A total of 36 people were stopped by gardaí on suspicion of having purchased sexual services from a prostitute over the weekend.
Between Friday and Sunday last, Gardaí carried out a series of intelligence-led operations across six divisions to target the demand for prostitution under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. The legislation criminalises the purchase of sexual services and the soliciting or purchasing of sex from a trafficked person.
The operations were carried out across Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) North, DMR East, DMR South Central, Wexford, Louth and Kildare. A number of files will now be prepared for the DPP, with a view to establishing if any criminal prosecution should be initiated, arising from the operations.
In a statement, gardaí said the actions carried out over the weekend showed its “commitment to target the demand for prostitution and to protect vulnerable persons, including victims of human trafficking involved in prostitution”.
It comes as Ruhama said it provided support to 313 women of 40 nationalities in 2018, including 122 victims of trafficking from 29 countries.
The organisation, which supports women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking, said the women it assisted last year were provided with a range of supports like advocacy and accompaniment, education and job-seeking, housing and social welfare supports and counselling.
Launching the organisation’s latest annual report, Ruhama CEO Sarah Benson said the new legislation can make Ireland “a hostile market” for pimps and sex traffickers.
“This legislation decriminalises the individual in prostitution, and criminalises the so-called ‘sex-buyer’ in recognition of the role they play in perpetuating sexual exploitation,” she said.
Ms Benson welcomed the operations targeting those purchasing sex but pointed out there has only been one conviction of a sex-buyer to date.
The ‘normative’ effect is the intention of the law: to ensure the public is aware that it is not okay to purchase sexual access to another person.
"You cannot simply bypass meaningful consent by paying money and thereby preying on someone’s financial need or desperately precarious situation,” she said.
However, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), which represents sex workers, has criticised the legislation saying it has had the effect of making sex workers less safe.
Kate McGrew, director of SWAI, pointed out that sex workers sharing premises can be targeted under the law for “brothel-keeping” and that the penalties associated with this have increased under the legislation. As a result, she said that sex workers are now forced to work in isolation, which puts them at further risk of violence and exploitation.
Ms McGrew also pointed out that, although 36 men had been questioned over the weekend, 55 sex workers had been prosecuted for working together in safety.
Solicitor at Abbey Law, Wendy Lyon, took issue with the claim that the brothel-keeping section of the legislation was required to target pimps. She pointed out that they could be charged under organising prostitution or living off the earnings and that the law could be amended to exclude anyone who is selling sex themselves.