On the 1st June, 2015, purchasing a human being for sex was made a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. It was an historic day and a great victory for humanity. I was invited by Lord Morrow to speak at an event which marked this remarkable day, one of the proudest days of my life and these are the words I spoke.
1st June, 2015.
Two hours to Freedom
Two hours, two hours was all it took for me to be in a beautiful city where I can now walk and feel truly free as a woman; because from today in Northern Ireland women and girls are no longer for sale. I had made this same two hour journey 16mths ago, I came to Belfast to bare witness to a crime that had gone unpunished for far too long but that is no longer the case here.
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 then 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 30euros 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 to which I bore witness to in this very building is frightening and disturbing but I had to let you know. 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 Lurther King stated that the laws are not made to change the heart but to restrain the heartless.
I walked off the Burlington Road, on the 10th October, 2010 with the help of a social worker, I knew I would never go back but I didn’t know if I had enough strength inside me to make it back to this world but somehow with the help of many I made it. 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.
Lord Morrow it is a great pleasure to meet you today for I have longed to shake your hand for some time now. I wanted to shake the hand of the person who was brave enough to stand up for those who have no voice, you knew there would be challenges but neither insult nor argument deterred you from your ultimate goal which was justice, in its truest form. I, much like you flatly refuse to renounce my moral autonomy even in the face of adversity. You are indeed a remarkable example of what it means to be both a good citizen and a good human being, which unfortunately can be a rarity within the political arena and yet it is the one crucial place where voices such as yours are needed.
A commend and thank the Justice committee for making this Bill a reality, you listened, you heard, you made your decision and you acted on it immediately that is good governance and it is not the first time that Northern Ireland has shown a great example to the world. That when human dignity is in jeopardy and freedom is at stake, political differences and national sensitivities become irrelevant. And I also applaud and commend the PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland) for being willing and open to becoming part of Europe’s elite and special defenders of human dignity and protectors of freedom.
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.
It is my firm belief that everybody on this Island be they born here or not is entitled to live a dignified life, and prostitution is the systematic stripping of one’s human dignity and I know that because I have lived and witnessed it, and it must no longer be tolerated and now in Northern Ireland the next generation of girls, will grow up knowing that the bodies to which they have been born into are respected and at no time will they ever be up for sale.
I leave you now with the same words I finished my submission with, rhetorical yes but absolute truth and those words are, that at any moment, anyone can do something to make the world a better place, today 1st June, 2015 Northern Ireland, you did that something.
And my heartfelt thanks to you all.
Mia de Faoite