Wednesday 20 September 2017

Proposal to criminalise those who pay for sex

Lyndsey Telford and Ed Carty

PIMPS and people traffickers will be forced out of business if landmark changes to vice laws to criminalise sex buyers are passed, campaigners have said.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Ruhama agency said proposals from an Oireachtas committee to penalise buyers rather than prostitutes gave hope to women and girls trapped in a life of abuse and violence.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, which works with women in the sex business and victims of trafficking, said the reforms would be the most effective way of tackling the exploitation of women.

"The recommendations of this report are a validation of the need to shift the focus of the law from those who are vulnerable and exploited in prostitution, who need support and not convictions - towards the sex buyers," Ms Benson said.

"Criminalising those who fuel the demand for women and girls for their own sexual satisfaction is the most effective way to tackle trafficking and exploitation of prostitution and we hope that this simple but important amendment to the law will be implemented swiftly."

Current law penalises prostitutes rather than those who pay for sex.

The report from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice launched today recommended that Ireland adopt a model used in Sweden, where the buyer is penalised.

It has argued this would drive down prostitution levels.

It also claimed that decriminalising the status of prostitutes would help reduce the stigma and make it easier for them to approach gardai and seek other support services.

The committee has urged Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who will consider the recommendations, to act quickly to change the current regime.

Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland have been leading a campaign called Turn off the Red Light to push for reform of the law in this way.

A spokesman for the campaign said this was a landmark recommendation for Government to consider.

Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the Oireacthas committee had been repeatedly told that prostitution was linked to organised crime run by Irish and foreign gangs.

"During the review process, the reality of prostitution was revealed for all to see," she said.

"Official figures confirmed 134 people sex-trafficked in three years, of which one in four was a child."

The committee reported a low rate of convictions for brothel-keeping despite arrests - 21 out of 65 prosecutions in 2010, 17 out of 62 in 2011, and eight out of 47 last year.

Figures for soliciting told a similar story - 19 convictions out of 102 prosecutions in 2010, 19 out of 107 in 2011, and three out of 46 last year.

The reforms would also include increased penalties for trafficking and the organising or living off the earnings of prostitution.

It would also be an offence to allow a premises to be used as a brothel, and all locations advertised as massage parlours would be regulated and inspected.

Witnesses would also be called to give evidence anonymously, and provisions would be made to deem it an offence to groom a child for sexual exploitation.

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