Speech by Mia de Faoite, 21.5.18

The following speech was delivered by Mia de Faoite, an activist and survivor of prostitution, at the launch of the APPG on Prostitution’s report of the inquiry into ‘pop-up’ brothels. The event took place on 21 May 2018 in the Houses of Parliament.

My name is Mia de Faoite and I am both honoured and privileged to be here today. The last 14 years of my life I have gone from one extreme to another. For 14 years ago I was a respected civil servant with a responsible job and all that goes with that life and then my life with the help of some very bad decisions on my part which led me to become addicted to heroin and then I descended into a cruel and very disturbing world, a world I had only ever seen in the movies, a world I still struggle to understand, that world was prostitution. As a result of my lived experience I feel strongly that the legislation regarding prostitution needs to be reviewed in order to combat human trafficking and to create a more equal and humane society. My experience occurred in the Republic of Ireland however, prostitution and trafficking knows no borders and legislation wherever it may be is critical to combating the heinous crime of sex-trafficking and the degradation of prostitution.

Prostitution for me is where; a woman ceases to be seen as a human being in the eyes of others, and becomes a trapped mind that lives in a body that no longer belongs to her. How that trapped mind copes depends on a wide range of things, but mainly we cope by increasing the very thing that brought us to the street, our addictions. I can only speak for myself with regards my intake of heroin and how it affected me physically and how I used it to block out what I had become but I witnessed the deterioration of other women over the years, many of whom did not even realise it, that was the saddest thing, some of them believed this was the only place they could be. I believe that there is a fundamental difference between, “Choosing to become” and “defending what has become of you” and the wise researcher gets and understands this concept. We learn and pick up survival skills; we used laughter as a coping mechanism, we only trust each other for we know what the world thinks of us, those messages come in loud and clear and there are no messages that we are ever welcome back, we have become the worst insult a woman can call a woman or a man can bestow on a woman. When you are prostituted, however you arrived there, you sign a social contract that comes with the highest cost, for the small print of this contract; the terms and conditions are harsh, disturbing and unjustifiable. So it would appear to most that we stand free on the street and yet everywhere we are in chains.

And then the inevitable happens, rape or sexual assault, my first experience of sexual violence was extreme as it came in the form of a gang rape that lasted for what seemed like forever, and in many ways it will, for from that night on, I no longer lived, I just existed and in a world I could no longer comprehend, a world where I thought humanity no longer existed and even if I saw traces of it, I didn’t trust it. The young woman who was with me that night did not survive, her drug use spiralled out of control and she died alone of an overdose about two months later. To many her death would be just another sad statistic but to me her life will always be of value. The events of that night exposed me to such human wickedness, but apart from my own endurance, it tore me apart to witness what was left of a young 27 year old woman’s sanity disappear before my very eyes, and there is now a little boy who has grow up never knowing just how hard his mother was trying to get away, he will never know how kind and wonderful she was, prostitution has robbed him of that.

We are already considered the lowest of the low, what I am trying to say is if you set up the conditions for rape, it will happen, I don’t mean myself and my friend alone in a apartment with eight men, we as prostituted women are a prime target for any buyer who wants to fulfil the violent sexual crime of rape only with us they can do it and get away with it and both society and the laws that govern it play a major role in keeping it that way, and it will remain un-punishable while it remains legal to buy another human being in the first place. For me heroin became the lifeline to cope with re-living that trauma night after night, where it began with selling myself to cope with heroin, welcome to the paradox, that so very few of us escape from. I am one of the lucky few.

We exist out there underneath a shadow of the constant threat of violence, a dark cloud of fear hovers around us permanently, but it is the fear as Aristotle would describe, where fear is the pain you feel on the anticipation of the arrival of evil and in prostitution that evil arrives all too often but the most frightening thing about this kind of fear is that it is state sanctioned. And any system or industry which allows the violent sexual crime of rape to thrive should be shut down, it shouldn’t even have to be debated.

