By Rachel Moran
With the relentless practicalities of running a country it is perhaps unsurprising that our politicians don’t often propose legislation which has, at its heart, the goal of human harmony. November 27th of this year was a welcome exception. With Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s proposal of ‘The Sexual Offences Bill 2014’ we have it within our grasp to prohibit, for the first time in Ireland’s history, by law, the purchase of sexual access to another person.
I speak about human harmony here because it is an absolute impossibility in the absence of equality, and equality itself is impossible where one group has not been liberated from the dominance of another. As an abolitionist campaigner, I am often reminded that there are men and trans-persons bought in the sex-trade. My answer is always the same: look who’s buying them.
This proposed legislation would make those who buy sexual access to people legally accountable for their actions, irrespective of biological sex. Nobody, however, is ever going to be able to tell me that almost all those abused in the sex-trade are not women and children. They are. After seven years in prostitution I know they are, and it is that simple.
The announcement of these proposed laws has been a major milestone in the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. It has been almost four years since I first spoke at the launch of a campaign that turned out to be a long, drawn-out and arduous fight for social justice. Fifteen months of relentless media debates and over 800 written submissions were involved. There were private hearings and public hearings in which the Garda Síochána made it perfectly clear in their evidence to Government that Irish prostitution is directed and controlled by organised crime. Irish politicians visited Sweden to investigate how the Sex Purchase Law was operating there. This lengthy and thorough debate was eventually concluded on June 27th as the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality unanimously agreed that the Nordic Model should be imported into Irish law.
Now, thankfully, Minister Fitzgerald has backed the main points of the campaign. While we of course look forward to examining the Bill in detail, we are overwhelmingly well-disposed to the headings of its contents so far, and glad to see also that a whole new raft of measures to protect children from sexual exploitation is contained in the bill.
There are few enough days in all our lives when we can truly say we are proud of our country, or that we are living through a historically significant time. When these things come together, as they do for me at this time, I find myself looking both forward and back. I find myself imagining myself living into my seventies and eighties and looking back on this as a truly significant turning point for my country. And I find myself looking back to my teens and connecting with the absolute sense of injustice I was so immersed in and infused with then. I was not so inured to injustice, though, that I was unaware of it. I always knew the purchase of sexual access to women and girls was a human rights abuse. I knew it because I lived it every day.
It is easy for me to imagine my older self looking back on the historical relevance of the enactment of this legislation, but it is harder, much harder, to imagine my teenage self looking forward to it. Justice did not exist in the brothels and the red-light zones and it would have been so very difficult for my fifteen-year-old self to imagine it there.
If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be this: “On November 27th 2014 a law will be proposed that will bring justice to this red-light street, and all the other streets in the zone, and every brothel in Ireland.” •
Rachel Moran is the author of ‘Paid For – My Journey Through Prostitution’ @RachelRMoran