Policy Questions

Ruhama

  • Is Ruhama a religious organisation?

    No. Sometimes the idea that we are religiously run is circulated – this is not the case. We were indeed set up in 1989 by a religious order, as thousands of Irish charities operating today in Ireland were. Decades later, we’ve evolved hugely and are run on a secular basis and have a non-religious mission and purpose. We operate as an independent, registered charity and a feminist, violence against women organisation. We are not funded as a subsidiary of any religious order. 

    Our work is women-centred and driven by women’s needs. As Ireland’s only frontline organisation working with those affected by prostitution, we’re confident that the current work and achievements of our diverse team stands on its own merits.   
  • How can I trust Ruhama is a good support service?

    We’re the only specialist frontline organisation in Ireland helping women affected by prostitution and have been in operation since 1989. Our organisation has since evolved and developed a skilled team to support women’s needs. We work with the Department of Justice and Equality, the HSE and An Garda Síochána, as well as other frontline providers and charities, who trust us and refer women to us to avail of our specialist women-centred support services. We also work with a small number of individuals from the LGBT community. 

    Find out more about what we do or read some stories of those we’ve supported.  
  • Why is Ruhama needed as a service?

    We have seen how prostitution has negatively impacted on a woman’s liberty, bodily autonomy, sexuality and physical and mental wellbeing. Seeking to exit prostitution is not a requirement to access our services and we will always provide the support that we can based on individual needs. However, the majority of women who seek support from Ruhama want to exit prostitution but feel they need support to do this and to find another means of economic survival. This reflects international research; in a 2003 US study, as noted by the European Parliament, 89% of women in prostitution said they wanted to stop but felt they had no viable alternatives for survival. 

    However, women in prostitution can face substantial practical and psychological barriers to exiting, including poverty, trauma, addiction, and coercion by other individuals. 

    The availability of tailored support services plays a critical role in whether a woman is able to exit prostitution. The existence of a specialist service like Ruhama who can provide exit support is therefore of vital importance to women who are in prostitution in Ireland. 

Prostitution and Law

  • What is prostitution?

    Prostitution is the selling of sexual services in exchange for money or some other benefit, for example – housing, gifts, goods.
  • Is prostitution legal in Ireland?

    It is not illegal to sell sex. It is illegal to buy sex in Ireland as of 2017. Human trafficking, pimping, brothel keeping & other activities related to organised prostitution are also illegal.
  • Why do you advocate for the Nordic model as the best legislative framework for women in prostitution?

    Countries that have implemented the Nordic model (also known as the Equality Model) have seen reductions in sex trafficking and street prostitution, attitudinal changes, better exit services for women involved and lower numbers of men purchasing sex, amongst other successes. 

    Take Sweden for example. In a 2008 review of the law, carried out by the Swedish government, street prostitution had halved since the introduction of the 1999 law and there was no evidence to suggest the situation for those in prostitution had worsened or that prostitution had ‘gone underground’. The National Crime Police confirmed that the law had acted as a deterrent to sex traffickers and reports of sex buying had decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. 

    From a gender equality standpoint, a survey revealed a marked change in attitudes to purchasing sex, coinciding with the new law. Support for the law (which the Swedish public had majority opposed originally) had increased to around 70-80% and public attitudes to women in prostitution had improved. Public support was strongest among youth, suggesting that the law conveyed new social values and norms in sexual interactions between men and women. 

    As a result, countries like Iceland, Norway, France, Ireland and Canada have followed suit and implemented the Equality Model in their own countries. There is a growing realisation globally that prostitution is incompatible with gender equality and human rights. This is due to the inherent harm of a highly gendered sex trade (in almost every case, men buying sexual access to other individuals, primarily females) and the danger of the commodification of sexual consent. There is also a high proportion of migrant, marginalised and disadvantaged communities present in the sex trade, as the system of prostitution itself is held in place by structural inequalities. 

    The Nordic Model was approved as the best model to address prostitution by the European Parliament in 2014 (The Honeyball Report) and by The Council of Europe in 2014 as well as a number of other bodies – see our 2018 Annual Report for more.
  • Why do you not advocate for full decriminalisation/legalization?

    We advocate for the decriminalisation of women only. We do not believe that women (or indeed) anyone in prostitution themselves should be criminalised. 

