The criminalisation of demand which has been enacted in several countries now and is currently being discussed at political level in Ireland is something that I wholeheartedly support, but I also say and I’ve always said that legislation alone will never eradicate prostitution, unless and until it addresses the constraints of women’s choices that turn women towards prostitution in the first place.
My own involvement in prostitution happened because of circumstances so constrained that choice had no real place within them, and everything I saw in prostitution reflected this back to me in the lives of other women. Whether a woman was coming to prostitution for the first time as a thirty-something mother who’d just found herself the sole provider for her kids, whether she’d been years on the game and just could not see or imagine any way out, whether she, like me, had come to prostitution through homelessness and destitution, in all these scenarios we women needed more than the criminalisation of demand to have a positive impact on our lives.
Yes, those paying to use the bodies of women and teenagers who submit and comply through a lack of any real choice should be guilty of a criminal offence. The criminalisation of the demand for prostitution is an important start; I do not mean to detract from that – but I do not feel and have never felt that any single piece of legislation is capable of eradicating prostitution. For that to happen, supports must be put in place that give women and girls exactly the choices they’ve been missing. It stands to reason that a situation that exists because of the absence of choice can only be successfully eliminated by creating that choice. I am talking about education, training, housing – all of the things that were missing in my life and the lives of the women and girls I worked with.
What needs to be implemented here is a government programme that commits itself to providing real alternatives for women and girls in prostitution. What I want to see is women and girls supported here, not simply affected by legislation with no alternatives and – still – no real choice. It saddens me now, at the span of all these years, to think how the fifteen-year-old me would have jumped at the chance to train as a secretary or a hairdresser. How much would that training have cost? How much would it have cost to assign me a specially trained social worker? And how do you measure the worth of that support, against the price I paid for its absence?