The number of women trafficked to Ireland and forced into prostitution could be cut if vice laws were reformed to target the men who pay for sex, it was claimed today.
An international conference on trafficking and prostitution will hear how changes in legislation in Sweden have halved street prostitution and slashed organised crime.
The event is staged in Dublin by the Dignity Project, which ran a two-year EU funded project researching tried and tested solutions to target trafficking and improving services for victims of the sex industry.
Grainne Healy, of the Dignity Project, said one of the most effective initiatives looked at was legislation in Sweden where it criminalises those who purchase sex, but not those selling it.
“The Swedish approach is a workable solution that could easily be adopted by other EU member states and, indeed, the EU could play a role in promoting its application,” she added.
Patrik Cederlof, National Co-ordinator Against Prostitution and Trafficking in Sweden, will be among the delegates addressing the conference.
A 10-year review of its law showed it changed the landscape of the sex industry, halving street prostitution and reducing organised criminal activity.
In Stockholm, which has a population of 1.5 million, now has approximately 200 people in prostitution compared with Barcelona, which has the same population, which has 200,000 prostitutes.
Irish officials have travelled to Sweden to assess the effectiveness of the law and it is understood the Attorney General is examining the constitutional implications of reforming laws to penalise those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.
Ms Healy said the legislation cut demand for prostitution and trafficking in Ireland.
The Dignity Project is also seeking greater co-operation and efficiency across agencies that deal with victims of trafficking, including policing, health services, accommodation and counselling.
It is estimated 100,000 people are trafficked within the EU each year with more than 1,000 women and girls subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in Ireland. The majority are believed to be migrants.
Ruhama, which supports victims of trafficking and prostitution, helped almost 200 women from the underground sex industry in 2009, of which 66 were victims of trafficking. Two were children when they were trafficked in to the country.
Last week a group of high-profile Irish men, including leading trade unionists and social campaigners, joined the campaign calling on the incoming Government to update legislation to mirror laws in Sweden.