Prostitution and sex-trafficking are intrinsically linked; you have one because of the other. Being trafficked into prostitution is the most heinous of crimes, where young women are often gang-raped into submission, to break them down; I understand that only too well. But I find it unimaginable to think of what it must be like to be in a country where you know no one, maybe you don’t even speak the same language and are hard to reach. For the last 18mths of my time on the street, I stood alongside a trafficked woman, Jenny she became my closest friend and I have never seen a human being so broken down. The conditions under which she lived were so inhumane and she had developed a twisted sense of loyalty to her controller, that someone had trafficked from her home in Africa, right across Europe and finally landing in Ireland, at this stage she had been completely broken down, his control was all that she knew, he would beat her if she was challenging, kept her passport, she was put out on the street at 6pm and she stayed there until 5am every night, she was addicted to crack cocaine and he was the dealer, she had to return with every 100 euro’s, she made nothing. He would often pace around the street at night watching her, hiding in the bushes if he saw her talking to me, he would call her on the phone and tell her to get away from me. He hated me and at first I could not understand why. Then I thought about it, he had taken her away from her family and friends and she had not been allowed make any friendships, so he did not hate me because I could get her to ‘work’ for someone else or because I could get her to buy drugs from someone else, no he hated me because I showed her something he had managed to keep away from her for years, that something was humanity.

Jenny and I formed a very strong bond out on that street, a bond that will last our lifetime but not only in terms of our friendship but because we have both been exposed to human wickedness and when you have been exposed to wickedness it can change the way you see the world forever and although we had arrived at the same place through different means we are connected because we were bought, used, exploited, humiliated and raped by the same group of people (buyers), and that connection can never be broken by anyone, at any time, in any country.

A few years ago I went on an outing to Dublin Zoo with some of the survivors of trafficking, I brought my granddaughter with me as I knew some of the women had children and there happened to be a little girl approximately the same age as her, they played together as children do. We had stopped to see the giraffe’s, they had a new enclosure since I’d last been there and a new baby giraffe. I picked the little girl up to show her, they’re giraffes I said and they come all the way from Africa, she wasn’t that bothered, she like all toddlers was more concerned with trying to climb the fence or attempt to climb the rock, my granddaughter had just to, normal toddler adventures.

But I looked back around at the giraffe’s, beautiful, graceful creatures from Africa, and then it occurred to me, we bring these animals to our country so that children get to see and learn all about them. We treat them so well, give them to appropriate shelter, food and settings so they can grow, be healthy and happy, and rightly so. But they are not the only thing that we now import to Ireland, for we now import women and children from Africa to satisfy the needs of a certain type of man and it is not to be admired and treated with respect like the giraffe’s, oh no it is for very different reasons and none of them have anything to do with admiration and respect. I picked up that little girl again, I hugged her and kissed her cheek and I apologized to her on behalf of my country, I apologized for what had happened to her beautiful mother but I promised her things were about to change. And I have kept that promise.

I know how lucky I am to have survived prostitution as so many do not and I now believe I have a responsibility to ensure that the true face of prostitution is made visible. I also believe that it is the responsibility of all humans to try in whatever way that we can to leave this world a better and safer place for the next generation. This responsibility lies especially with us, the ones who have been afforded opportunities and educations that many can only dream of. I say this not to evoke a sense of guilt or as a request for sympathy for those we might consider less fortunate then us, for those feelings will change nothing, but more I seek empathy and a sense of compassion, the successful ingredients for sustained hope and positive social change, and also that we remember that there are many in this world that life has not been good or kind to.

And although not every buyer I met raped or was violent towards me, I refuse to feel in some thankful or grateful to the others just because they didn’t, but many view those men as good citizens who people wish to protect, I will explain that somewhat philosophically:

Protecting the good citizen, I believe this is where some people struggle because for the most part the men who buy human beings for sex are exactly that, they are good citizen’s, in that they are in gainful employment, so they pay their taxes, they pay their rent or buy homes with their partners, they have 2.4 children, they tick every box the society deems to be correct, so we allow them this little indulgence, how we allow it is again through silence and keeping it legal. For the men who bought me and all the other women, the men that feed this twisted industry, they walk among you everyday, they are fathers, husbands, colleagues etc we don’t want to acknowledge that the good citizen can behave like a bad human being, I understand that fear, for we hate to upset societies little apple cart but at who’s expense do we do that!

I, on the other hand would be viewed as a bad citizen, I didn’t have a job, I was supported by the state, I was a heroin addict and worst of all, I stood on a public street displaying my wears, luring these good citizens to me, as if they had no choice. But I am a good human being, I always have been. This is the balance you must find between the good citizen and the good human being and which one of us comes first in the queue for protection.

