Online prostitution ‘soaring’ here

Online prostitution is soaring as sex buyers from Northern Ireland head south to avoid new laws.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland published figures yesterday showing five months after Stormont’s sex buyer laws came into force, online prostitution levels are now 240% higher in southern border areas than in the North. The figures also reveal the number of women selling sexual services in Cork is now higher than in all of Northern Ireland.

The Stormont Assembly passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill in June, which included a clause making paying for sex a criminal offence.

The Immigrant Council, which supports victims of sex-trafficking, warned at the time that the move would push sex buyers over the border to escape the law, and that the pimps and traffickers would follow. Last night, the council said the latest figures show the urgent need for the Dáil to urgently pass the new Sexual Offences Bill here by Christmas, and to restore an all-island approach to the issue.

In a snapshot survey, the group examined escort websites on Tuesday and found:

  • 68 women were profiled in southern border counties, compared to 20 in the North — 240% more in the south than in the North;
  • 79 women were for sale in Cork — more than the combined total of 77 in Northern Ireland;
  • Online prostitution was over 500% higher in Limerick, with 55 women profiled and 48 profiled in Galway, compared to eight women profiled in Derry;
  • Online prostitution is now clustering along the M1 out of Northern Ireland, with 29 women profiled in Co Louth compared to two in Down and three in Armagh.

Denise Charlton, a trafficking expert with the Immigrant Council, said the findings show those running the trade are now seeking to exploit the difference in law between north and south.

“Five months after Northern Ireland moved to smash the business model for pimps, traffickers and thugs who run prostitution it seems clear the evil sex trade is seeking to exploit the differences in law between the two jurisdictions on the island,” she said.

“While these figures are just a snapshot of online activity, they are in line with similar reviews carried out at the time the Northern Ireland laws came into force on June 1 last — when a 51% increase in prostitution was recorded along Southern border counties.”

The council’s chief executive, Brian Killoran, called on politicians here to act quickly.

“Prostitution is a vicious, brutal and exploitative criminal enterprise which must be shut down by targeting the source of the cash involved. These findings show that we must follow Northern Ireland’s lead and act without delay,” he said.

“We are again calling on all politicians to ensure that the Sexual Offences Bill introduced by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, TD, becomes reality by Christmas,” he said.

The draft legislation which will criminalise those who buy sex, but which will not decriminalise soliciting in public, or sex work in brothels, was approved by the Cabinet in September.

The proposed legislation also aims to provide greater protections for children from sexual exploitation, it updates the law in the area of grooming, and also contains strengthened offences to tackle child pornography.

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