How Many Will It Take?

Vintage photo of bones in a catacomb.

Vintage photo of bones in a catacomb.

According to the popular narrative, sex workers are “bad” or “defective” or otherwise abnormal; we are not to be trusted even to run our own lives, so when “good” women who claim to want what’s best for us say that we need to be criminalized for our own good – that our statements should be ignored, our clients demonized, our workplaces raided by armed thugs who drag us away to cages where we can be subjected to degrading attempts to “correct” or brainwash us, and our organizations branded as a “pimp lobby” – the politicians side with them and the legions of the ignorant mindlessly parrot their drivel about “sex trafficking”. There are many of these righteous guardians of female purity; in Ireland, for example, they are led by Ruhama, an organization founded by the exact same nuns who ran the infamous Magdalene laundries, where sex workers and other “sinful” women were condemned to slave labor until they were completely broken. Among these outcasts were unwed mothers, whose children were ripped from them and incarcerated in hell-holes like St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home:

The bodies of 796 children…have been found in a disused sewage tank in Tuam, County Galway. They died between 1925 and 1961 in a mother and baby home under the care of the Bon Secours nuns…historian  Catherine Corless discovered the extent of the mass grave when she requested records of children’s deaths in the home…The vast majority of the children’s remains, it seemed, were [simply dumped into] the septic tank. Corless and a committee have been working tirelessly to raise money for a memorial that includes a plaque bearing each child’s name…death rates for children in the Tuam mother and baby home, and in similar institutions, were four to five times that of the general population. A health board report from 1944 on the Tuam home describes emaciated, potbellied children, mentally unwell mothers and appalling overcrowding. But, as Corless points out, this was no different to other homes in Ireland. They all had the same mentality: that these women and children should be punished…

And yet, these nuns still receive funding from the Irish government and their lies about sex workers are still accepted unquestioningly by the Irish media. In the United States, laws and old prejudices prevent the Catholic Church from gaining quite such a powerful hold, but nothing short of absolute exposure stops sociopaths like Somaly Mam or the woman whose supposedly “true” story the movie Eden was based on:

…Chong Kim whom [sic] has claimed to be a survivor of human trafficking is not…after thorough investigation into her story, people, records and places, as well as, [sic] many interviews with producers, publishers and…organizations, we found no truth to her story. In fact, we found a lot of fraud, lies, and the most horrifically capitalizing [sic]…We have found several other organizations…who have been defrauded by Chong collecting money in their name…

When Eden came out many sex worker activists condemned it as a pack of lies; we’ve done the same about Somaly Mam for years. And despite their being exposed as charlatans, others very like them continue to cash in and exert such powerful influence over politicians that outrages like this are the norm these days:

…This cynical, dystopic model does not resolve the problems found by the Court in Bedford to be unconstitutional, and adds new ones such as the prohibition on advertising.  The Charter rights…[of] life, liberty, security of the person, freedom of expression and equality…are [all] breached…It is an unconstitutional variation of our broken laws that impose more danger, more criminalization, and fewer safe options, contrary to the requirement of the Supreme Court of Canada…All that will be required for police to surveil and target sex workers is the suggestion that a person under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present…purchase [of]…sex…[carries] mandatory fines…from $500 to $4,000, to five years in jail…Without the ability to advertise in newspapers, online, or other forms of media, sex workers will now have severely limited means for working safely indoors…

How many more skeletons need to be found in closets or cesspools before the public wakes up to the evil of prohibitionism? How many more lies until the self-appointed saviors lose their credibility for good? And how many more women have to die before governments abandon their mad dream of controlling the sexuality of every individual within their borders?

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