This week the European Commission published a harrowing and challenging report on the slavery of our times — human trafficking.
It makes grim reading and confirms that without people using whatever service these abused and dislocated people are forced to provide the crime would not be as prevalent or as lucrative.
The EC reported that hundreds of thousands of people are trafficked — kidnapped — in the EU every year. Women and men, boys and girls, invariably poor and vulnerable, are traded for sexual or labour exploitation, removal of organs, begging, domestic service, forced marriage, illegal adoption or other abuses.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that just over 20 million people are so enslaved across the world, 5.5m of them children. Europol, the European police collective, say that children forced into criminal activities, such as organised begging or shoplifting, are traded for €20,000 a time. Trafficking in people generates more than €25 billion a year.
This week the EC adopted the EU strategy towards the Eradication of Trafficking in Human Beings to be implemented over the next four years. Whether this policy will be successful enough to change the lives of the hundreds of women — and some men — selling sex, professionally begging or working under illegal duress in Irish towns, cities and homes remains to be seen but it is hard to think it will completely turn the tide if it focuses only on the trafficked people and those who abduct them.
Today we report that the sex trade is thriving despite the recession, maybe even growing because of it, in apartments, hotels and numerous massage parlours right across the country. Stand on nearly any main street in Ireland and you’ll be just minutes away from someone selling sex. It may ever have been thus, and a proportion of those involved may do so by choice, but it is preposterous to argue that the majority of those working in the organised sex trade have not been violently coerced to do so. It is equally preposterous and immoral to suggest that those who pay for these services do not realise this. Without their participation and money the sex workers would not be held captive by pimps as, at the very best, indentured sex workers.
Legislation to deal with organised prostitution, much of which takes place in private settings where the purchase of sex is not an offence, is about to be published. It has been argued that it should bring a new focus on those who use prostitutes rather than the captive women and make it illegal to buy sex as has been done successfully in some Scandinavian countries. This may go some way to resolving the slavery scandal but ending the pretence, the tacit social acceptance, of the idea that paying for sex, in the great, vast majority of instances, is a relationship of equals based on mutual consent might be more far effective. After all by paying your €100 for a half an hour you are not really paying for sex, you are paying for the use of a kidnapped, coerced slave.
The sex trade will continue no matter how we change our laws but legalising prostitution with controls and proper supervision might go some way, in one sphere at least, to ending one of the great crimes and scandals of our age — human trafficking. However we do it it is unimaginable that we, who imagine ourselves civilised, reasonably liberal and predominantly Christian, do not do a lot more than we have to to end this scandal.
Read more here about Ireland's growing sex industry.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved