We can't let voodoo cast spell on our courtrooms
Allowing a prostitute's belief in the occult to be a factor in criminal probes is a bit like clambering onto a judicial ghost train, writes Cathal McCarthy
Sunday October 26 2008
OBVIOUSLY now that we're in a recession, with schoolgirls pulled out of Mount Anville to sell matches on the street corners and wolves preying on pensioners out collecting sticks for kindling in Stepaside, we shall have to be a little more discerning about where the couple of bob left in the State coffers is to be spent.
Kidney dialysis? Possibly. Winter fuel allowance. Hmmmm. New school for the kids down the country? Yeah, but aren't they all a little predictable? A little ho-hum?
Is there nothing with a little more snap about it on which to lavish the last couple of bob rolling around the bottom of the biscuit jar?
I know. What about a fully resourced specialist garda unit to investigate the plight of Nigerian prostitutes who have been trafficked into Ireland but find themselves unable to help in prosecuting the pimps because of the fact that they gave a witchdoctor a hostage lock of hair during a voodoo ceremony?
That's more like it. Where's the cheque book?
Last Monday saw Geraldine Rowley of Ruhama, the charity "that works for, and with, prostitutes", pop up on Mary Wilson's Drivetime to explain why -- whatever about the medical cards and the substitute teachers and those other trifles -- no time could be lost addressing the spectre of a zombie curse stalking the corridors of Ireland's Nigerian-staffed brothels.
In fairness to Geraldine, she had raised this particular problem some four weeks ago at one of the PowerPoint-and-Custard Creams conferences that have so distinguished this era of the quango. Ms Rowley explained the delicate nature of the problems around getting the prostitutes to 'fess up on their pimps'.
"Some tribes use voodoo. When they (the prostitutes) are recruited, and when they leave, they take a piece of their hair or whatever, and they make a contract where they have to promise to do what the person says. They totally believe it as a fact, they are scared. It is a form of control. The traffickers control their minds," explained the Director of Ruhama (Hebrew for 'renewed life', apparently).
Of course, we have to be properly sensitive to the belief systems of Nigerian prostitutes. What kind of state would not be? And one finds oneself warming towards Ms Rowley; this is not glamorous or easy work. We imagine that a great deal of patience is required when one commits oneself to the area of voodoo rescue. Nevertheless, nagging doubts remain about the Ruhama premise, the 'jump-off' point for Ms Rowley's admirable plea.
Prostitution is a crime. So is people-trafficking. Whether the individuals involved believe in voodoo, Christianity, or a fairy at the bottom of the garden is, we humbly submit, a matter of supreme indifference to the workings of the judicial system. Ms Rowley will surely be able to see that introducing the notion of special treatment or sensitivity on the grounds of vulnerability derived from a belief in voodoo might not, perhaps, be the most sensible basis for proceeding.
If we accept the existence of a belief in voodoo as being in any way material to our legal system, do we not all clamber gently into a judicial ghost train? I know what Ms Rowley is getting at, but I'm not sure it's possible and I'm very sure it's positively undesirable.
For instance, how will we get m'learned friends to drink this chicken blood, as it were?
It's all very complicated. And that's before we even try incorporating the study of Live and Let Die or Graham Greene's The Comedians into the barrister's course up in King's Inns. Nor does Ms Rowley confine herself to commenting on how a belief by prostitutes in voodoo curses might be factored in to investigations of international prostitution. Addressing that part of new legislation that will permit victims of trafficking 45 days of a recovery period before they even face the possibility of deportation, Ms Rowley said that in the case of the victims of 'mind control' this was insufficient.
Again, one sees the charity being extended; one is struck by the nobility. But the problems present themselves immediately. Why would the mind control exerted on a poor trafficked prostitute through a voodoo ceremony be considered any more onerous or worthy of consideration than the mind control exerted on a Moldavian lap dancer who had to listen to Life is a Rollercoaster every night while she rubbed herself against a pole?
There is, of course, another possibility. It is that some Nigerian prostitutes might deliberately give the good people of Ruhama an earful of this kind of blood-curdling glimpse of the dark side in the hope of buying a couple of months grace from the long-haul deportation back to balmy Lagos and the other equatorial paradises that host the 'shrines' at which those locks of hair are plucked. But that would be cynical of us.
Yes, I think we may discount that one.
I don't know enough about voodoo to judge the significance of the problem Ms Rowley and the good people of Ruhama wish us to address. Personally, I've always had a soft spot for voodoo religious practice which seems to revolve around some serious strutting and scissor-kick dance moves, all of which is groovy. But I'm sure there are some bad bits as well, the voodoo equivalent of the folk choir. And there's definitely some health and safety issue around flailing knives in darkened rooms and draping live snakes around heaving bosoms while spitting rum through flaming torches.
The problem here is probably my own little inner voodoo child. For instance, last night I dreamt of a meeting in Merrion Street at which a group of committed advocates that work for and with prostitutes argue with a group of buttoned-down, voodoo-sceptics, who work for and with a €15bn current budget deficit, over the merits of funding a specialist garda unit to remedy the fear and fog of misunderstanding around follicle-based juju curses. I know it's puerile, but that's me. I still woke up with a smile and in top form.
I hope the suits give you the money, Geraldine.
Roll them bones and the best of luck.