The unique service provided by Ruhama in Ireland By Sr. Gerardine Rowley RGS
Ruhama (www.ruhama.ie) was founded by Good Shepherd and Our Lady of Charity Sisters over two decades ago and works with women affected by prostitution in Ireland.
Over the years, the client group has expanded to include not only women currently active in prostitution but also women who have a history of prostitution and in more recent years, victims of sex trafficking.
The organisation is predominantly a front line service, offering women a range of practical and emotional supports. It has a unique service to women affected by prostitution in Ireland as it is the only organisation to assist women in the often complex process of exiting from prostitution.
The exiting strand of the organisation includes educational and development programmes which empower women to find real alternatives and rebuild their lives after the trauma of prostitution.
Photo Left: One of the women participating in Ruhama’s (shaping your future) personal development program
Photo right: Display from arts and crafts
The globalised sex trade
While Ruhama continues to work with a significant numbers of Irish women, the majority of those exploited in the Irish indoor sex trade are migrant women, usually coming from economically poor countries. In 2012, Ruhama worked with 170 in its Casework service and the women were from 32 different countries.
The changing nature of prostitution
The introduction of the modern telecommunications (internet & mobile phone) has hugely impacted on the nature of prostitution in Western European; resulting in prostitution moving indoors, and allowing easy access and anonymity to pimps, traffickers and sex buyers. As a result the sex trade has increased all over Europe.
With the increasingly covert nature of prostitution and the fact that most of the women involved in the Irish sex trade are migrants, Ruhama is challenged to find new ways to reach out to women and make our services known.
Recently we initiated an advertising campaign raising awareness about our services and publishing the advertisements in the main migrant papers on sale in Ireland.
Advocacy and Campaigns
In our efforts to address the systemic factors which influence the exploitation of women in the sex trade and act as barriers for women exiting, Ruhama actively advocates for change with national and international policy makers.
At the moment, it is a particularly important time for activists in Ireland because the Government has just published a report, following an extensive consultation process on the future direction of prostitution legislation.
Ruhama strongly welcomes the Government report’s recommendation to criminalise the purchase of sex. We have been to the fore lobbying for this legislative approach for over a decade and in recent years Ruhama became core group members of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign (www.turnofftheredlight.ie) which consists of 68 organisations, lobbying for legislation which focuses on the demand in the sex trade.
The next stage of our campaign is to get the Government to act on the recommendations in their report
Sr. Gerardine Rowley (on right) with Lord Morrow who introduced the Bill to criminalise the purchase of sex to the Northern Ireland Assembly and other members of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign.
It is timely that our close neighbours in Northern Ireland are also considering bringing in legislation which criminalises the sex buyers and there is currently a Bill going through their parliament. Ruhama has been actively contributing to the debates on this legislation in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.
We are encouraged to hear recent news of another European country (France) taking steps to make the buying of sex a criminal offence and sending out the clear message that the purchase of another person’s body for sex will not be tolerated.