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On “Sex Work”, media lets Amnesty’s propaganda go unchallenged

It really is remarkably easy to shape the national debate in Ireland, if you are the right organisation, and hold the right opinions. RTE News viewers, this past Tuesday, got the full Amnesty Ireland message on prostitution. They were treated to a news report by Ailbhe Conneely, lasting a full two minutes and ten seconds, which laid out Amnesty’s Case. Nobody with an opposing view was given as much as five seconds to make an alternative case. You can watch that here, if you doubt my word.

The Amnesty Case is relatively straightforward: That, by criminalising the purchase of sex, as Ireland did in 2017, prostitutes working in Ireland have been made to less safe.

How did they arrive at that conclusion? It is hard to figure out, because Amnesty provides no quantitative data: There are no figures supporting any assertion at all that sex workers, or prostitutes, have experienced a heightened level of threat or danger. There is no evidence of increased reports to Gardai, or more arrests, or anything at all that might provide a supporting argument.

What there is, though, is an Amnesty report based on what the organisation claims is a series of interviews with 30 sex workers. 23 of these interviewed sex workers said that they felt that the law made them feel less safe, and some of them specifically mentioned that the banning of brothels had made it more difficult to work in groups, which might offer them more protection.

That’s it. That’s the entire extent of the evidence offered by Amnesty. And yet: Two minutes on the main evening news. A headline in the Irish Examiner. Almost all of the papers, and media outlets, carried the Amnesty message in full, and without rebuttal. It was presented as unchallenged fact.

And, on cue, Minister Helen McEntee, who may as well represent Ireland’s NGOs in the Dáil instead of Meath, announced that she would conduct a review.

Ireland enacted its ban on purchasing sex for very good reasons, and those reasons have not changed. It is worth outlining them here.

Whatever advocates of the Amnesty position might like to pretend, the reality is that prostitution in Ireland has always disproportionally involved women in very poor socio-economic realities – that is, if they choose it at all. It also involves, as we all know, women trafficked here against their will and forced to have sex with men for money which is usually paid to a pimp, or a gang leader.

For many such women, “sex work” – which is now, uniformly, the media’s term for prostitution, ever since it was invented by campaigners for legalising prostitution – is not “work” at all, but a form of slavery. Demand for trafficking – the money which incentivises people to kidnap women and bring them here to begin with – comes from Irish men who seem to have no problem paying to have sex with these women. That’s what funds, and drives, the whole enterprise. Women who are trafficked are not “selling a service” – they are being raped, over and over and over again, often by a perfectly middle class fellow on his lunchbreak. Who is the criminal, there?

Of course, there are libertarians amongst us who advocate for the full legalisation, and regulation, of prostitution, using, in general, two arguments: The first being that it makes women safer, and the second being that on principle, purchasing sex is every bit as legitimate as purchasing a paracetamol, or paying somebody to clean your home. They are wrong on both counts.

Here is the evidence on violence and safety, courtesy of the Netherlands Times. Prostitution is, of course, fully legal in the Netherlands:

The vast majority of people who work in the Netherlands’ sex industry face some form of violence, mostly from customers, according to a study by Aidsfonds, Soa Aids Nederland and sex workers’ interest group Proud, Het Parool reports.

A massive 93 percent of sex workers report being victims of social-emotional violence like bullying, privacy violations or stalking. 78 percent experienced sexual violence. 60 percent fell victim to physical violence, ranging from hair pulling to aggravated assault. 58 percent told the researchers they faced financial-economic violence, ranging from customers stealing from them or refusing to pay, to being refused at banks or insurance companies because of their line of work. Only 20 percent reported these incidents to the police.

So, in a country with fully legal prostitution, 78% of “sex workers” experience sexual violence, and 60% physical assault.

Might it, perhaps, be the case that this is a dangerous and unsafe industry which exposes women – whether they are working legally, or illegally, to the worst of men? The evidence, internationally, suggests that it is. Which impinges directly on the second argument, which is that it’s an arrangement between consenting adults, and nobody’s business.

The state regulates such transactions all the time – for the very good reason that people can be taken advantage of, lied to, or threatened. For example, the Government puts very strong caps on the amount of interest a moneylender can charge, even though consenting adults are perfectly capable of entering into a transaction where one loans the other money at a 5000% per annum interest rate. We regulate advertising of cigarettes, we regulate the sale of medicines, and we do all sorts of things which impinge on the freedom of consenting adults for their own good.

In any arrangement where a man is buying sex from a woman who would not otherwise have sex with him, the man is de facto the one with power. The woman, after all, needs the money to live on. The man does not. She is consenting out of need. He is consenting from a position of strength. Is it any wonder, then, that so many prostitutes face unreasonable demands, or violence, or humiliation? “Consenting adults” is one of those phrases that often covers up many more complexities than it reveals.

But we won’t have this debate, in Ireland. Amnesty have already set the terms. They have said jump, and the media willingly allowed them to have their way with them. Consenting adults indeed. That’s one word for it.

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