As I do not often get a chance to express my own gratitude to the police and because there are so many here today, I would like to take this opportunity to do so as I had a very positive relationship with them; I have always said that they were one of the very few people who treated me as human, often showing support, compassion and kindness. I recall one such interaction. I was standing on the street when an officer I had got to know well walked around the corner; he stopped to talk for a moment. I thought he looked quite tired and asked if he was alright, he said he was tired because he had a new born baby at home. who was very restless and he wasn’t getting much sleep and being on night duty didn’t help, he said he just wanted to go home because he felt bad having to leave his partner at home alone to cope with the baby. I was thinking how sweet, but this officer always had a kind nature, we were all very fond of him on the street. Then he said “you have a child don’t you?” I said I do but she’s grown up now. “Have you got any tips for me?” he said. This question stunned me, I didn’t know what to say, because was he really asking me, a prostitute for parental advice, most people wouldn’t leave me in the same room as a child, most people think I shouldn’t have custody of my own child, let alone give advice. “Well have you, he asked again”, I smiled and told him to invest in a soother & drip it in some honey if needs be, it always worked for me. He smiled back and said we must give that a try so. He told me not to stay out too late and continued on his patrol. I stood looking at him as he walked away, I kept smiling because he had asked me, what to many would seem like a simple question but to me it was more than that because he had asked me, a depraved one, just a whore to many a question in relation to the most precious thing in his life, his new baby son.

That simple question gave me hope out there, gave me strength, reminded me I was human because the next man that came around the corner paid me 40 euros to get down on my knees and open my mouth, like a good girl. The sex-buyer law will change the playing field in the United Kingdom, it will remove the power that the second man has and place firmly into the hands of the first man, the good man, the man that gets up and puts on a uniform every day, the man that took an oath to serve and protect and has never had the power to do so. Ireland’s new legislation provides the officers that tried put in vain to protect me and the other women out there the power to do just that. If it had of been there when I was on that street, I know for a fact that I would not have spent nearly six years of my life there being stripped of every piece of dignity I ever owned. Where everything I thought I once was, had turned on me, despite me.

We can continue to blame the pimps and the traffickers but unless we do nothing to cut off what makes them exist in the first place, the traffic and rape will not only continue, it will grow. Arendt concluded that most evils in the world are committed by nobodies, I agree with her and further more I believe it is now time that the nobodies where brought to bear and made accountable and responsible for the cruel industry they willingly sustain and uphold, in fact it only exists because of them. A cruel trade where we now have women and girls being found with bondage debts tattooed onto their skin and I do not believe that Europe’s memory is that short.

The sex-buyer law is one I profoundly believe in and as such was one I was going to fight for. My question to Ireland and now posed to the United Kingdom was always do we respect human dignity enough for us to assume responsibility for its protection. Bodily integrity is of course at the heart of human dignity and I do not believe that we should get to pick whose body integrity we choose to protect, as all humans are equal and as such all humans should be afforded the same rights and protection. This law is about the protection of human dignity, and valuing human dignity above other values finally recognizes it to be among the most resourceful of values, one that can motivate when all else fails and on this issue all else has failed. And I am very glad that on the 14th February 2017, my homeland decided to do so and now I wish for other nations to follow.

On the 27th March 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was enacted in the Republic of Ireland. It contains many necessary changes and amendments including a legal definition of consent. Right in the centre of the Act is Part 4, which criminalises the purchase of a human being for sex. Although the legislation itself does not contain the words ‘human being’, I state it here to serve as a reminder and an acknowledgement of the fact that that is what happens. Part 4 makes it clear that consent cannot be purchased, that women and girls are not for sale in the Republic of Ireland.

Part 4 proved to be the most contentious and yet it was the most important because it is the one part that changes the playing field. It formally removed the female body from the market and by doing that Ireland has taken the biggest step in gender equality. I say this because we could give as many lessons on sexual consent as we like but as long as it remained legal for anyone to go online or drive down a street and buy a woman and very often a girl, the confusion would remain. And that confusion filters through to our homes, schools and workplaces, Part 4 ends that confusion. Ireland now has a real chance to change attitudes and behaviour towards women and girls, alongside other aspects of the Act. I am not naive enough to believe that things will change overnight, the Act especially Part 4 needs to be fully acknowledged, fully supported and fully implemented because although contentious, it is the essence of the Act.

