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A few years ago a good friend of mine talked me out of my customary sloth and into agreeing to run the mini marathon with her.  Seems a work colleague of hers was involved with a charity called Ruhama and was keen to raise much needed funds. I’d never heard of them but agreed to participate more for the laugh and the much needed exercise than for the worthiness of the cause. As it happens the cause is worthy in the extreme.

Along with tens of thousands of other women a small group of us donned the tee-shirts and took to the streets to raise what money we could whilst enjoying a really great day out. Later, as we rewarded ourselves with chilled white wine and barbequed food in Lynn’s back garden she chatted about her involvement as a volunteer with Ruhama (Hebrew for renewed life) and the practical, no-nonsense and dignified approach that this non-judgemental organisation takes to supporting women affected by prostitution and human trafficking in Ireland.

Lynn regularly volunteers with the Ruhama outreach service operating in Dublin city centre and the Dochas Centre and providing a safe haven for women working on the streets. A small group of women volunteers travel by dedicated bus offering their clients respect, cups of tea, advice and practical follow-up support. She herself has taken bewildered young Eastern European girls into her own home, providing them with shelter and safety as they tried to break free from the horrible, sinister situation they found themselves in whilst alone, far from home and often unable to speak English.

Although established in 1989 as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters (and I must admit that as a committed secularist I am deeply suspicious of and resistant to all things religious) the organisation appears to be not in any way proselytising in nature and in fact may well embody all that is good and laudable about a Christian ethos. As such it is a welcome antidote to the repugnant underbelly of organised religion that has been exposed here in recent years.

Taking the stance that prostitution and the social and cultural attitudes which sustain it are deeply rooted in gender inequality and social marginalisation, Ruhama unequivocally affirms that prostitution represents violence against women and a violation of human rights. On a macro level the organisation engages in vital advocacy work directed at legislators and brokers of change and also liaises with the various drug and housing services that their clients will come in contact with as they move towards a safe and stable life.

On an individual level the approach is more nuanced. Ruhama engages in befriending women involved in prostitution and supporting them practically and emotionally as they attempt to move on and reintegrate successfully and happily into mainstream society. Treating women with dignity and working with them in a way that best suits their personal circumstances is a core principle. For example Ruhama volunteers will often accompany their clients through our intimidating and adversarial courts system; offering them legal advice, friendship and solidarity as required.

Education is a cornerstone of their vital work and Ruhama offers classes ranging from basic literacy and English to financial support for those participating in third level education. Holistic therapies afforded to women including art therapy, stress management and relaxation.

In recent years this organisation has had to adapt to the changing nature of prostitution in Ireland, most notably the increase in the number of migrant women, most of them trafficked into prostitution. When my husband, inspired by my stroll around town, ran the marathon for Ruhama in 2005 he raised €2000 and received a lovely letter telling him that he had paid the bill for their vital interpreter services for that year. How wonderful to know that you have made a real, tangible difference to the betterment of people’s lives!

The roll-the-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in approach adopted by this organisation has impressed me greatly ever since I first encountered them almost a decade ago. However, they still have the capacity to stop me in my tracks. Just when I thought that they were doing all that is imaginably possible to help women caught in the mire of prostitution, including shaping government policy, they surprise me yet again.

“5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”

Last week I received a tweet from @RuhamaAgency (I urge you all to follow them) outlining a new and incredibly laudable initiative. It read “5th Year boys from Belvedere College visited Ruhama today. Great to see the men of the future interested in combating the sex trade”. This represents yet another forward-thinking and utterly practical policy. In my experience the vast majority of young (and not so young) men are incredibly respectful towards women and have a strong sense of the injustice of discrimination. Helping women find their way out of prostitution in no way represents a battle of the sexes. More fundamentally it is a battle of the right thinking against those who would profit from the misery of others.

So if you’re looking for a cause to fund or even one to rally behind then don’t forget Ruhama. Every cent raised will be efficiantly and effectively used for the betterment of the lives of women who really need our help.

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There never was a truer proverb than “ignorance is bliss”; certainly, the daily trawl through the news sites can take years off a life. It’s a topic I turn to constantly in late-night discussions – is knowledge an essential weapon, or a poisoned chalice? Are we better people for knowing the dank corners of a life gone awry, or is curiosity really the Achilles heel to an otherwise purring pussycat? Yes. Note that when I say “late-night”, I obviously mean so late the cows are heading out again, and when I say “discussion”,  I’m really referring to drunken flame wars with similarly battle-scarred snobs. Such is the pomposity of my posse.

