Vulnerable sex workers have not been given the supports and resources they were promised – supports which could help them leave prostitution and dismantle the illegal sex trade, a new report has found.
An interim review, charting the implementation of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which changed the law to decriminalise the act of selling sex while criminalising the buyer, found that poverty, homelessness and insecure housing, coercion (by pimps, traffickers or partners), lack of education, psychological trauma, isolation and immigration status keep people trapped in the sex trade.
Additional resources were supposed to accompany the new legislation which would allow vital specialist services like the Women’s Health Service (WHS), Ruhama and other NGOs to support those in prostitution, help them plan new futures and leave it for good.
However, although those extra resources were promised, they were not delivered, leaving both State and NGO services struggling to meet needs, the report found.
According to Ruhama, approximately 90% of women want to exit prostitution at some point but have a perception that there are no viable alternatives for them.
Written by child and family law expert, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the report recommends that the right to protection, accommodation, legal advocacy, exit routes from prostitution and support for victims must be protected and enshrined in Irish policy.
It also says that special effort must be made to help sex workers isolated in rural areas and that workers must be assessed for their potential threat of re-victimisation, trauma and health needs.
It advises that police training must continue, helping Gardaí to understand the vulnerabilities and power dynamics of prostitution.
It also recommends the appointment of an Independent National Rapporteur on gender-based violence and exploitation.
The report says: “Funding should be increased to ensure additional resourcing of services supporting women and offering pathways to exit.
Research indicates that 1,000 women work in indoor prostitution in Ireland and more than 800 women are advertised on the internet with sexually explicit pictures and detailed lists of the sexual acts which can be bought.
The latest Trafficking in Persons report published last June referenced 115 investigations into human trafficking in 2017 and 90 in 2016).
It said the government reported 64 investigations in 2018, equal to the number of identified victims and the government initiated each investigation in response to a separate allegation of human trafficking.
Research also shows that 87% - 97% of those involved in prostitution are migrant women aged between 18-58, with fears that girls as young as 16 years could be involved.