Ireland: Protect your whores from the nuns!

The Magdalene Laundries might have closed, but sex workers are not safe from Irish Sisters at all. The nuns simply regrouped, renamed themselves and are still harming prostitutes. A little background information:

FMagdalen-asylumrom 1765 all the way to 1996, ‘fallen women‘ in Ireland were taken from their homes and incarcerated in so-called ‘Magdalene Laundries‘.  A fallen woman could be an unmarried pregnant woman, a girl who was considered too promiscuous or a prostitute who needed to be ‘saved’. In these prostitute-prisons they were horribly abused and had to perform forced labour.

“the institutions had little impact on prostitution over the period”, and yet they were continuing to multiply, expand and, most importantly, profit from the free labor. Since they were not paid, Raftery asserted, “it seems clear that these girls were used as a ready source of free labour for these laundry businesses”. Wikipedia

The 1993 discovery of a mass grave in Dublin opened up the conversation about the exploitation of prostitutes and led to a government inquiry. A formal state apology was issued in 2013, and a €60 million compensation scheme was set up. The four religious institutes that ran the Irish asylums have not as yet contributed to compensate the survivors of abuse. This is despite demands from the Irish government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture.

You think the exposure of all their crimes would have at least stopped the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, and Sisters of Charity from abusing sex workers, right? They refuse to acknowledge what they did or compensate their victims, but maybe they would be out of the whore-hurting business, right? Surely they’re not making money, right now, doing the exact same thing, right?

Yeah, right.

The Sisters continue their abuse

ruhamaRuhama, the largest anti-sex work organisation in Ireland, was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters“both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution“. They’re even funded by the Department of Health Department of Justice. They received over 14 million between 2006 and 2011.

We know that Ruhama is led in part by Magdalene Laundry nuns” said Kate McGrew, member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland. Sex workers in Ireland have been fighting for human rights, labour rights and protection from (state) violence. But they have found a persistent and aggressive enemy in the Catholic sisters. Ruhama has not just been bothering prostitutes again, they also actively campaign against sex workers’ rights. They opposed Amnesty International’s proposal in favour of human rights for sex workers and are fighting against everything sex workers demand.

But still, the Irish government is allowing Ruhama , those same people who abused and exploited prostitutes, to advise them on laws that directly impact sex workers, while excluding sex workers themselves. Not only is the Irish government funding the same people that abused sex workers for all those years, they even consult them as ‘experts’ on prostitution.

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? – Maggie McNeill

itssomethingRuhama does not offer any actual help to sex workers who need help. Rescue organisations and anti-prostitution NGO’s rarely do, they mostly make money by ‘raising awareness’, abusing prostitutes, receiving money from governments and providing ‘education’ to health professionals and policy makers. But it seems they haven’t killed any babies. yet. So, you know, that’s something…

You can read more about human rights for Irish sex workers here. You can read more about abuses in the anti-trafficking rescue industry here.

The End of Fetlife?

There are a lot of things to not like about Fetlife. Their security is terrible, just terrible. They’ve tried to please the creditcard companies by making certain (quite random) fetishes unsearchable, such as hypnosis. Their way of dealing with abusers and bullies has been horrible. But with all its faults, Fetlife has been so valuable to the kink community. I get a lot of emails from people new to the scene and Fetlife was the place I’d send them to, because that’s where you could find events and connect to your local community. The workshops, the munches, the play parties, the discussion groups, everything you need to get started in the kink scene.

FetlifeFetlife has now decided to close down to new members.

In the future there will be an invite system so that people who are already active in the kink scene can ask someone they know to let them in. This is fine if you live in a big city with a kink scene that’s easy to find, just Google ‘Seattle BDSM’ and you’re done.

But it’s going to make live hard for everyone not from those Western well-populated areas. I’ve tried googling “Udaipur BDSM”, no luck. And it’s going to cause real problems for the Dutch community, because we don’t have a serious alternative to Fetlife. Our events are usually small and rarely anything professional, most events don’t even have their own website. Munches are started by a few people saying “let’s get sushi!”, someone creating the event and people showing up. Communities are not static, people join, people leave, we need those new people to find us somehow. Before Fetlife we had some online message boards but they’ve all died when Fetlife became popular. I really don’t know what we’re going to do.