Anyway, the point is that each day is made up of weighty and depressing events, so even the most analytical can be forgiven for turning to the gossip columns, the ents pages, the frothy stuff from time to time, just to take a load off. I do like to cast a narrowed eye over cavorting celebrities, now and then, even though I know it’s an empty pursuit, even though my time would be better spent giving myself an eyeball scraping or beading the guest bedroom curtains. Sometimes I enjoy an indulgent slither into stupidity. Sue me.

Which is why I know that this week there were much, much more depressing, crucial stories than Wayne Rooney’s cheating on wife Coleen with a blabbermouth call-girl. And yet this silly piece of celebrity goss really got to me. It dug its glossy little claws in and refused to let go. In truth, I care very little about what goes on in other people’s marriages; each couple has their own way of looking at their relationship and their place in the wider world, and all of the hand-wringing your claws can spin through won’t change that. What bothered me about this sorry tale was the details of the naughty succubus, a young woman called Jennifer Thompson, who went to the tabloids with the particulars of her business relationship with Rooney and, presumably, was paid well to spill the beans.

There’s no point rehashing the story again. The Daily Mail and The News Of The World and The Sun will tell you all you need to know. In summation, though, we have a spoilt young man with more money than he could possibly know what to do with, and a healthy, educated young woman with a supportive family, making absolute twats of themselves on a very public stage.

And I can see no advantage for either party here. In the past, girls n’ fellas who resorted to the kiss n’ tell got themselves a substantial cheque and a saucy two-page spread in the paper, which was as happy a boon as the fame-hungry but talentless could expect from temporarily relegating themselves to a mindless sex object in a fetching pair of kecks. In this instance, though, Jennifer Thompson has told the world that she’s not only a wannabe-WAG, but a prostitute, a revelation the majority of your peers will judge you for, whether or not they liked Billie Piper’s turn in Belle Du Jour. It’s like telling your neighbours you sell heroin, or get off on crushing porn (that’s “crushing” porn, not using your steely determination to bring down Hugh Hefner and all he stands for); people aren’t going to see it as one of your good points. And sure enough, the tabloids have now plundered Thompson’s Facebook page for her holiday snaps, photos of her and her mum, details of her friends, their photographs. She’s been painted as a desperate party-girl, happy to sell her body to fund her hedonistic lifestyle because she’s far too self-centred and lazy to get a real job. Thompson’s father has even made a public statement apologising to Coleen Rooney! Surely this could not have been what Thompson was after when she sold the story of her relationship with the famous footballer? Surely she didn’t expect and accept that she would be called a “£1,200-a-night vice girl”, that her beloved father would be headlined all over the country as “Hooker’s Dad, Hamish”. But if not … Jesus, what did she think would happen? The mind doesn’t just boggle, it separates, scrambles and serves itself up on toast.

It’s difficult to feel sorry for the girl; I’m not as altruistic as all that. I just cannot figure out how anyone would choose to put themselves through the gleeful condemnation of her country, and beyond, just for the price of a new car.

As for Rooney, it’s not so difficult to understand how he could have wedged himself into such a torrid little corner. He’s not going to be called a dirty slapper for engaging in threesomes with pretty prostitutes, and his fans care only for his prowess on the pitch. Having said that, he must be feeling the deep embarrassment he’s brought on his young wife, the mother of his baby son. So why, then, compromise his home life for the wannabe WAG, the party girl christened “Premier League Jenny” because of her taste in partners? What do these daft footballers think is going to happen when they cheat with fame-hungry hangers-on? I know they pay extra for it, but do they really expect discretion?

I’m no old crone, myself; I’m in my twenties too, so it’s not as if Thompson and Rooney’s generation is something wildly alien to me. Still, it depresses the stuffing out of me that we’ve become so celebrity-obsessed, so into the pursuit of fame, that we’ll trade it all for a night with a recommended call girl or a bone thrown from a tabloid newspaper.

Then, I am reading all of this crap from gossip websites, am I not? Oh, tis a vicious circle and no mistake, and not a clever one to loop into, after all.

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