“There must now be real concern that criminal gangs, who will see demand reduced in Belfast, Derry and Newry, will now boost their activities in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and other parts of the Republic,” said Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland writing in this newspaper. “There can be no doubt that sex buyers in Northern Ireland, fearing prosecution, will be travelling to border towns and into our cities knowing that here they can purchase sex indoors with no fear of being caught.”
Late on Monday night, politicians at Stormont voted by 81-10 to support laws targeting the buyers of sex. Those laws will make the purchase of sexual services a criminal offence — while decriminalising those in prostitution.
Reacting to the decision, Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, which works with women in prostitution, said: “This bill, which has support from the majority of the political parties in Northern Ireland, sends out a strong signal that those who buy sex, will be held accountable for their key role in fuelling organised crime and perpetrating abuse against victims of trafficking and exploitation.
“As a frontline service, supporting women and girls across the island of Ireland, we support measures which explicitly decriminalise those in prostitution, while simultaneously targeting the source of demand for the commercial sex trade.”
Ms Benson pointed to the range of other countries that had successfully taken the step to criminalise the purchase of sex.
“Norway earlier this year published an evaluation of its law to criminalise the sex buyer, and found that it had been effective in reducing exploitation in the sex trade, and had not an unintended consequence for those in prostitution,” she said.
“There was no indication of an increase in violence for example, as some critics had suggested would occur.”
She said it was now crucial that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald followed suit by implementing legislation to criminalise the purchase of sexual services in the Republic.
“This will ensure that the whole island of Ireland sends a clear message that society is determined to minimise the harm of this horrendous crime and avoid becoming a safe haven for sex-buyers, pimps and traffickers.”
Ms Charlton pointed out that a quick check on escort websites confirmed that 800-1,000 women were for sale here every day. “The gardaí have testified before the Oireachtas that organised criminal gangs, foreign and domestic, run Irish prostitution — while the Central Statistics Office estimate that this activity is part of an underworld of pushers and pimps taking €1.2bn a year from Ireland,” she said.
“Following this week’s Stormont vote, those figures will only increase.”