Ruhama criticises lack of sex buyer convictions

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Ruhama — the frontline service for those affected by prostitution — assisted 109 victims of sex trafficking last year, most of them women.

The organisation’s annual report, covering 2017, shows that, overall, it provided direct support to 304 women, men, and trans people, comprising 39 nationalities, over the past 12 months.

It also reveals a growing demand for Ruhama’s services, despite legislation outlawing the purchase of sex while decriminalising individual prostitution.

”Tackling this harm was a key objective of new sexual offences legislation that came into force in March of 2017,” CEO Sarah Benson said.

There have been no convictions so far under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act which came into force early last year.

It was designed to erode Ireland’s sex trade by criminalising the purchase of sex, thereby reducing demand, while also decriminalising those in prostitution as vulnerable persons who should not be criminally targeted,” said Ms Benson.

“We are deeply disappointed that no convictions against sex buyers have been secured under this legislation to date.

“The law cannot, therefore, be said to have been fully implemented. This means that the trade continues to have a customer base operating with impunity, and therefore continues to thrive, as do the organised criminal gangs profiting from the sexual exploitation of women.”

The organisation says more must be done to address the serious harms associated with Ireland’s commercial sex trade.

In 2017, Ruhama provided individually tailored supports to people from 39 nations, including 109 victims of sex trafficking from four continents. The vast majority of those seeking support were women.

Ms Benson said the critical need for dedicated support services for those affected by prostitution and trafficking is highlighted by the demand for its services.

More than 3,000 face-to-face meetings and more than 23,000 telephone contacts were undertaken last year by the service’s frontline team.

“The women we support face many challenging life circumstances and lack of opportunities that are so often causal factors for women’s vulnerability to entering prostitution or being trafficked in the first place,” said Ms Benson. “These vulnerabilities are compounded by levels of violence and exploitation experienced within the Irish sex trade that many would find hard to even imagine.”

Ms Benson said Ruhama encouraged women to report incidences of violence to the gardaí.

Women tell us of many incidences of physical violence, rape, and sexual assault, which they have experienced at the hands of sex buyers, pimps, traffickers, and opportunistic criminals alike,” she said.

“The long-term physical and psychological consequences of such attacks cannot be underestimated. Yet every day we are struck by women’s capacity to overcome trauma, to assert their human rights, and to fight for justice. In 2017, we supported dozens of women to formally report crimes committed against them to An Garda Síochána, and a number of others to more informally share information about assaults and other offences against them.

“These women took this brave step because they wished to see the perpetrators held accountable and to protect others who are similarly vulnerable within a very violent trade.”

While welcoming the effort of some Garda units to support those in prostitution to safely report crimes against them, Ms Benson said this was not enough.

“We need swift and decisive action from An Garda Síochána to effectively target both sex buyers and prostitution organisers using this important legislation that they now have at their disposal,” she said. “The Government must also raise public awareness that it is now a crime to purchase sex.”

Ruhama urges anyone who finds themselves in a difficult situation in Ireland’s sex trade, or who is concerned about someone they know, to contact them for support on 01 836 0292, or text the word ‘reach’ for free to 50100.

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