Why Legislation Alone will Never Work

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?


13 thoughts on “Why Legislation Alone will Never Work

  1. Pingback: Why Legislation Alone Will Never Work « Survivors Connect Network

    • That’s a very important question Roos Demol, probably the most important one I’ve been asked in relation to this issue, so thanks for that.

      What people who want to see the abolition of prostitution can do is contact their politicians, make their voices heard in this current debate, which will not have reached a conclusion any time soon. What people need to do is express their views politically, rather than over a coffee with friends or a few pints, as is so often our habit in this country.

      Put simply, we need to learn to speak up, and to do so in the forums that count.

      • every voice matters; emails and phone calls to your government about the issues you care about *do* have an impact. gail dines, author of the book Pornland and writer of a great blog, makes a great case for why and how grassroot efforts are effective. what she is refering to in porn, is effective here as well, and in every part of life that matters to us. it’s important not to lose hope when things don’t happen right away. this is going to be a long road. there are so many benevolent people out there who have no clue what’s going on. you can make a difference by speaking out and informing people. BE LOUD.

    • Hi Roos Demol,

      One way to help is via support of social services such as Rape and Sexual Assault services, womens refuge, free councelling services, youth at risk services and lobbying government for increased funding for these vital community services to continue and flourish.

      Another is to support pay parity, government housing, maternity leave and free or partially funded education.

      I hope these suggestions help. Xo.

  2. You are an incredible, inspiring woman. Absolutely incredible. I just have a question for you…as someone with the desire to do trauma therapy with survivors of sexual exploitation, what do you think is important for me to know…or books to read…or anything you wish more social workers knew about the topic. I can read books all day, but I believe that learning from those who have experienced something is necessary and often much more valuable. Thanks for everything you do!

    • Hi Katie, and thank you for your kind words. There’s a lot I’d like to say in response to your questions but I’m not near my computer and am responding on my smart phone. I’ll have a think and reply properly soon, :)

  3. hi, i really love your blog and agree with you with regards to the legislation. as someone who has been on rescue operations to brothels, i find it really difficult to convince most of the girls that there can be a life beyond what they are doing. it is really sad to see really small girls claim that they are adults because they are tutored by the brothel managers to say that. wish they could read your blog and realize how powerful they are. thanks for sharing your experiences and opinion. would love to take this message further. take care.

    • Hi Saie, thank God some people are able to do the work you do because it is so necessary. I know I couldn’t do it.

      I know what you mean about the way young women and kids are schooled by their pimps to say what they’re supposed to say. We had a massive brothel raid operation here in Ireland yesterday; 140 brothels were raided countrywide and only three trafficking victims were rescued – what a load of BS. There were obviously FAR more trafficking victims undetected because they were in too much fear to speak out. It is so sad.

      Please feel free to spread this message as far and wide as you like, thank you, :)

  4. I think eradicating prostitution from society is an impossibility. I believe that prostitutes are martyrs in that they save other women and children from rape and sexual abuse. They do a wonderful thing for society but a traumatic and painful thing to themselves. It is terribly sad that such an industry has to exist in society, but it does. I think you are absolutely right in that what is needed is support for women in prostitution and help and assistance to get out of sex-work. Programmes like this, I believe, are exactly what is needed.

    • To be honest I disagree with everything you’ve said here Ruth, except your final point. Thank you for your continued support though, x

    • Sadly, it is a myth that sexual abuse and rape declines where men can buy sex. All figures/stats I have seen show quite the opppsite. Wherever men are given cause to believe in sexual entitlement abuse is more prevalent. There are many dangerous myths around this ‘industry’.

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