Law and justice may not be the same thing but they are without doubt connected. And although I am devoid of sympathy for buyers, vengeance is not mine nor is it something I seek or desire, I have long since let go of the fact that my rapists and abusers will never be brought to justice, in fact that is something you must do in order to survive prostitution. For those who bought me, who ‘didn’t know’ my story, who never asked, who looked past my drug-addicted body, who looked past my lost eyes, who surrendered their ability to think in order to satisfy their own wants, well now you know and if you still don’t get it, there is now a law in place to ensure that you do.

Justice has prevailed in Ireland but that justice evolved out of recognition. It must always be remember that we are not just survivors but that we are witnesses to some of the most heinous crimes, committed on our own bodies and we witness the suffering of others. It was often said to me ‘I’m sorry you were raped but..’, ‘I’m sorry that your friends died but..’ for five years now, no one has ever been able to justify that ‘but’, because there is no justification and there never will be.

And although the burden of proof and shame weighed heavy on my shoulders at times, I always knew that the havoc it played with my mind was not nor would it ever compare to the hell so many were still trapped in. In those moments I remembered the 18yr old child in my arms that had just been violated so inhumanely and as her tears fell, I wiped them and held her close, she had no mum or dad I could call, no one I could contact that would come take her home, in fact she had no home. My own teenage child was at home safe and she had me to protect her. This child had no one, so I held her as tight as I could and in that moment I was her mother. We as humans are much more connected to each other than the world would like us to believe. We have gotten used to dividing each other into them and us. There has been an historical lack of empathy with women and children who are considered to be of a lesser value and evil thrives in the absence of empathy.

At this moment the traffickers and pimps are winning in Europe, trading in women and children’s bodies is on a larger scale now than it ever has been in history. And the only countries in Europe who are making a substantial impact in the fight against the cruellest form of modern day slavery- sex-trafficking are the ones who have acknowledged and faced the cause, the demand. All other member states are losing the fight because when logic and reasoning (moral or otherwise) is put to one side you are doomed to fail from the start.

There’s a Coldplay song called Paradise which I sometimes play over and over, the lyrics read, ‘when she was a little girl, she expected the world but it flew away from her reach & now she escapes in her sleep – in the night, the stormy nights, she closed her eyes and dreamed of paradise’. The psychologists will tell us that children who grow up in the developing nations, that the children who grow with practically nothing will dream bigger, they will dream of being doctors, teachers, pilots, they dream of paradise, there isn’t a single little girl in Nigeria or Romania today who is dreaming of one day coming to United Kingdom to be bought and sold to perform sex acts on British men. And yes it is the traffickers and pimps who coerce, trick and break the promises that have lured them here but it is the citizens of this country who give them the nightmares. For the most part they are the lost daughters of others and we have a duty to protect them.

Some time ago I was asked a question by my seven year old granddaughter Annabelle, she asked ‘Auntie Mia, why does blame hurt my heart?, I was taken aback by the profoundest of the question, that I told her I would need some time to think about it before I could answer.

On the 15th Feb 2017, I collected Annabelle from school; she knew that I had spent the night before in the parliament waiting to see if the law would pass. And although she is unaware of the full nature of the Bill, she knows its importance. She looked up at me hesitantly and asked ‘did the lady change the law’, and I said she did indeed, she smiled and said, so we’re all protected now and I said yes, you are now protected. I then said ‘do you remember when you asked me why does blame hurt your heart?’, she nodded yes, well I have an answer now it’s because it feels unjust, that is what injustice feels like and this new law ends that injustice. ‘Does this mean that the hearts will mend?’ she asked, yes it does I replied and the biggest smile came across her little face and I asked her, ‘Do you know what you are feeling now?, No she replied, it’s hope, that’s what hope feels like Annabelle.

It is seven years since the last time I was bought, I am no longer afraid and will never be afraid again and I have managed to reclaim both my body and mind. Prostitution and rape was prepared to hand me out a life sentence, a sentence I have refused to accept, I have served enough time, my debt is clear and I wanted my life back. I live with faded scars and some baggage but my baggage has been through customs, all has been declared and I have been cleared to go. So, if demons even attempt to torment me, they must prepare to be challenged for they do not have permission, they do not have consent to haunt me anymore.

In finish, I have two beautiful granddaughters who will now grow up in a country whereby the bodies to which they have been born into are respected and at no time will they be up for sale like their beloved grandmothers, as is my wish for every young girl no matter where they were born and it is up to us to ensure that that happens.

Agus go raibh mile maith aghat
(Thank you very much)