in the fact that it has not only continued to fund the anti-whore crusades of the two orders who ran the laundries (under their new guise, Ruhama), but also continued to collude with them in the persecution by attempting to impose the Swedish model on Ireland via a series of kangaroo hearings featuring “evidence” from the likes of Melissa Farley and the Skarhed report, and the total exclusion of sex workers and their advocates. The truth is, neither the nuns behind Ruhama nor the Irish government which enables their evil is sorry for their systematic mistreatment of whores and other women; they’re only sorry they got caught, and now they’ve regrouped and are starting the whole campaign over again.