We cannot have prostitutes cast as criminals or victims, depending on which side of the border they are in, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has urged.
INMO director of social policy Edward Mathews said legislation would be introduced in the North on June 1 that would make it illegal to pay for sex.
Last November, the Government published the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which criminalises those who purchase sexual services.
There are now fears that prostitutes will move south of the border if the criminalisation of the user, which is being introduced in the North, is not replicated across the country.
Mr Mathews, during an INMO conference in Dublin yesterday on the health effects of prostitution, called for the Criminal Law Bill to be passed as quickly as possible.
“We cannot have a situation where on one side of the island people who are being abused are recognised as victims and on the other they are cast as criminals,” he said.
Mr Mathews said there must be an all-island approach taken towards prostitution, with those who purchase sex and those who organise prostitution severely punished.
Linda Latham, a senior nursing practitioner, said it was more difficult to manage the psychological impacts of prostitution than the physical ones. “It is crucial that we look after the person’s well-being as well as their sexual health,” she said.
Ms Latham said the health service looked after the needs of about 300 women a year and about 120 would be new clients.
Mai De Faoite, a former prostitute, said a social worker helped her quit after spending almost six years on the streets of Dublin. “I could not see any choices but she could. I was so disconnected. I did not know how or if I would ever escape,” she said.
Ms De Faoite, who had worked for the HSE, became addicted to heroin and turned to prostitution to feed her habit.
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