The Government of Canada has become the latest to propose laws which will target pimps and johns in an effort to curb prostitution and human trafficking following a review and consultation process which took less than six months.
During that period the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa received over 30,000 submissions.
This relatively swift action, albeit sparked by a Supreme Court defeat last December and a tight timeline to bring in new laws, stands in marked contrast to a Government Review of the Laws on Irish prostitution — which is already two-years-old.
The review here included a detailed examination of legal options by the Oireachtas Justice Committee — which received 800 written submissions and conducted six-months of hearings.
All sides had an opportunity to give their view, including representatives of the 70 organisations which make up the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign, academics, trade unions, health and legal experts and crucially survivors of prostitution.
The Committee last year unanimously backed the introduction of laws targeting the buyers of sex.
Since the Justice Committee concluded its work, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the French National Assembly as well as a cross party committee at Westminster have also favoured laws targeting buyers of sex.
Each one of these decisions represents a clear recognition that organised crime lies at the heart of a multi-billion euro prostitution racket and the best way to put it out of business is to shut off demand.
Estimates of how much Irish sex buyers contribute to this black market vary, ranging from €180m to €250m a year.
The Government will attempt to put a more concrete figure on this in the coming weeks when for the first time earnings from crime are included in official figures from the Central Statistics Office.
The inclusion of earnings from prostitution must not lead to a normalisation of a crime which relies on human exploitation.
If anything the figures should be a wake-up call and underline the growth of prostitution, partly because of a result of Government inaction.
As a frontline organisation the Immigrant Council of Ireland is all too familiar with the reality of prostitution. We have supported 50 women, all tell a depressingly similar story.
We have heard from victims who were sold as teenagers by their own family members for about €3,000 and sent off to Ireland with false promises of a new life. It is in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport that the dream becomes a nightmare.
Pimps take passports, documents and money from the girls and woman and within hours they are forced to work in brothels — having sex with a dozen men a day.
Of course the sex ‘trade’ does not want you to hear this. It constantly tries to claim that human trafficking does not exist, that Ireland is full of happy independent hookers and that there is no such thing as pimps.
These claims fly in the face of the experiences and findings of the Gardaí, the Criminal Assets Bureau, as well as the institutions of the European Union, the International Labour Organisation, the US State Department and many others.
Anyone who doubts that this crime has not reached our communities has only to look back at the testimony of Senior Gardaí before the Oireachtas Justice Committee in February of last year.
Garda Supt Fergus Healy said: ‘A noticeable change in the industry has occurred in the past two to three years with an increase in the number of foreign nationals associated with the running of the prostitution business in the jurisdiction.
“Some of these individuals are associated with organised crime groups both in the jurisdiction and their countries of origin. It is highly probable that a large percentage of the moneys generated from the industry is being redeployed into organised crime groups, domestically and internationally.’
Those behind the sex ‘trade’ remain silent on these claims.
In the two years that the Government has been reviewing our laws, and despite the recommendations of the Justice Committee, this criminality has continued unabated. It is time for political leadership on this issue.
Europe, major US cities and now Canada are moving to sex buyer laws, to continue doing nothing runs the real risk of Ireland being a soft target for one of the biggest crimes of our time.
* Denise Charlton is chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland