An overhaul of prostitution laws to reflect the changing nature of the sex industry will be discussed at a conference held by Justice Minister Alan Shatter in the autumn.
The Oireachtas justice committee has invited submissions from the public on the issue and hopes to invite contributors to public hearings when the Dáil returns in September.
A discussion document sent to the committee by Mr Shatter said the law was being reviewed due to the “changed nature of prostitution in Ireland.”
Mr Shatter said prostitution was not street-based any more and was now “sophisticated, highly mobile”, and “facilitated by the use of mobile phones and the internet”.
A spokesperson for the minister said: “The widest possible participation will be encouraged [at the conference] in order that we will have an open and transparent discussion on all aspects of this very important issue.”
The law on prostitution was last reviewed in 1993. The minister said “prostitution in Ireland has largely moved indoors” since then.
Modern communication technologies make it easier for clients to contact prostitutes, he said. They make it easier for prostitutes to “arrange their business, including the setting up of short-term brothels, eg, in rented apartment buildings, which can quickly be moved from location to location”.
However, despite the changed industry, the country’s support service for women in prostitution said the impact on women’s lives stayed the same.
Ruhama said this week it recorded an 18% increase in the number of people accessing its services. Last year it assisted 200 women from 36 countries.
Ninety-one of these were the suspected victims of human trafficking and 22 were new cases. They also helped another 41 women through their street outreach work.
Ruhama CEO Sarah Benson said the experiences women reported to the service last year “sadly echo those reported by women every year for the last 22 years”.
Ruhama chairwoman Valerie Judge said: “There is no other service in Ireland to assist women in the often complex process of exiting from prostitution, despite the reality that up to and over 90% of those in prostitution wish to get out. While each woman has a unique experience of prostitution, the harm and violence inherent in the sex trade remains consistent in all their stories, irrespective of whether they were involved in street-based or indoor prostitution.”
The closing date for submissions from groups or individuals to the Oireachtas committee is Aug 31.
It is seeking submissions on other issues “to contribute to the policy-making process” including the cash for gold trade and violence arising from alcohol and substance abuse.
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