How To Spot A Kinkster In Public

I was at a vanilla wedding the other day, when I noticed some marks on my friend’s arm. Now I met her through the BDSM scene so it didn’t surprise me, but if you’re wondering how you can recognise a kinky person in public, marks like these are a pretty good indication they’re into rope play ;). It’s easy to spot a kinkster in public if you know what you’re looking for!

(Posted with her permission, obviously)

kinkster in public

The Dutch Sex Work Downfall

Sex work in the Netherlands is heavily regulated. Although sex workers themselves want full decriminalisation, just like all other sex workers all over the world, the reality is that prostitution here is legalised. It’s subject to many prostitution-specific laws, restricted by all sorts of regulations and anything but fully decriminalised. The leader of our Christian Party is now pushing new laws that would further criminalise sex work: he wants to make it illegal to pay for the services of a sex worker when you should have been able to know she’s a victim of exploitation. “For example, when she’s working from a cellar somewhere, bruised, with two big Bulgarian guys at the door” says a member of the ‘Green Left’ party.

At first glance, this would make sense. Politicians often paint this picture of the perfect victim: from an Eastern European country, very young, doesn’t speak much Dutch or English, thought she was going to the Netherlands to work as a model or waitress, only to find herself in some dark and dirty little room, raped by up to 40 men a day. Some politicians keep it somewhat civil, but many fall into a semi-pornographic style when describing their fantasies.

corinneBut the National Reporter on Human Trafficking, Corinne Dettmeijer, who is in favour of this new law, actually gave the perfect argument against it: she’s hoping clients will go to legally working prostitutes instead of women who work from basements.

In the last couple of years, over half of legal working places for prostitutes have been closed. Brothels are shut down, windows are closed, and no new licences to work are given to anyone, certainly not to sex workers themselves. Those who still work from a licenced location are harassed by police, their workplaces broken into, their homes smashed up and their belongings taken. They are subject to random semi-arrests, where they’re put into police vans and taken to the station for questioning because they’re suspected of being a victim. Eventually police will find something, maybe drugs in someone’s locker of a bruise that can’t be explained and the licence is revoked and another work place shuts down.

Hotels are pressured into reporting any ‘suspicious’ activity, and although escort is not illegal, police do stalk and harass escorting sex workers. Many hotels no longer accept escorts or try to keep them out. Renting an appartement to work from is all but impossible, and working from home means your landlord can kick you out.

So voluntary workers are pushed into basements and sheds and caravans.

Regular security companies will not work with prostitutes. Just like banks and other organisations they stay far away from sex work. So if you’re working from a shed somewhere and you want some big guys to keep you safe, you’re forced to work with people who will do it. you know, off the record. Two big Bulgarian guys, perhaps.

And there you have it: the girl working from a shed with two big guys at the door.

As Corinne Dettmeijer says: clients need to be able to go to legally working prostitutes. The only people who benefit from this increasing criminalisation are traffickers, just look at all the work this brings them, security gigs, finding hidden workplaces, and oh the vulnerable position the government has placed these prostitutes in, I’m sure traffickers are deeply grateful.

I propose a radical new approach.

  • Make it illegal for cities to not provide plenty of legal workplaces for prostitutes. If there is just one sex worker that wishes to work but can’t find a legal place, the city needs to pay a huge fine to the sex worker. Zero tolerance for any city that requires their prostitutes to work in the shadows. Zero.
  • Reward organisations that will work with sex workers. Whether it’s a bank or a security company, we need to do the exact opposite of what we’re doing now. Instead of being suspicious, and discouraging companies from working with prostitutes, we need to reward it. Not sure how yet. Maybe give prostitution-friendly companies an advantage when giving out government-related jobs?
  • Remove all laws that are specifically about prostitution. It shouldn’t matter if you paid her, if you’re having sex with someone and you really know she doesn’t want it, that’s rape. It already is by the way, it’s not like the law says “rape is bad unless it’s a whore then you’re fine”. Exploitation is always bad, rape is always bad, trafficking is always bad, regardless of her profession.

When all these things are done and sex workers are working happily and without stigma or discrimination, and traffickers are pretty much out of a job because the market is already full of voluntary workers and they don’t need traffickers for security or housing or anything else anymore, and you still have this fantasy of women who are raped in basements with two Bulgarian guys at the door, perhaps come to me so we can work on you accepting your kink and not forcing it on other people, ok? There’s consensual ways you can explore this stuff without involving unwilling prostitutes who are only harmed by your hero-fetish.

