For many years, Irish sex workers dreaded being captured by cops and imprisoned in the Magdalene laundries, where they were enslaved by nuns and forced into a life of unremitting toil to “cleanse” them from their “sins”. The last Magdalene laundry was closed only 19 years ago, but the nuns who ran these torture chambers did not merely go away; their zeal to torment and punish whores was so great that they re-invented themselves as Ruhama and rebranded their anti-whore crusade as a fight against “sex trafficking” and “pimps”, whom they depict as hiding behind every bush and lamppost like some sort of oversized fetish leprechaun. Longtime readers will remember that Ruhama is the chief force behind “Turn Off the Red Light”, a campaign to impose the Swedish model on Ireland; to that end they have fed tons of bullshit to obsequious Irish politicians and employed shills and sock puppets to sell their tragedy porn to the credulous press. My friend Laura Lee has been at the forefront of the fight against them for years, and on Wednesday she called my attention to the testimony of a sex worker who went in undercover to see what Ruhama really offers sex workers who come to them for help:
I decided to go to Ruhama after seeing their posters around train stations whilst touring. The posters advertised a number to text as part of their REACH Project, so I decided to contact them directly. I was aware that there was a lack of resources for sex workers to access support, and the one organisation that seemed to dominate the media coverage of the issue was Ruhama, so I decided to see what they would offer me. The Services Manager, Sheila Crowley, called to give me an appointment to see her, and a week later I found myself standing outside a pub across from St. Patrick’s college waiting to meet her. As we walked down towards her office I was told about the religious history of most of the buildings that we passed; going through the entrance to Ruhama felt like entering an old church, as their offices are located in All Hallows College (which has been run by the Vincentians since 1892).
I sat down with Sheila and discussed my financial concerns; I told her of my desire to go to full time education and the consequent worries of paying for the fees and not having enough time to work to earn the money to pay my bills and college fees. She discussed the different supports that Ruhama offers to sex workers, and explained that some women don’t want to leave the industry and just want practical support. However, she then said that after meeting with a Key Worker, it usually turns out that they do want to leave after all. She seemed to be telling me that sex workers don’t really know what we need, but that people who don’t live our lives would be able to convince us that what we need is to leave the sex industry. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume that Ruhama would be eager to offer whatever practical support we was necessary to achieve that end, but such was not the case; as the meeting went on, it became clear that practical support wasn’t on offer. In fact, Sheila told me that they don’t have the financial resources to offer the kind of practical support I was expecting. This surprised me as I was aware that the EU had awarded a grant of €284,302 to the REACH Project; the beneficiaries of which are the Irish Department of Justice and Equality and Ruhama. In fact, as I write this, Ruhama have just launched a new campaign targeting the clients of sex workers; it would seem to me that Ruhama are more invested in awareness campaigns with no substance behind them instead of actually providing us with any real help when we come to them.
I’ve heard the audio recording this young woman secretly made during the interview; Crowley tells her to go on the dole for a while because she isn’t going to be able to get a regular job without references. No assistance, not even a job program; just emotional support and verbal urging to stop doing sex work. What struck me the most, however, was that Crowley clearly understands the reality of sex work quite well, despite Ruhama’s promotion of nonsensical “pimp” and “exploitation” mythology; she understands touring and advertising, recognizes that independent girls outnumber those with managers (“traffickers”) and even gets that most clients are very decent. Her issue with sex work seems to be due to some sort of belief in contamination, so that if three girls work together and the landlord doesn’t evict the one with a boyfriend, that makes the other two complicit in “trafficking” (or something like that; I had trouble following her “logic”). It just goes to show Ruhama’s incredible duplicity, spreading lies they know to be lies in order to further their rotten agenda.