How do you feel about the police?
Ambivalent, I suppose. In everyday life, were my car stolen I would contact them. If I saw someone committing a crime, I think I would contact them, and I watch the work they do under difficult circumstances here in my part of Ireland with some interest and sympathy for their difficult circumstances. But when it comes to my work, I view them with deep suspicion – I can’t deny that.
Would you say your feelings/trust in the police is influenced by being in the sex trade?
Undoubtedly, and especially as so much emphasis has fallen recently on the issue of human trafficking. That’s a good thing, where human trafficking is taking place, but I feel it has skewed their perception somewhat. And that’s not necessarily their fault. There are tremendous political pressures on the police to combat the issue. This is a highly politicised society here, and human trafficking, prostitution (and abortion and same-sex marriages) are subjects that seem to unite all sides, despite of their theological or ideological differences in other matters. It’s inevitable that the police will act on laws that will garner support from all sides.
Have you ever had any dealings with the police before you were in the sex trade? How was that experience?
Several – on minor issues – through the years. I have never been on the ‘wrong’ side of the law. They treated me with professionalism and courtesy.
I appreciate this is a personal question, but could you tell me if you have had a crime, or crimes, committed against you since being in the sex trade, and if you feel comfortable to say what type of crimes?
I have been raped whilst working as an escort, and also once when I wasn’t.
Did you report the crimes to the police? And if you did, how were you treated and what were the outcomes?
On neither occasion did I report the rapes to the police.
Could you explain what held you back from doing that?
In my ignorance then (I understand things a little better now) I imagined that to report a rape meant that an investigation with a view to an arrest and conviction in court would automatically follow. I thought that some unstoppable machine would gear up and rumble on regardless of my privacy. The idea of being questioned about what happened in that hotel room where I’d met the client was as abhorrent as what happened. All sorts of things went through my head. What if they questioned the hotel staff? I’d met him in the bar and accepted a drink beforehand. What if they checked out the room? My fingerprints were on the glass, which contained another drink – I’d swallowed afterwards to keep him sweet and allow me to get out. The other evidence….
And him….if they questioned him, all I could think about was what he would say, “She came to my room, she took my money; English wasn’t his first language. I felt sure he would plead misunderstanding. In other words, I had played the whole thing, from report to court; police notes to sleazy newspaper reports out in my head. And just walked away.
The second incident happened after a night out with friends. A complete stranger attacked me. But to try to escape I had told him to go and get money from a nearby cash machine to pay me. I had planned to run away then. But he didn’t fall for it. And using that excuse left his parting words ringing in my ears and cutting through my mind. He stood above me and warned me not to report anything to the police, as I was “just a whore”.
Once again, even though he had attacked me, the circumstances were the same, I felt.
What I’m trying to say is that I felt I would be judged by the police and their detailed questioning. I felt they would be categorised as ‘alleged’ rapes, with question marks over my reliability and circumstances…and that feeling would be too hard to handle.
There was also the question of confidentiality, not knowing how many police officers I might have to speak to…could I trust them all? And without knowing exactly how these things are handled, I couldn’t face having to call to speak to a specific officer and having to explain things time and time again to get through to that officer.
I should stress that now I believe this isn’t the way a report would be treated, but I didn’t know this at either time. Ignorance is not bliss. Even without the Merseyside model, I think more should be explained about the process of reporting an attack.
Did you report the crimes to any other agencies instead? And if so could you tell me what kind of agency and what support you received?
Two days after the second rape, I called a local rape crisis organisation. I left a message on their answering machine. I am still waiting for them to contact me.
I wrote a short comment on my Twitter timeline 48 hours later about the lack of response, without expecting anyone to pick up on it. But someone did. To my amazement, the woman behind the @SexworkIE messaged me asking if I was all right. For anyone who doesn’t know, @SexworkIE is a feed from the commercial company that runs Escort Ireland. The feed was set up to campaign against the current proposals on prostitution in Ireland North and South. I’m independent, but don’t advertise on E-I, which was why I was so surprised.
They emailed me with wonderful words of support, stressing that it wasn’t my fault. They arranged for me to have access to the private escort chat on their site – even though I wasn’t an advertiser. One of the women arranged to call me and spoke so sympathetically I was overwhelmed.
I posted a warning on the E-I site in the private area, then took a deep breath and filed a report on National Ugly Mugs. Instantly, I got lots of messages from other escorts with E-I, again full of concern and support. One lady soothed my angst at not doing more to fight back; she said a friend who had practised martial arts for years also froze when she was attacked. You just don’t know how you are going to react. And another straightened out some of my false perceptions of how it would be to report to the police.