Also, check out the new president of Proud, Yvette Luhrs, in the video! She’s amazing!yvette

The ‘Weekly’ Personal

It’s become almost an ironic title, hasn’t it? The ‘weekly’ personal. A memory of some really ambitious idea I once had. Anyway, life has been great. I’m currently working on a project to provide education about sexual diversity to health professionals, more specifically an online course on BDSM. The company I work for is so supportive, I’m very lucky I found a job so soon after returning from all the travelling, and even more lucky it’s a position in which I get to do what I’m most passionate about: educating people on sexuality and psychology. I’m also seeing clients a few days a week, which I enjoy a lot.

marijke sm

Finding good stills in a video in which you’re talking is hard.

The course is such a fun project to work on. I give most of the classes (on video), but I found some really good other teachers too. I asked kinky people in my own community to contribute, let me interview them (on camera!) about their experiences, and I got over 40 responses from people wanting to help. I mean.. I knew the kink community was wonderful. I knew we help each other out and there’s support and I was quite confident I’d find maybe 5 to 10 people willing to be filmed, on camera, about BDSM. But 40.. I’m still a little emotional about it, it’s just so great. I made a selection and have interviewed a little under 10. I have my own camera team that does the recording and editing for me, and it’s been lovely working with them. They’re professional, kind, and fun to hang out with.

Our friends organised a ‘welcome home’ party for Robin and I when we got back, which was great fun. Life is really starting again, we’re renting a good place and looking to buy a house, we both found jobs that we’re happy about, our cat Poes is living with us again after staying at Rene’s house for a year when we were gone. And although I enjoyed the company of other travellers, I’m so, so, so happy to be back with my friends again. I have an amazing social group, most of whom I’ve known for over 10 years, and I don’t know.. new people can be great, and new friendships can be very deep, and I do love meeting new people, but it’s great to be back :).

There have been some sad things in my life as well, of course. I’ve lost some people, sometimes because they’re literally gone, sometimes because my relationship with them ended, and it’s had a big impact on me. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

Like stills from a video. Whoa.

marijke

Happily talking about BDSM.

whatt

Violent Agreement

When Robin and I were in Australia I met up with this great guy that I just couldn’t stop agreeing with. Ever have those conversations where half of the time you’re going “exactly!”? Yeah, it was like that. He called it violently agreeing and, obviously, I couldn’t agree more.

I get that when I watch Esther Perel and Dan Savage. Violent agreement.

Sometimes I just get so happy knowing the world is inhabited by numerous great people who are doing and saying amazing things, and although I know I won’t get to meet most of them, it just feels so rich. I could go anywhere and there’s people there, amazing people, everywhere. Connections to be made, things to be learned, experiences to be shared, violent agreements to be had. It’s like knowing your fridge is stocked when you’re not hungry. My friends are amazing and so many other people are too. Violently loving <3.

Cheating Is Bad, Ok?


Dan Savage probably became my hero when he got the president of the United States to tell gay kids that things get better. I mean honestly the whole It Gets Better project was amazing, but that was a whole other kind of amazing. We’re certainly not where we have to be regarding LGBTQ rights, but that was such a powerful thing to happen.

I agree with Dan Savage a lot. Like, a lot.

(Fuck first! GGG!)

But not always.

It took me a little while to understand his position on cheating. I tend to be a bit too black-and-white when it comes to morality, and since lying and deception fall in my ‘bad’ category I’m a little bit unforgiving when it comes to cheating. I think consent is very important in intimate relationships, and having sex with other people without your partner knowing is just so disrespectful. Either let them know you intend to be non-monogamous, allowing them to break up with you if non-monogamy is not for them, or don’t sleep around. I really don’t think lying so you get to keep your relationship is an acceptable thing to do.

But Dan Savage has argued that sometimes, in some situations, cheating might be the lesser of two evils. If you and your partner are financially dependent on each other, or your partner is very ill and breaking up with them would mean they lose health insurance or housing, if there are extreme circumstances, sometimes maybe you need to do what you need to do to stay sane. I guess. I can see that sometimes cheating might be the best option in a collection of sucky options, so it’d still suck, but other options would suck more. I suppose. I’ve become a little bit more open-minded about that, sometimes the world is just not fair and there are no right choices.

