Legalising sex industry linked to trafficking

IF prostitutes are so prevalent in this country, if there are so many men willing to use their services, should prostitution be legalised?

Some argue that the women would get proper health screening — and be freed from the risk of trafficking because they would not fear approaching a police force to report what has happened to them. Punters who assaulted them would also be more open to the rigours of the law.

Four of the five reasons given for legalisation in New Zealand had to do with the protection and health of the sex workers and the fifth was to protect children.

However, according to those who have studied arguments for and against legalisation, it would certainly be regressive.

MEP Simon Coveney said: “From my experience working in the European parliament, the countries that have legalised prostitution have contributed significantly to the problem of a growing sex industry and have not successfully protected prostitutes, which is the argument for legalising brothels.

“In fact, countries like Germany, Austria and Holland have some of the highest numbers of young women who are being trafficked from outside the European Union and from other European countries into their sex industries and do experience forced prostitution, despite the fact that brothels have been legalised.”

In their report, The Links between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: A Briefing Handbook, for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Monica O’Connor and Gráinne Healy argued that legalisation promoted the sex industry as a legitimate business and an acceptable career for girls and women.

“Pimps can ensure the supply of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation with the approval of the State. Legalisation removes every legal impediment to pimping, procuring and brothels. Traffickers can use work permits to bring foreign women into the prostitution industry, masking the fact that women have been trafficked, by coaching them to describe themselves as independent migrant sex workers.”

“Claims that legalisation is necessary to safeguard the health of women are used to disguise the reality that it is the health and safety of the customer which the industry seeks to protect. There are no safe zones for women in the sex industry. When legal barriers disappear, so too do the social and ethical barriers to treating women as sexual merchandise. Legalisation of prostitution sends the message to new generations of men and boys that women are sexual commodities and that prostitution is harmless fun.”

Ireland is only now really coming to terms with the issue of trafficking.

Under current Irish criminal law it is an offence, punishable by up to life imprisonment, to traffic a person under 17 years, male or female, into, through or out of Ireland for the purpose of that person’s sexual exploitation.

It is also illegal for a person to organise or knowingly facilitate the entry into Ireland of another person whom that person knows or has reasonable cause to believe is an illegal immigrant.

However, legislation creating an offence of trafficking in persons for the specific purpose of sexual or labour exploitation is contained in the draft Criminal Justice (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill which is yet to come into law.

The General Scheme of the Bill was approved by Government on July 19. It was forwarded to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, where it is currently being drafted.

It introduces new specific offences of trafficking persons (adults and children) into, through or out of Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation, labour exploitation or removal of organs.

But even when that legislation does come into effect, Ruhama — a group working with women involved in prostitution — has said it would not be effective enough.

“Ruhama has concerns about the effectiveness of this anti-trafficking law as it has no provisions that set out the fundamental protection and assistance mechanisms for the victims of trafficking. Furthermore, the bill differentiates sharply between the legislative protections it provides to vulnerable children and those that it provides to vulnerable adults,” a spokeswoman said.

“Ruhama believes the neglect of these vital components will undermine the effectiveness of the proposed legislation and indeed may reinforce some of the structural factors that give rise to trafficking.”

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