Moves to criminalise buying sex welcomed

Campaigners have welcomed a unanimous call by an Oireachtas committee for the buyers of sex — but not the sellers — to be criminalised.

Moves to criminalise buying sex welcomed

A report by the Oireachtas Justice Committee — based on extensive hearings and submissions — has gone to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who is conducting a review on prostitution laws.

Members of all the political parties in the committee called on Mr Shatterto implement their recommendations as soon as possible.

As reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, the report includes strong support for the Swedish model which criminalises the purchase of sex, but decriminalises its sale.

“The recommendations of this report are a validation of the need to shift the focus of the law from those who are vulnerable and exploited in prostitution, who need support and not convictions, towards the sex buyers,” said Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, which works with prostitutes.

“Criminalising those who fuel the demand for women and girls for their own sexual satisfaction, is the most effective way to tackle trafficking and exploitation of prostitution.”

Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said: “The members of the Oireachtas committee have heard that prostitution is absolutely linked to organised crime and is run by Irish and foreign gangs.”

The committee report calls for increased penalties for sex trafficking and organising prostitution, a trade valued at over €180m in Ireland in 2009.

Chairman David Stanton said they wanted regulation of massage parlours, some of which are used for prostitution, and for gardaí to be given the power to disable telephone numbers used for prostitution and take action against related websites.

The report said it found “compelling” evidence in favour of the Swedish model, including:

nReduction in size of the prostitution industry there;

nFall in the trafficking of women for prostitution;

nExtensive harm reduction and support services for prostitutes;

nIdentification of prostitution as a “social wrong” and a violation of gender equality.

The report said the criminality and harms associated with prostitution “outweighed” any considerations in favour of those voluntarily involved in prostitution.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn said the report was a “challenge to men” in Ireland. “For far too long there has been an accepted culture that it’s okay for men to purchase services of women,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Shatter said the minister expected the report to be debated in the Oireachtas.

He said the committee’s recommendations, along with views expressed at a conference on prostitution organised by the department last October, would be “fully considered” in the framing of legislative proposals.

A cruel life

Three former prostitutes spoke in private sessions to the committee. One of them said she was raped a number of times, including a gang rape. Another said there was “a tsunami” of violence in prostitution. All three said they were disgusted by their experiences and felt powerless and worthless. They said most of their clients were middle- to upper-middle class men and they believed most were married.

- The stories I read about how glamorous it’s supposed to be make me ill. It’s a hard cruel life filled with lies, beatings, and rape. In the end you feel like a toilet. People call you terrible names when you get caught, even the ones you love turn on you.” — Former prostitute.

- “I am a woman making my own way in the world and I am happy doing what I’m doing. I will be out of the industry in three years and will have a number of properties to run, all 100% paid for.” — Current prostitute.

- “Girls who are post-puberty by only a year or two are routinely lusted after, sought out, highly prized and then abused for enough years [until] they’ve lost much of their commercial value.” — Former prostitute, who entered the trade at age 15.

- “On a few occasions per year we employ the services of a lady who is very pleasant and very well paid to spend the night with my son, in order to let my dear son feel the companionship and warmth of a beautiful woman which he cannot have in his real life.” — A mother of a man with physical disability.

- “My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. I have found myself in the role of sex educator, therapist, confidante or carer.” — Current prostitute.

- “A large percentage of the moneys generated from the industry is being re-deployed into organised crime groups, domestically and internationally.” — Supt Fergus Healy, An Garda Síochána.

- “Prostitution is incompatible with the dignity and safety associated with a job... a society that tolerates prostitution cannot achieve gender equality.” — Turn Off The Red Light campaign

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