And I also agree that, as a society, we’ve placed too much importance on sexual monogamy. Given the fact that a very, very large group of people cheat sometime in their life, perhaps we should take a bit more of a pragmatic attitude towards monogamy. It seems we’re not really good at it, generally. Many of us try, because we desire a monogamous relationship, but many of us fail. Dan Savage thinks we should look at monogamy the way we look at sobriety – it’s hard, sometimes you fall off the wagon, you get back on the wagon. If you only fall off once or twice in you life, you’re good at monogamy, not bad at it.

I guess.

unscrewpooch

I need this on my wall. So Much.

I don’t know. I’m not monogamous myself, but if I found out my partner had lied to me about such an intimate, personal aspect of our life, I would be devastated. Not because I care much about who he has sex with, but because honesty and respect are fundamental to our relationship. By violating that he would violate something that our whole relationship is based on, it would violate my trust.

When weighing different options, we should take the harm cheating causes into account. People who have been cheated on often feel traumatised, not because they feel sex is so important, but because their trust has been broken and one of the closest relationships in their life was affected. Our connections to others are so important, our attachments so central to our well-being, harming that harms a person in their core.

Losing a loving relationship hurts too, obviously. Being open about wanting to have sex with other people and finding out your partner does not want to be with you if that’s what you’re going to do, that hurts. But the harm you cause when you cheat and they find out is huge. We should not be too nonchalant about cheating in situations where the other options (not cheating, or being honest about wanting sex with others) are actual possible options.

So in this case? I completely disagree with San Savage. Instead, bring the subject up with your husband. Treat him like an adult you can talk to, an adult you can trust, an adult who has the right to make his own decisions about his life. Tell him “hey remember that fetish I have? I’d like to explore that, how do you feel about that?”. And he’ll tell you if he wants to know about it, if he’s okay with it, you can discuss a Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell agreement, or perhaps he’d like to set some boundaries on sexual acts. And if he simply rejects the whole idea and tells you no, well, then you’ll have to decide if cheating is the best of all options. But I think we owe it to each other to respect the trusting, loving relationships we have, and respect each other as adult human beings who get to decide, given all the facts, if they want to be in a relationship with you. Deceiving others into staying is not okay…

End Demand for Traffickers: Decriminalise Prostitution

There’s only one group of people that would be harmed by full decriminalisation of sex work: human traffickers. Traffickers benefit from (partial) criminalisation because it creates opportunities for work for them. Take the Netherlands, for example. Helping people from outside the country find work in the Dutch sex industry is illegal, it’s in the law that you cannot do that. Women (and men) wishing to work here are allowed to do so, but anyone helping them in any way is breaking the law so no regular companies provide that service. This is amazing for traffickers and criminal organisations, who are making a lot of money assisting sex workers who need help getting started in the Netherlands. Because prostitutes are so dependent on these criminals this often leads to situations of exploitation.julie

It’s actually the biggest cause of trafficking in this country..

Imagine we decriminalise helping people from abroad work in the Dutch sex industry. Human traffickers would hate that, because it would open up the market place for good and reliable organisations to provide that service, it would decriminalise sex workers who help each other out, it would make it easier to sort things out yourself because it would no longer be illegal for friends or future employees to help find housing, get a ticket, get information. The opportunities for traffickers would decrease dramatically, and they’d hate it.

The tweet above is by a Dutch anti-prostitution activist and says “prostitution and human trafficking are not the same, but there are so many whorewalkers that there are not enough ‘free’ prostitutes for them”. Whorewalker is a derogatory term used by anti’s for clients of sex workers. But she’s right: the absolute best thing for human traffickers is if the market is cleared of voluntary prostitutes. The fewer independent workers, the more room for women in compromised situations that they can exploit!

Seriously though, complete decriminalisation and de-stigmatisation would be any trafficker’s nightmare. Clients of sex workers strongly prefer happy workers, the demand for bruised crying malnourished women is super-duper small, an increase of voluntary sex workers would pretty much wipe away their business. And if those sex workers would be able to pay for the services of regular accountants, regular workplaces, regular housing, regular security, well… traffickers don’t even want to think about that scenario.

Sometimes I wonder if the Dutch government is infiltrated by traffickers, they’re working so hard to maximise traffickers’ profits. They’re closing legal work places, decreasing licenced locations, increasing police brutality, disprespecting sex workers’ human rights, they’re doing everything to discourage women who have other choices and clearing the sector of ‘free’ prostitutes.  It’s any trafficker’s dream.

