Turn off the red light

The chance to end a sex trade which places 1,000 women for sale on the internet has arrived, writes Denise Charlton

THE opportunity to change Irish law to end a sex trade which has brought organised crime to our doorsteps and places 1,000 women for sale on the internet every day has arrived.

After three years of campaigning, TDs and senators today start hearings to review the laws on prostitution.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) is one of 64 organisations which have united under the banner Turn Off the Red Light to demand that the laws which target the buyers of sex in an effort to end criminal activity. Today we make our case to the Oireachtas justice committee.

We have been joined by representatives of doctors, nurses, technicians, postal and telecommunications workers, public servants, survivors of prostitution, young farmers, human rights campaigners, and many more to demand this change.

All of us are united in the firm belief that the best way to end exploitation, abuse, violence, and sex trafficking is to reduce demand and absolutely refute the notion that prostitution is a harmless commercial transaction between consenting adults. It is a fact that Irish sex buyers are fuelling trafficking, abuse, and organised crime.

Barack Obama, speaking at a Clinton Foundation event in New York in September, identified human trafficking as modern-day slavery and committed the full resources of the US federal government to combat the problem.

Here sex trafficking is the most common form of this scourge. Pimps, traffickers, and other criminals trample over human rights for a so-called industry which the Criminal Assets Bureau estimates takes between €180m and €250m a year from our communities.

The presence of children in Ireland’s indoor sex trade is beyond dispute. During a 21-month period in 2007 and 2008, the ICI identified 102 cases of sexual exploitation — with 11 involving minors. In addition to the 11 cases highlighted in our research, the Department of Justice figures confirm 22 cases of children being sex trafficked in 2010 and 2011 with a further six trafficked in the first nine months of this year. We may never know how many go undiscovered.

Prostitution in Ireland is organised. One of the survivors we have worked with has told us how girls were kept two to an apartment and had to be available 24/7 to clients. If they refused, complained, or failed to answer a call, the fine was €400. Another tells of working from 7pm to 5am and having sex with up to 10 men each night.

The media too, through investigations over the past year in the Irish Examiner as well as on RTÉ and TV3, have highlighted the organised nature of prostitution.

The Government is looking at various options to change our outdated laws which were written for a different time.

One of the options being considered is legalisation, as in Holland. However, the sex trade rarely speaks of the disaster which has unfolded there following the decision in Oct 2010 to licence brothels. They do not want Irish legislators or the public to know that up to 90% of prostitutes are working against their will, that 50% of Amsterdam’s licensed brothel managers have criminal records, or that the country is now the human trafficking hub of Europe.

Amsterdam is embarrassed by what has happened. The city council is moving to close one third of brothels in an effort to curb a trade which has brought nothing but misery to all involved, with the exception of pimps.

This stands in stark contrast to the experience in Sweden.

The Oireachtas justice committee has visited Stockholm to see the success of the laws there. In addition, during October the ICI invited Swedish vice detective inspector Simon Haggstrom to Leinster House where he confirmed that demand for prostitution in Sweden has halved.

Twelve years after changing the law there are now 250 prostitutes for sale on the internet in Sweden, with a population of about 9.5m — compare that to the 1,000 prostitutes for sale in Ireland, with a population of approximately 4.5m.

It is commonplace for the sex trade to attempt to undermine the Swedish experience. But ask yourself, why do pimps hate Swedish law? Because it works.

Ireland is a soft target for those who are pocketing millions by destroying the lives of others.

The decisions which will be made in the coming weeks will not only determine how pimps view Ireland — but will impact for a generation.

* Denise Charlton is chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland

* RELATED STORY:

Oireachtas committee to discuss prostitution legislation

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