Crackdown on sex trade is 'based on wrong data'
Government plans to outlaw prostitution appear to be based on wrong data about alleged sex-trafficking, it has been claimed.
If introduced, gardai will be following the example of the PSNI, who have carried out their first arrest after the introduction of the same criminalisation law in Northern Ireland.
The Republic seems set to bring in the legislation despite the recommendation by Amnesty International that this country should join others and decriminalise sex work to protect the safety of sex workers, and not further criminalise and drive underground the sex trade.
Amnesty has rejected the proposal - apparently already agreed by politicians and lobby groups including Cath- olic religious orders - to make paying for sex a crime here.
Now, in a submission to the Department of Justice's Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, it has been claimed that figures for sex trafficking into Ireland are mistaken.
The submission is from UglyMugs.ie, an online safety scheme under which sex workers can exchange information about dangerous or abusive male customers.
The organisation, which claims to have 5,000 "service users" in the Republic and Northern Ireland, made its submission to the Anti- Human Trafficking Unit's annual draft action plan for 2015.
It points out that despite determined efforts by gardai to uncover sex trafficking, no prosecutions have been made other than those of individual sex workers for alleged "brothel keeping". Under current law, more than one person selling sex from a premises constitutes a brothel.
A major garda operation in May 2012, which involved raids on 120 premises around the country and was touted as targeting "shadowy figures suspected of luring women here . . . and then forcing them into prostitution", did not result in a single prosecution for trafficking, nor did two other similar operations since.
Uglymugs points out that the imminent bill to criminalise buying sex is based on claims that this will somehow stop sex trafficking. The group says the current proposals to criminalise prostitution are based largely on research funded by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
UglyMugs also says that sex workers have been excluded from the "consultation process" leading up to the introduction of the bill.
UglyMugs says sex workers need to be included in any discussions on the topic. It says in its submission: "Sex workers can contribute very constructively to anti-trafficking efforts and should be included on the Roundtable Forum and Working Groups."
The Department of Justice claims that between January 2009 and December 2013 there were "a total of 293 alleged victims of human trafficking".
UglyMugs says: "These reports provide information about suspected victims of trafficking reported to An Garda Siochana or encountered or referred to NGOs. They do not provide any information about how many of the suspected victims received a positive conclusive decision and were therefore found to have been trafficked.
"However, there is other evidence that suggests most suspected victims of trafficking are determined not to have been trafficked. A 2012 presentation by a senior An Garda Siochana officer stated: "The significant trend emerging from the data is that in approximately two-thirds of cases, and after a detailed investigation, no evidence of human trafficking has been disclosed.
"By providing statistics without balancing them against the number of positive conclusive determinations, the official statistics on victims of trafficking in Ireland create a misleading picture."