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Pressure groups lock horns over changes to laws on prostitution

IRELAND'S first mini-marathon to promote rights and better safety for sex workers is to be held this June. It is also being organised to highlight what they say are dangerous proposals coming from left-wing, feminist and Catholic groups, seeking to outlaw prostitution entirely.

The Sex Workers' Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) says it is very concerned that proposals from an alliance of groups opposed to prostitution will oppress women and men who are voluntarily working as prostitutes and would force them on to the streets and so put them in greater danger.

The alliance of groups advocating the total prohibition of prostitution in Ireland is calling itself 'Turn off the Red Light'. It has emerged after a group calling itself the 'Dignity Project' submitted proposals for new legislation to Dermot Ahern, then Minister for Justice, in January. Mr Ahern passed these proposals on to the Attorney General's office for consideration.

The main prohibitionist proposal is to adopt the model currently in use in Sweden, where men are prosecuted, along with the prostitutes, if they attempt to pay for sex.

A group, including representatives of the Irish Council of Women -- a State-funded body -- and Ruhama, the Catholic organisation which encourages women out of prostitution, An Garda Siochana and the Department of Justice, took part in a visit to Sweden last year, which led to the proposals.

Teresa Whitaker, one of the founders of the SWAI, told the Sunday Independent that sex workers' views had not been sought. She said the introduction of the "Swedish" model would force prostitution further underground and create much more dangerous conditions for those voluntarily in the sex trade.

Last year, the supreme court in Canada overturned that country's laws on prostitution, which were almost identical to those in Britain and Ireland. The court found that laws which criminalised prostitution put the sex workers' lives at danger.

The "harm-reductionist" proposals being put forward by the SWAI would provide protections that are not in place in Britain, Ireland or Sweden.

The 'Turn off the Red Light' campaign says it wants to "end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland". It states: "Trafficking women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a modern, global form of slavery."

Sunday Independent