    We do advocate for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex (Nordic/Equality model). This position is informed by our frontline work with women, who have experienced inordinate levels of violence, abuse, coercion and harm in the sex trade. We do not believe sex is a legitimate form of work for women or that the sex trade can be made a safe place for women to ‘work’. 

    Countries that have fully legalized and decriminalized prostitution have made the situation worse for individuals in prostitution. These regimes have proven to be failures, specifically as decriminalisation results in an expanded sex trade, a resulting increase in sex trafficking, criminality and sexual exploitation to meet demand and fewer exit options and services for women in prostitution who truly need them (as prostitution is deemed simply a form of ‘work’ under decriminalisation). Read more about the effects of legislation on prostitution here.
  • Some people say violence increases against those in the sex trade under the Equality Model. Is this true?

    Firstly, there is no credible data to suggest that violence increases with the Nordic model legislation in place. It makes no logical sense. The Nordic Model has little to do with decisions made by perpetrators and buyers to commit acts of violence against women in prostitution. In fact, the balance of power between sex buyers and women shifts under the Nordic model. Women are decriminalised in the prostitution transaction and men are now criminalised, so they are at increased risk of detection by police, if they commit violent acts against women. 

    Perpetrators of sexual violence should solely be held to account for their actions. We have to confront the violence in the sex trade, not use the laws around prostitution as a scapegoat to absorb the blame for what is male violence against women, in almost every instance.  

    Secondly, violence is inherent to the sex trade. The women we support at Ruhama (reflected in international research also) have experienced enormous levels of violence, rape, sexual assault and harassment in the sex trade, regardless of the country they operated in or the legislation they operated under. This has much to do with the presence of organised crime in prostitution also. Where a sex trade exists, there will be violence against those in prostitution, carried out by violent individuals, organisers and sex buyers. 
  • Why don’t you use the term ‘sex work’?

    Firstly, few of the women we work with refer to themselves as ‘sex workers’. They are more likely to use the term ‘selling sex’ or ‘escorting’ and a high proportion do not see this as ‘work’, more as a temporary means to an end (financial) that they become involved in. Others are, or have been, under the strict control of pimps or traffickers. With this in mind, it would be a disservice to the women we work with and their experiences to term what they view as abusive, as ‘work’. 

    Secondly, our policy position is informed by working with women in prostitution since 1989. We’ve seen the well documented harms of the sex trade at play – violence, abuse, coercion, dissociation; the list goes so on. Having seen this and worked with women who have experienced such, we do not believe that sex is a legitimate form of work or that the sex trade can be made a safe place for women to ‘work’. To frame prostitution as ‘work’ also negates the need for exit supports when, as outlined above, we know that most people seek to exit prostitution.

Men and Women

  • What is the typical profile of a man who buys sex?

    The typical profile of a sex buyer, as affirmed by numerous studies  is a man with above average disposable income, a higher than average number of sexual partners and someone who is more likely to be married or in a relationship. The stereotype of a man who seeks women in prostitution is that he is ‘lonely’, ‘unable to meet women’ or even ‘disabled’. However this is not the case in the majority of prostitution transactions. 
  • What about men and trans people in the sex trade?

    While we generally refer to ‘women’ (cisgender) as they are the vast majority of those we support, we also support men and trans people who are affected by prostitution in Ireland. 

    However, the sex trade is highly gendered and most of the time, it is men purchasing sexual access to women and girls. We acknowledge the individuals from the LGBT community in Ireland who occupy space in the sex trade and support these groups nationwide in various capacities.  
  • But don’t women pay for sex too?

    No. Almost 100% of sex buyers are male. The sex trade is populated primarily by women and girls and to a much lesser extent, men and trans people. There are indeed incidents of women paying for sex worldwide but it’s extremely rare. 

    Almost 100% of the time, it is men paying for sexual access to women and girls or to other men and trans people. Ruhama has been in operation since 1989 and has yet to see an incident of a woman paying a man for sex. 
  • Men need sex; prostitution has existed forever and always will?

    This undermines the fundamental nature of what sex should be, enjoyed by two parties, not something to be taken or given by men or to men. Men and women have sexual wants and needs yet access to sex is not a fundamental human right.

    There is nothing inevitable about prostitution or men buying sex. Unequal power relations (especially in sex, relationships and the private sphere) have existed between men and women for centuries and prostitution as an industry is both a cause and consequence of this dynamic. We do not dismiss issues such as domestic violence or homelessness as inevitable. We seek solutions.

