Paid For is a nonfiction book by former Irish prostitute Rachel Moran, published by Gill & Macmillan this month. It is neither a misery memoir where Rachel describes in lurid detail her childhood and experiences as a prostitute, nor is it a Pretty Woman style glamourisation of prostitution. It is scholarly, well written, articulate and while it is often difficult to read, it is certainly worthwhile. Paid For clarified my thoughts and changed my mind on many issues regarding prostitution.
Rachel Moran came from a poverty stricken Dublin background and her parents had severe mental illness which was compounded by addiction. After the suicide of her father, Rachel ran away at 14 years old. She soon found herself homeless and with no other way to financially support herself, her boyfriend at the time suggested that she prostitute herself. He left her on Benburb Street in Dublin and told her first client to “go easy on her”. That was the start of Rachel’s life as a prostitute and soon she was seeing between 7 and 10 men per day. Rachel worked for two years on the street and then went on to work in brothels and as an escort, spending a total of seven years as a prostitute.
The men Rachel saw were not all alcoholics or drug addicts, thugs or psychopaths; in fact the majority of her clients were middle class and married. Rachel suffered physical, verbal and sexual abuse, bullying and degradation, the rationale of her clients being “you chose this way of life so you deserve whatever you get – put up and shut up.” Many of the men she saw believed in that they were entitled to do what they wished to her once the money had changed hands and in nearly all cases, Rachel says that the men would try to go further than what was agreed at the outset. She was not seen as a human being by these men, but as a sex toy or a masturbation aid.
Rachel explodes the myth of the happy hooker, saying that in all her years as a prostitute working in Dublin and other Irish cities, working on street and off street, she didn’t meet one woman who claimed to be happy. Prostitution is dehumanising for women. They must ignore their natural impulse and have sex with men that they are not remotely attracted to and who often repulse them, they must regularly enter into situations where they may be raped, beaten or killed, they see the very worst in humankind, and they often turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the feelings that have arisen as a result of this. In addition they are treated with contempt by their clients and by society as a whole, which has the effect of further marginalising them and entrenching them in prostitution. It then becomes incredibly difficult for the woman to leave prostitution and find another job. They cannot talk about the work they have done, many have no education and certainly have no way to explain on a CV the unaccounted for years in their professional life.
The overwhelming majority of women working in prostitution are there because they have no other choice and if they were offered another viable employment alternative they would take it (this is not just my opinion but backed up by statistics from around the globe, many of them quoted in Rachel’s book). There are people who are pro-prostitution, who believe that as long as a woman is not coerced into it then no-one is getting hurt. But coercion can take many forms: life circumstances, lack of education and opportunities, financial pressure, addiction, grooming by a sexual predator, these things can coerce a woman to turn to prostitution as the only option available to her. There isn’t a father on this planet who wants his daughter to become a prostitute and no fourteen year old girl in her right mind dreams of being a hooker; prostitution is the last resort for women who have no other choice.
Rachel is now an anti-prostitution activist and has spoken in America, at the UN and in the Oireachtas. In addition she has been instrumental in founding SPACE International – Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment. SPACE International’s mission is to enact The Nordic Model worldwide, a gender-neutral law which criminalises the purchasers of sex while decriminalising those who sell it.
I wholeheartedly admire Rachel for coming forward with her story. She is a brave and articulate woman and I hope her excellent book is widely read. You can read more from Rachel on her website and watch a recent interview with her on The Late Late Show below.