Prostitute support groups welcome Garda initiative

CAMPAIGNERS and support groups for prostitutes have welcomed a Garda initiative targeting the users of street prostitutes.

Gardaí have arrested 64 men as part of an undercover operation aimed at tackling a problem of street prostitution in Dublin’s north inner city.

Some 63 of these men — who come from all social backgrounds — have been convicted for soliciting prostitutes and an arrest warrant has been issued for another.

The operation is being carried out by Bridewell Garda Station, under the direction of Insp Tony Healy, under the supervision of Supt Jim Hynes and divisional Chief Supt Pat Leahy.

Ruhama, a support group working with prostitutes, congratulated the gardaí in Bridewell. It said the “zero tolerance” approach to buyers resulted in large numbers of men before the courts.

The group said the operation recognised the inequality in prostitution and took into account the vulnerability of prostitutes. Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson said: “Regrettably street prostitution still exists in Dublin and other major urban regions around Ireland. Most of the women involved in street prostitution are Irish and come from positions of vulnerability, such as poverty, drug misuse, homelessness and abuse. We welcome the Garda approach not to criminalise these women but instead try to help them to engage support services which will help them exit the sex trade.”

The group has seen an increase in women engaging with its service since the operation began last October. They believe this could be due to a “decreased fear” of being arrested or a fall in the number of buyers, with the fear of arrest acting as a deterrent.

Ruhama said it believed the initiative will have a an impact in reducing street-based prostitution and called on the Garda Commissioner to consider widening the operation to all Garda stations.

Local Labour councillor Emer Costello, who has campaigned on the issue, said: “I very much welcome gardaí targeting the men who are accessing the services of prostitutes. We are moving towards the Swedish model where the accessing of the services of prostitutes is a criminal act and an act of violence against women. It’s almost a complete reversal of the arrest situation.”

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