    Men could make the choice to stop buying sex tomorrow. They could decide that they are only going to engage in sex with another person who also desires them and wants to freely engage. This would end the sex trade and the sex trafficking industry and uphold a standard that sex is something that occurs between two parties out of mutual desire, respect, reciprocity and enthusiastic consent. The power is within men and indeed anyone who buys sex to stop doing so and make that decision. Women have made this decision for years – to not purchase sex – men can do the same. 

Sex and Bodily Autonomy

  • Is Ruhama sex-positive?

    Yes! To us, sex-positivity is about people of any sex, gender or identity getting together and having mutually desired, satisfying and healthy sexual experiences. This cannot be achieved in the realm of prostitution as the sex itself is commoditised and the experience is based the one-sided sexual gratification of the buyer, who dictates what they are willing to pay for.  

    The harmful effects of prostitution on the person who is commodifying their consent and body are also well documented by credible institutions and bodies.  

    Sex should always be desired by both parties, reciprocal, safe and led by the enthusiastic and revocable consent of those involved. This ought to be the minimum standard we aim for in society. There’s nothing radical about this standard in the 21st century. 
  • What about a woman’s bodily autonomy?

    Prostitution undermines a woman’s bodily autonomy as the entire transaction is based on a man using a woman’s body for one-sided sexual gratification. 

    The sex acts that take place are dictated by what a man is willing to pay for, not by a woman’s wants, needs, likes or desires. This is how the sex trade and resulting ‘marketplace’ is run. In effect, it is the socially sanctioned (by some countries) payment by a man, to a woman, of his use of her body for a specific sexual purpose. 

    This not only undermines a woman’s bodily autonomy but also a woman’s sexuality, pleasure and bodily integrity. It undermines and trivialises the importance of genuine enthusiastic, freely given consent and the reciprocity and respect that is central to healthy sexual experiences. 
  • But aren’t we always paying for sex in some way?

    This is an antiquated view that has informed attitudes toward sex for some time and that has resulted in a distorted, unhealthy picture of sexual relations between men and women, where one party is the ‘gatekeeper’ to sex (the woman) and the other party the ‘pursuer’ (the man). This has informed toxic dialogue around sex in media, the arts, movies we watch, in every single avenue we encounter (just think of the ‘did she put up a fight’ or ‘how far did you get’ dialogue in the 1999 movie Grease). 

    Sex should not be something that is taken from women and given to or earned by men. How about both parties be on board to have sex for pleasure, fun, enjoyment and intimacy, because women and men enjoy sex. There’s nothing radical about that.

Choice

  • Haven’t women chosen this lifestyle?

    In Ruhama’s experience and what is affirmed by multiple studies , research and statistics, women with the fewest viable options, frequently from marginalised, migrant or impoverished backgrounds, make up the bulk of the sex trade. 

    If a ‘choice’ is made and if no human coercion is involved, it is frequently one made out of a lack of viable options or to survive against another existence; poverty. Most people agree that having sex for payment out of a lack of choice or to escape poverty, versus stacking shelves for payment out of a lack of choice or to escape poverty, are two very different things and affect the person involved in significantly different ways. 

    Ruhama acknowledges that there are indeed a small number of women who are independent and who are making that choice amongst other options in the face of the well-documented harms of the sex trade. But these are in the very small minority and do not represent the experiences of the majority of women in the sex trade who encounter high levels of coercion, poverty, abuse and violence – psychological, physical and sexual, prior to entering and within the sex trade
  • What about ‘my body, my choice’?

    How about ‘my body, his choice?’. The sex trade is dictated by the sex acts and exchanges a man is willing to pay for. It has nothing to do with women’s sexual wants, needs or bodily desires or functions. To frame the prostitution experience as something to do with a woman’s bodily autonomy or ‘choice’ when a) Women with the fewest options make up the bulk of the sex trade and b) The buyer holds the bargaining power in any interaction, is illogical, misleading and not the experience of the vast majority of women in the sex trade. 
  • What if I choose to sell my sexual consent?

    Consent should always be enthusiastic, freely given and based on mutual respect and desire. This standard of consent is one that is generally accepted and upheld to be the gold standard in having healthy sexual exchanges and relationships. That standard should not change or be lowered when applied to prostitution or because money changes hands. 

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