The Good Shepherd Sisters (called also Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd) are a Roman Catholic religious institute for women. In addition to the standard vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Good Shepherd Sisters take the following fourth vow of zeal for souls [to save souls], particularly of women and girls: “I bind myself to labour for the conversion of fallen women and girls needing refuge from the temptation of the world.” [1]

Magdalene asylums were institutions which ran from the 18th to the late 20th centuries ostensibly for “fallen women”, a term used to imply sexual promiscuity.

Asylums for these girls and women (and others believed to be of poor moral character, such as prostitutes) operated throughout Europe, Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States for much of the 19th and well into the 20th century. The first asylum in Ireland opened on Leeson Street in Dublin in 1765, founded by Lady Arabella Denny.

Initially the mission of the asylums was often to rehabilitate women back into society, but by the early 20th century the homes had become increasingly punitive and prison-like. In most of these asylums, the inmates were required to undertake hard physical labour, including laundry and needle work. They also endured a daily regime that included long periods of prayer and enforced silence. In Ireland, such asylums were known as Magdalene laundries. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 women passed through such laundries in Ireland.

The last Magdalene asylum, in Waterford, Ireland, closed on September 25, 1996

The Magdalene movement in Ireland was appropriated by the Catholic Church following Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the homes, which were initially intended to be short-term refuges, increasingly turned into long-term institutions. Penitents were required to work, primarily in laundries, since the facilities were self-supporting and were not funded by either the State or the Religious denominations.

As the Magdalene movement became increasingly distant from the original idea of the Rescue Movement (finding alternative work for prostitutes who could not find regular employment because of their background), the asylums became increasingly prison-like. Supervising nuns were instructed to encourage the women into penance, rather than merely berating them and blocking their escape attempts.

As the phenomenon became more widespread, it extended beyond prostitution to unmarried mothers, mentally retarded women, and abused girls. Even young girls who were considered too promiscuous and flirtatious, or too beautiful, were sent to an asylum by their respective families. This paralleled the practice in state-run asylums in Britain and Ireland in the same period, where many people with alleged “social dysfunction” were committed to asylums. The women were typically admitted to these institutions at the request of family members (mostly men). Without a family member on the outside who would vouch for them, many incarcerated individuals would stay in the asylums for the rest of their lives, many of them taking religious vows. [2]

Why am I telling you this? Surely it’s all ancient history, right? Except it isn’t. Read back. The last of the asylums closed in 1996, a mere 16 years ago.

Why is any of this relevant?

Because, right now, in Ireland. They are fighting the same fight as we are in Scotland. The anti-prostitution lobby is trying to make the purchase of sex illegal. Who are the biggest anti-prostitution lobby group there? The ‘rescue’ organisation who shout that all prostitution is exploitation and abuse?

Let me introduce to the stage, RUHAMA.

Ruhama was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution.  [3]

Yes. They certainly did. Just look how that turned out.

I can’t believe they have the gall to stand there now.




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3 thoughts on ““Rescue”

  1. Pingback: Siobhan McMahon « www.harlotsparlour.com

  2. Pingback: Dirty Laundry « The Honest Courtesan

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