The 25th November, 2015 was International White Ribbon Day, to mark the occasion an event was organized in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. The White Ribbon Campaign is a global male led campaign which aims at ending all forms of men’s violence against women & girls which includes prostitution. Ireland is very lucky to have a remarkable man and my dearest friend Tom Meagher as our White Ribbon advocate. I was honoured to be asked by Tom to be the closing speaker and here is my speech. (some familiar words at the start but please read on).
The Milkman of Human Kindness
My name is Mia de Faoite and I am a survivor of prostitution and I’m delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you today at this great event.
I exited prostitution 5yrs years ago with the help of a social worker and I have been an activist for the Turn off the Red Light campaign for the last 3 ½ years. Which is a campaign made up of 73 partners, some of whom are here today. Together we have been campaigning relentlessly for legislative change in Ireland’s prostitution laws. Legislation which would follow the Nordic countries. Legislation which would make it a criminal offence to purchase another human being for sex and that is what prostitution is.
The reason I joined the campaign is because I had once been on a very different journey, I had gone from being 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 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. It was quite surreal at times when I thought about how in the space of two years I had gone from having my own office to selling myself for as little as 30 euros on a street, so I didn’t think about too often. I spent nearly six years of my life in that cruel world and I can find no justification for what I witnessed. The violence and rape that happens in prostitution is frightening and disturbing, I am a survivor of multiple rapes including a gang rape, a vicious attack which my friend Jenny did not survive and when you have been exposed to such human wickedness it changes the way you see the world. 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. Martin Luther King stated that the laws are not made to change the heart but to restrain the heartless.
This law is one I profoundly believe in and as such was one I was prepared to fight for. My question to Ireland 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 so I am very proud that Ireland both north and south is now placing it first. This law is about the protection of freedom and there are some laws that they in themselves bring freedom and this is most definitely one of them. Because really the only difference between every woman in this room and all the women and girls who are up for sale today is circumstances and if my life is testament to anything, it’s to the fact that they can change.
Some of my friends on the street had figured that if anyone was to make it off that street that it would be me, they were right and believe me, given the disturbing statistics I truly know how lucky I am and because of that I now believe that I have an absolute responsibility to ensure in whatever way I can 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 lays 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 on this Island that life has not been good or kind to.
Prostitution is, was and always will be an absolute affront to human dignity, it is a gross infringement of human dignity whether the person being bought knows that or not. In fact to me it will always be a crime against humanity because it affects our very humanness; it attacks and destroys the elements of being human that separate us from all other living things, our human consciousness and our ability to reason not to mention the extremely negative impact it has on society in general, on humankind. The Island of Ireland has now fully acknowledged these facts and has worked together because when human dignity is in jeopardy and freedom is at stake, political differences and national sensitivities become irrelevant. We have not been bound by history because history is a series of processes through which humanity must be found and on this issue it was so long overdue.
As today is a remarkable day, a gathering of many leading men and women who have decided to take a stand and join the fight to end all forms of men’s violence against women and girls, I thought I would share a brief story from the street that reflects that. You see, my search in life as always been for the good, even on that street I tried to find it, and on this one night it made itself visible. It was a freezing cold night in November, about 7yrs ago and it was the only night I had ever gone out to the street and had not been purchased by someone which had left me with no money. By 3.30am I knew I would be there till morning, I had enough change on me to get the bus home but would have to wait until they began. I walked into the driveway of the first house on the Burlington Road and huddled up in the corner of the door way, I tried to cover every inch of my skin with my long black coat. I placed my hands up the opposite sleeves of my coat and tucked the end of my coat under my boots. I can’t remember ever feeling that cold before, the shivering becomes uncontrollable, and eventually your limbs go numb but there’s a strange stinging sensation also. I tried to hum or remember tunes in my head to keep myself awake, I was terrified to sleep in case I didn’t wake up and yet I longed for that, for I knew that the street was killing me slowly and maybe tonight was my night. After about two hours or so I heard footsteps coming into the drive on the gravel, my heart began to pound, I tried to reach into my bag to get my pencil. I had decided after the last time I had been raped that if a buyer ever tried to rape me again, I would stick a sharp pencil in him, it wouldn’t do much damage but it would give me enough time to get away. But my fingers were too stiff; I couldn’t find it in my bag. Then I heard a voice, a man’s voice but he spoke softly “are you alright” he said. I must have had a panicked look on my face when I looked up at him, because he said quickly, “I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m the Milkman, I just want to know if you’re alright”. I told him I was grand and thanks. He asked me why I was there, I told him I hadn’t made any money and was stuck until the buses started but that wouldn’t be too long and I’d be grand. His voice got firmer, “You won’t be grand, you’re frozen solid, how much would a taxi be to your home” he asked. About 20 euros I said. Well you stay there and I’ll go get one for you. No, I’m alright you don’t have to do that I replied. He turned back around and faced me, he said “I not leaving a woman, half-dressed, frozen solid on a street like this; sure anything could happen you Love, now don’t move and I’ll be back. The minutes passed and then I heard him call me, “C’mon love I have a taxi”. I got up off the cold steps and walked slowly out the gate to the taxi. He opened the door for me and I got in, he placed 30 euros in my hand, I said “You’ve given me too much money”, “I know” he said, “stop and get yourself a coffee and something to eat on the way home”. I said thanks but I don’t know when I can pay this back. He smiled and replied “just get home & get warm & I never said I wanted it back love”. He shut the car door and I left. I stared out the window until I could no longer see him and part of me didn’t want to leave him. The milkman of Human Kindness as the song says, because before we are anything we are human.
That act of kindness meant the world to me out there in that disturbing world I felt so trapped in, all the other men I met wanted something very different from me. And I knew if I could meet the good on that street, there must be so much more of it off that street and if I ever made it out, I would try and find it. I found it, especially in you Tom Meagher and Alan O’Neil. I have and will always have a place in my life for good men, men who have held me in their arms, wiped my tears and helped me make sense of the world again, in fact my life would be incomplete without them.
It is imperative that Ireland outlaws prostitution if we are to ever achieve true gender equality, because we will never stand shoulder to shoulder with our male counterparts, as long as it is acceptable for us to be on our knees or our backs at their mercy. And the abuse of women and girls whether it’s sexual, physical or emotional abuse can and will end but only when all humans come together to do it and that of course includes men.
In finish, we are approaching an historic date in the Republic, great celebrations will be had and rightly so, to remember the brave men who rose up and fought for our independence and freedom. But the first 100 years of our Republic were not so good for many women and girls. My hope is that the men rise up again and fight for a Republic that truly stands by its belief that we are all equal so that the next 100 years will be different for all of us.
Fir na hEireann, ta an rogha agaibh anois
(Men of Ireland, you have a choice now)