Sipping from her coffee cup in a bustling café in UCD, site Rachel Moran looks no different than any other mature student attending the University. Behind her calm smile and warm greeting, is a woman who has experienced in her life, the nightmare of being bought and sold for sex.
Rachel Moran was prostituted for seven years beginning at the age of 15. In 1998, she escaped that life and is now a driving force behind the political push for the implementation of the “Nordic Model,”. These are laws that make it illegal to purchase sex, but not to sell it.
Moran has worked in conjunction with groups such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and with the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign. She and her colleagues hope to create legislation that will protect young women who find themselves in the situation she faced in 1991.
Speaking to the College Tribune, Rachel shared some details of her early life as a young prostitute on the streets of Dublin.
“In the 18 months prior to my entering prostitution, I had too many incidents to count of grown men in their thirties and forties trying to molest me. It was relentless.
I was homeless when I entered prostitution and had been for some time. When you’re a homeless teenage girl every creep on the planet comes out of the woodwork,”she recalled.
“I met a young man in his early twenties who brought me down to Benburb Street and showed me the ropes.
That’s how it started for me,”
Rachel told of how she spent almost two and a half years on the streets, being moved from location to location, before things to a sharp change for those working the streets in the early nineties.
“In 1993 the sexual offences act came into force and that changed everything. It drove everything indoors,”
With the first seedlings of the economic boom beginning to sprout all over Dublin, houses and apartments were suddenly making an appearance across previously clear skylines. Thus, the backdrop was set for what would become a thriving escort service within the city.
“We had a situation where legislation drove a whole load of young women in off the streets into indoor prostitution and at the same time there were loads of apartment blocks getting thrown up in areas like Ballsbridge and other places around Dublin.
With all that money flooding into the country, people had access to more money than they’d ever had before. All these conditions combined to create the perfect environment for escort prostitution. That took off like a rocket,”
When asked about the types of men involved in purchasing these women, Moran told of how there was “a change in the social demographic of prostitution,”
“In the early 90’s it was just middle and upper-class men purchasing sex, but that changed rapidly to include the working classes as well,”
Rachel described her departure from the world of prostitution as an escape she made for her son.
She told of how for many years she had been using cocaine and of how the two went smoothly together.
“I had a four and a half-year-old son that was about to start school. I knew if I hadn’t got out then I would have lost my son.
If I had continued the way I was there would have been no way I would have been able to get up every morning and iron uniforms, make lunches, and do all the things you have to do to get a small child into that routine,”
Currently in Ireland, Ruhama is one of the biggest organisations offering support services to women affected by prostitution.
The Dublin-based NGO was established in 1989 and works with women on a national level who have been affected by trafficking and other forms of commercial sex exploitation.
Ruhama regards prostitution as violence against women and violations of women’s human right. It is an organisation that takes a strong stance on lobbying for better services and seeking to influence legislation.
Some might say that through intensive lobbying by Ruhama and other activist programmes, the government took note, and in October 2007 published The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill.
This Bill included a concise definition of human trafficking and introduced tougher consequences for those perpetrating this crime.
However when asked about the support services available to her when she needed them, Rachel’s account illustrated just how far we’ve come in making services available to the women who need them.
“I didn’t have any support whatsoever. I had heard of Ruhama, but I’d only heard of them in the context of the outreach that they provided with their van,” she said, referring to the mobile unit that Ruhama used to visit red light districts and offer the women hot drinks.
‘I’d never used their van, and still to this day I don’t know if they were offering services that would have been beneficial to me at that time, in 1998. I didn’t know about support, so I wasn’t in the position to reach out for it,’
When asked if she felt the supports had improved in the sixteen years since she extricated herself from prostitution, Rachel stated that felt like there were many more support services available now, but like many other services in the country, they had been cut massively.
Sitting with Rachel and listening to her story is a great contrast to speaking with the bright and bubbly ‘Jenny,’ who spoke exclusively about her position as a sex worker to the College Tribune.
Chatty, Jenny had come straight from a lecture to talk to about her work.
“I’ve been doing what I do for about a year and a half now. I wanted to try it out, and I thought that through an agency would be the best way to do it,”
Jenny tells us that what attracted her to the sex trade was that she didn’t have to work a whole lot in order to pay for the things she needed.
“I initially didn’t intend on making my working situation permanent, but things got so hard.
I had to move and I needed to move into a place that had much higher rent than what I was used to,”
‘I work as an independent escort here and I use Escort Ireland. Here I put up an advertisement. They have forums where you can talk to your clients and build a relationship up that way,’ she remarks, before going on to explain some of the ways that she safeguards herself.
Jenny tells us that she never gives the client her real name, and would not reveal any detail more personal about herself than informing them that she’s a student.
When asked if she how she views her work, and whether she sees herself as the typical prostitute, Jenny is positive and impassioned.
‘It is proper work and I know many advocates wish for it to be seen from a labour aspect so that we have rights.
That’s important because it is a type of job,”
Jenny also shared her opinions on the Nordic Model that Rachel Moran, Ruhama, and other activists favour.
“There are some problems with the Nordic Model. Lots of people don’t realise that there is a stigma that comes from criminalising the client and that has only made things worse.
I’d be very interested in seeing how a model like that could be implemented here because of the severe difference in laws in Ireland than in places like Sweden where it has been in place for several years,”
A model that Jenny speaks to us a little about is the New Zealand Model.
New Zealand’s Prostitution law has focused on improving the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers as opposed to criminalising the sale of sex.
The Prostitution Reform Act, passed in June 2003 saw the decriminalization of brothels, escort agencies and soliciting.
It also saw the substitution of a minimal regulatory model and created worldwide interest.
New Zealand’s Prostitution laws are now some of the most liberal in the world.
Regardless of the lobbying and campaigning that will go on in Ireland over the next number of months, it is likely that it will be years before we see some substantial change in the way prostitution is dealt with in this country.
What must not be forgotten is the pain, suffering and even torture that some women endure every day on the streets in a fight to survive.
It is the rights of these women that is the heart of both debates and must lost among legislation.