Thursday 23 November 2017

Rural gardai are cracking down on sex industry

Limerick leads the way on successful prosecutions for brothel-keeping

Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Country gardai appear to be on a mission to close down the sex trade with six divisions -- some of them very rural and with very low-level crime problems -- having more prosecutions for brothel-keeping than the entire Dublin metropolitan area.

Limerick Garda Division is leading the numbers league with almost four times more prosecutions for "brothel-keeping" than there were in Dublin, according to analysis of figures from the Central Statistics Office.

In their drive against the vice trade, Limerick gardai secured 15 convictions for "brothel-keeping" in the period 2008-2011 or 27 per cent of all prosecutions in the country.

Dublin accounted for only three convictions or five per cent of the total in the same period.

Cork, Donegal, Galway and Kerry gardai have had more convictions and charges than Dublin for alleged brothel-keeping.

But, proportionately, Sligo Garda Division is by far the sternest when it comes to fighting the tide of impurity involving predominantly young foreign women, men, transsexuals and transvestites.

Figures show that Sligo gardai secured nine convictions for "brothel-keeping".

Last week there were only seven young women offering themselves on a prostitution website in Co Sligo -- all young and foreign, and charging €80 upwards for a half hour for their services.

By contrast, 284 were advertising online in Dublin on the same website.

The CSO figures on brothel-keeping were drawn up at the request of former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, amid allegations of widespread sex-trafficking in the country and calls for legal clampdowns on the sex trade.

However, analysis of brothel-keeping cases over the past three years, carried out on behalf of a sex workers' group, suggests that there has been a dramatic rise in prosecutions for brothel-keeping and it's disproportionately due to cases in provincial towns.

The group, Turn off the Blue Light, also suggests that the vast majority of those convicted of "brothel keep" under the Act are sex workers themselves and are only being prosecuted because rather than work on their own -- and be more vulnerable to violence or robbery -- they are working in twos or threes for safety. Under the present law this can be construed as running a brothel.

All but two out of 55 people convicted of brothel-keeping in the past three years were said by gardai or by their own admission in court to be working as prostitutes.

Several said they came from eastern European countries where it is legal to work in twos or threes and claimed they were unaware it was an offence in Ireland.

There were only two cases where there did appear to be people actually managing prostitution services but not actually personally participating. One was a woman. The other was a young Czech man who, Wexford Circuit Court heard, had been working here as a carpenter for six years but lost his job as the recession hit the building trade.

The court heard how he "took a chance" with a pimping venture. Three young women, from Botswana, the Czech Republic and Portugal, were found in the rented house in Ferns, Co Wexford, along with €2,800 in cash and "sexual paraphernalia".

The court heard that one of the young women, questioned by gardai, said she was happy with the working conditions and that Zdenek Kinzl, originally from the Czech Republic, who pleaded guilty, "was nice" to them. He was given a one-year suspended sentence, with Judge Alice Doyle saying he deserved a chance to get back into society.

Now, the Turn off the Blue Light group is pointing out that in cases of brothel-keeping -- with a maximum sentence of up to five years in the circuit court -- judges are taking a much more lenient approach.

Out of 55 persons who pleaded guilty to brothel-keeping in the past three years only one has received a custodial sentence -- of four months. All the rest -- all but one involving foreign nationals -- were dealt with by way of suspended sentence and, or, fine. In at least one case a judge ordered that money seized be returned to three Brazilian women to help them return home.

The Turn off the Blue Light group said: "A picture of a typical Irish brothel-keeper today, based on this research, would be a picture of a young foreign woman, who is an independent sex worker. According to our research 93 per cent of people convicted of brothel-keeping offences from 2008 to 2011, were women, mostly in the 25-44 age group.

"Overall, when we look at the policing of the sex industry in Ireland, we see the inadequacy of it. Independent sex workers are being prosecuted under our brothel-keeping legislation but there seems to be very little focus on what really does need policing in the sex industry -- abuse, exploitation, coercion, trafficking, violence -- the things that really shouldn't be allowed go on.

"Criminalisation of sex workers under our brothel-keeping laws leaves them with a criminal record, which will affect their future opportunities in life, and these days it also usually means they are identified in the media as a prostitute, including in online news articles which never go away, a particularly harsh punishment.

"This backdoor criminalisation of sex workers under our brothel-keeping laws is also responsible for creating a sex industry where sex workers feel unable to go to gardai when they are a victim of crime or they know about criminal activity going on."

Sunday Independent

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