Sex trade campaigners claim to have backing of 80 politicians to criminalise prostitution
SEX trade campaigners have claimed backing from 80 TDs and senators for their demands to criminalise prostitution in Ireland.
An umbrella group, calling itself Turn off the Red Light, want to see Nordic-style legislation introduced here which would grant sex workers immunity while those who buy sex are prosecuted.
While it is illegal to solicit for sex on the street or in public, it is currently not a criminal offence to buy or sell sex in the Irish Republic.
Sarah Benson, of Ruhama - one of 48 organisations in the campaign - said the threat of fines and criminal convictions similar to that in Sweden, Norway and Iceland was needed to stamp out the exploitation of vulnerable sex workers.
"The profile of sex buyers is that they tend to be men of means, they tend to be married, they are people who care about their reputations," she said.
"Consistent studies of sex buyers in the UK and the US indicate the greatest deterrent to buying sex would be either a criminal offence or being named. That's what we will be driving at."
Ms Benson added: "We wouldn't be looking to lock up (sex customers) and throw away the key.
"The motivation is to create a deterrent effect in recognition that the trade is exploitative, that those who are bought for sex suffer serious harm as a consequence, and that really we would like Ireland to adopt a similar message to other countries who say buying sex is not okay."
Ms Benson was among a delegation from Turn off the Red Light who met with four TDs, representing the Independents technical group, today at Leinster House, including Mattie McGrath, Maureen O'Sullivan, Thomas Pringle and Catherine Murphy.
She said the campaign is highlighting the reality of Ireland's sex trade as a highly organised, criminal enterprise.
"The experience of prostitution for the vast majority of women and girls, and the small number of men and boys involved, is that it is exploitative and dangerous," she said.
"The campaign has identified that this exploitation and organised criminality is facilitated by those who actually purchase sex, because it is a demand-led trade."
Ms Benson said they had a very positive response from the Independents. The campaign claims support from 80 Oireachtas members.
The Department of Justice said it was still working on a discussion document to inform possible new laws on prostitution that was expected to be published by the end of last month.
"Work on preparation of the consultation document is continuing, it is hoped that the consultation document will issue as soon as possible," said a spokeswoman.