It was such a relief to be able to explain things to other people, who knew what I was talking about – who didn’t judge.
I had also contacted an organisation that deals with survivors of sexual abuse. They seem to be a good organisation, but they offered counselling on a week-by-week basis – same time, same counsellor – and that’s just not possible for me to do. And the initial ‘consultation’ isn’t designed to hear the whole story, so I was nervous of how they would deal with an escort. I’ve made contact with them now, however, and can go back to them at any time, they say.
In the future if you were the victim of a crime, would you report the crime committed against you to the police?
Now that I have a slightly better understanding, that you can report without asking for any action to be taken, I might. Especially with the second attack, I have been left with feelings of guilt: that he is still out there and could strike again. And on top of everything else, that is hard to handle. It’s like I have to take responsibility for everything: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being raped, not fighting back, not trying harder to get away and now not letting it happen to anyone else. If I stop and think about it for too long, all my energy disappears. So I have placed both episodes in the back corners of my mind for now.
But yes, I suppose I might approach the police if it happened again…I might.
If a crime was committed against you that was unrelated to your work in the sex trade would you feel any different about reporting that to the police? And do you have experience of this that you could describe. For example, if you were treated differently.
I probably wouldn’t give it a second thought if it were unrelated. But I haven’t had that experience, so can’t comment any further.
In addition to your own personal experience, do you have any friends in the sex trade who have had crimes committed against them? If so, did they report those crimes to the police and are you able to describe the treatment they received and what the outcome was?
Only incidental and third-hand. I’m not comfortable giving details of others experiences but it would seem that some are reasonably confident of police, and others aren’t.
How do you think the police view people in the sex trade? And do you think they take crimes committed against them seriously? Are you able to describe specific experiences of this – whether your own personal experiences and/or those of your friends?
Haven’t reported to police. But honestly, I’m circumspect about their attitudes. There are probably some good cops out there, but I would fear those who adopt the ‘poor dear’ attitude; who have religious beliefs that force them to preach; who view everyone within prostitution as a ‘trafficking victim’ because the whole issue is so politicised; who have no knowledge beyond the pages of the Irish Sunday tabloids.
How would you like the police to deal with crimes against people in the sex trade?
In the first instance – the same way they deal with crimes against anyone else.
How do you feel the Merseyside model of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes would benefit you and others in the sex trade?
This definition is particularly important. It adds a new dimension, which is of the moment and therefore significant to the general population. The classification as a ‘hate crime’ will force the police to record such attacks in their annual reports and the extent of the problem will be open for all to see. Damned statistics are unfortunately what policies are drafted by and budgets are spent on and as much as they might annoy us, they are important to organisations like the police, the justice system – including lawyers and barristers; Women’s Aid, rape crisis centres, other support agencies etc etc in formulating the way ahead.
As I see it, the general population recoils at hate crimes. The definition would help to form opinion, which is a must if any model is to be a success. The definition, if it happens, will provoke a reaction in the media and whilst parts of the debate will undoubtedly be distasteful to those of us who work in any aspect of the industry, it will make people stop and think.
It has to be handled carefully, however, and especially in Ireland, where ‘the sex trade equals human trafficking’.
Obviously, I am not an abolitionist, but I don’t like the phrase ‘sex-worker’ either; I try to respect others’ opinions; but my deep, deep worry would be that it would be used as ‘another reason’ to bring in laws that make selling sex completely illegal. I would like to think that no matter which part of the spectrum you belong to – pro or anti, the actual health and safety of those working in the here and now would be uppermost. The Merseyside model should not be allowed to become part of the sex trade debate – it’s more important, more urgent than that. It should be a separate issue.
Do you think there is a need for any changes to the Merseyside model if it were to be implemented UK wide? And what would those changes be?
To be honest – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It seems that a lot of work has gone into the model and I am sure they are revisiting it regularly.
Would you like to see the Merseyside model rolled out across every police force within the UK?
Absolutely. I’m guessing that most forces (hopefully all) have specialist rape and sexual assault investigation teams and have already definitions of hate crime. What could be so difficult about bringing the two together?
And, by the way, the Irish police should take a good, hard look at the Merseyside model too – the proximity of the islands and jurisdictions have always created easy exits across borders for perpetrators. Ireland shouldn’t be seen as an ‘easy touch’ for them if UK forces do adopt the model, and perhaps the additional label of ‘hate crime’ brought in, the Republic of Ireland might even improve extradition procedures in all of the British Isles so there is no hiding place.