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Legalising prostitution would line the pockets of organised crime gangs – warning

Legalising prostitution in Ireland would line the pockets of organised crime gangs, police warned today.

Senior officers from Sweden and Norway - where men who buy sex are criminalised instead of prostitutes - said the numbers being trafficked to work in the sex industry would be slashed if laws were changed to protect women.

Detective Superintendent Jonas Trolle, who heads a trafficking investigation team in Stockholm, said crime gangs who force women into prostitution are also dealing with drugs, weapons and money laundering.

"Prostitution is always connected with organised crime," said Mr Trolle.

"You will never have a car salesman in Dublin change his business to prostitution or a brothel, you will give a criminal gang a wider income. That's a big problem.

"If you allow drugs in a country, it will be organised crime that will have it. They will report as little as they can to authorities to pay tax.

"It would get out of hand quite quickly."

It is estimated that 100,000 people are trafficked within the European Union annually, with more than 1,000 women and girls subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in Ireland.

Mr Trolle and a team of specialists were in Dublin to meet organisations and agencies working with prostitution and human trafficking, including senior gardai from the organised crime unit, members of the PSNI, the Health Executive Board, the Legal Aid Board and housing associations.

He revealed that since new laws were enforced in Sweden in 1999 to penalise people who purchase sex, without criminalising its sale, fewer women are trafficked into the country because there is less demand.

A 10-year review revealed that Stockholm - with a population of 1.5 million - has approximately 200 people engaged in prostitution, down from 3,000 in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Barcelona - which has roughly the same population as Stockholm - has about 20,000 people engaged in street prostitution.

Police said 400 men caught buying sex in Stockholm were fined last year, which varied depending on their income, while 100 men in Norway were hit with a 3,000 euro (£2,5980 fine.

The men were also used as witnesses in court cases to testify in a human trafficking case.

Mr Trolle added: "If you start with the customer, then you can prove the whole chain."

The visit was hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and non-governmental organisation Ruhama, which have been campaigning for the implementation of laws that penalise the purchaser of sex while protecting the seller.

Denise Charlton, ICI chief executive, said Justice Minister Alan Shatter is giving serious consideration to applying the Swedish model to Irish law.

Senator Katherine Zappone revealed a group of independent senators will use their first private members' motion in the coming weeks to put forward a motion to encourage the Government to consider criminalising the purchase of sex.

Ms Charlton added: "We are confident that today's exchange will increase awareness and understanding of the importance of penalising the purchase of sex as a measure to reduce prostitution and trafficking."