Attempts to eliminate prostitution — now described politely as sex work — have been made by governments and religious authorities for almost as long as the commerce has existed.
Laws and penalties across the planet vary widely.
In jurisdictions where the business is legal, procuring and advertising sexual services is not. Indian law decrees that prostitution in a private house is legal, but illegal when it is conducted in a hotel.
In countries where it’s not permitted — no ifs or buts — punishments range from jail to the death penalty. What is clear is that none of these controls have worked, which is not to condone in any way a dark market that puts lives in harm’s way, or to complain about laws designed to protect those — women and men — who sell these services. It is simply about accepting the reality of a demand that will endure.
Ireland’s well-intentioned attempt to curb the trade and protect prostitutes was to import the so-called Nordic model with the 2017 Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act.
It nevertheless puts women at risk by retaining brothel-keeping as an offence, and paradoxically turns the purchase of services into a crime while leaving their sale legal.
The jailing in Kildare of two migrant women — one of whom is pregnant — for brothel-keeping suggests that the law is not working as intended.
It does not appear to have made this country a less attractive territory for foreign sex workers or, perhaps, for those whose vile business is trafficking bodies.
A convincing case for repealing the law has yet to be made, but a review is undoubtedly needed.