But it’s probably not an infiltration of traffickers though. We already know from research that (partial) criminalisation is bad for prostitutes and increases exploitation. We already know criminalising clients makes life more dangerous for sex workers. We already know that trafficking thrives when prostitution is criminalised. I honestly believe that people who are criminalising sex work already know this: they support it because they think prostitutes should be punished and women should be stopped from having sex for money.

safeSo please, if you think criminalising sex work would be a good idea, think hard who it would be helping. Would women with limited choices really be better off if another choice was taken away from them, or their safety compromised for other people’s moral battle? Would women who are being exploited truly benefit if the criminals exploiting them would be given the whole sex industry on a silver platter? Would clients who wish to pay for the services of a woman selling sex be better off if those women would be forced to leave the industry and hand it all over to traffickers? And who would be harmed if women who wish to sell sex would be free to do so without fear of police violence or discrimination by the state?

Let’s end demand for trafficking and fuck those criminals over big time: let’s fully decriminalise sex work!

(thanks to Raven_AB for helping me find the video)

Male-Dominated Culture or Oppression?

Headscarfs still cause a lot of debate in the Netherlands, some feel it’s a form of oppression and we shouldn’t allow it. I’ve always felt forcing women to undress themselves when they don’t want to would be far worse. Covering female breasts is a sexist cultural norm as well, but we don’t change that by stripping women naked against their consent. It is my body, and i have the right to show or cover it as I wish. And honestly, the tone of the debate makes me so angry sometimes I just want to cover my hair to make a point – I am not an object, I am not an idea or ideology, my body as a woman is not a political battle ground. This is my head, my hair, my breasts, and if I don’t want to show them to you, you have no right to see them.

I really can’t see this issue separate from sex workers’ rights and reproductive rights and women’s rights in general. The idea that as women we decide what we want to do with our own bodies seems so radical sometimes. Instead of allowing others to decide for us, as if we are children, we get to use our bodies as we please. Whether I want to cover my body, have sex for my own reasons including money, show my breasts in public or stay a virgin is my business and mine alone.

(Cartoon by Malcolm Evans)oppression

When Someone Is Wrong On The Internet

This is now happening so often I feel I should take some time to clarify: I am a psychologist, specialised in sexology. Talking about sexuality and writing about sexuality, educating others and providing help is my job. It’s what I do for a living. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy talking about sexuality in my free time or that I’m unwilling to provide information without payment, but when you’re asking me to give my opinion as a professional, you’re asking me to do work for you. And if you don’t intend to pay me for my service, you’re asking me to work for free.

wrongontheinternetI get regular mentions on Facebook when someone I don’t know says something silly about sex work. “There’s no such thing as truly voluntary prostitution!” this person will say, and one of my acquaintances will comment with “Marijke Vonk” and I’m supposed to show up and explain why they are wrong. Just my name, usually, not even a sentence or two to explain why they’re dragging me into this. I don’t care if this random person I don’t know and who has no influence on my life holds an incorrect opinion, I really don’t. If you want to explain why they’re wrong, do it yourself. A while back someone posted “why do some women not like their vagina’s?” and I was mentioned in a comment by someone I’ve never talked to. “You’re a sexologist Marijke, I’m sure you have an opinion on this?”.

If you’re asking me to give my professional opinion on something, you’re asking me to do work. If there’s a topic on Fetlife about research or sexology and you think my knowledge would be relevant in that topic, and you’re asking me to write a whole post explaining the subject, you’re asking me to do work. Unpaid work.

fixcomputerIt’s like asking your friend who knows a lot about computers to help your cousin’s co-worker’s friend fix theirs. It’s one thing to ask your friend to help you, but when someone you hardly know posts on Twitter that their software is giving an error, you should’t post “hey Emily Smith, you’re good with computers! Go help this dude I don’t know fix theirs!”. Asking your friends to do unpaid work for you is sometimes problematic but can be okay, if you’re my friend you can ask me. I’ll even help your mom. But there’s a limit.

I’m willing to do work for free if I think you or your group are doing great things, I give lectures for students for free, I do voluntary work in my local kink scene, I’m not a greedy person. I’ll argue people who are wrong on the internet if I think that conversation would be educational for me, or if I think they have political influence and it’d be a form of activism. Sometimes I hang out on Fetlife because it’s fun.

But don’t mention me on Facebook, just dropping my name in some comment so I’ll come over and do unpaid work. Don’t email me telling me to contribute to a discussion just because you think my knowledge would be relevant. Offer to pay for my work, or leave me out of it.