Evening Echo, May 3, 2013
“Take it easy on her, it’s her first time”. These are the words that delivered 15-year old homeless, friendless Rachel Moran into the depraved and dangerous world of prostitution.
They are also the words that introduced her to the hypocrisy and lies that shield that world from real scrutiny and challenge. Lies told by society, by customers and by the prostitutes themselves.
It is those lies that Moran takes head on in Paid For, her bracingly honest account of the seven years that she spent working as an Irish prostitute. One by one, she unflinchingly confronts and denounces the mythologies and “confident ignorance” that surround prostitution, so constructed that we don’t have to think too hard about it and the harm it does to the (mostly) women involved.
The truth is that, despite those words, neither the punter nor the pimp cared about the welfare of the child in their hands.
Indeed, for many customers, her youth became a selling point.
And, for Moran, the truth behind any argument that seeks to justify or legitimise prostitution is that the sexual pleasure it affords men is evidently more important than the duty to treat women equally in humanity.
She takes the discussion away from the standard stereotypes ands statistics and into her story and the stories of her co-workers, looking at the broken paths from childhoods marked by poverty, neglect and abuse to a life where (self) neglect and abuse are the norm, but at least the poverty has been escaped from, just.
She argues that the “choice” of prostitution is not a choice when the other options are destitution and homelessness. As for consent, she questions how anyone can consent to what they don’t understand, as it is impossible to understand prostitution until you’re already in it.
The tragedy for Moran is that, raised by severely damaged parents, she didn’t know how to negotiate for a life on other terms. She and many of her colleagues didn’t think they were worth it.
Paid For describes prostitutes living in a state of permanent tension, dislocated from the rest of society, facing a constant threat of violence, earning a living through degrading and humiliating themselves underneath the heaving (sometimes filthy) bodies of men who fill them with revulsion.
In a particularly bleak moment, she watches a friend whose body was black and blue after a beating but who, stoned out of her mind, went out to work anyway and had no trouble picking up clients.
Moran has a lot to say to those who would try to suggest that women do this as a matter of sexual equality or liberation. “There is no equality or mutual respect in prostitution” she says, “it is commercialised sexual abuse”.
Looking at solutions, Moran advocates the Nordic Model of criminalising the punters, and providing education, support and training for the women.
This approach is not without controversy, and this book will no doubt stir up a lively debate. If that debate would be a more honest one, then Moran will have succeeded.