Consequences of public shaming
A top lawyer claims that men guilty of soliciting for sex could be driven to suicide over naming, writes Jim Cusack
A leading lawyer has claimed that the naming and shaming of men caught propositioning undercover gardai posing as prostitutes could drive some to suicide.
The claim was made as it emerged that €10,000 in fines imposed on 21 men caught in the Limerick garda "honey trap" soliciting operation has been given to a group which is proposing that prostitution be prohibited and men caught paying women for sex prosecuted and publicly named.
Gardai last week defended their actions in bringing 21 men to court and publicising their identities but claimed it was not their intention that their names be made public.
However, one of Limerick's leading lawyers, solicitor Ted McCarthy, who represented some of the men, said there was a danger that the public shaming of the men could drive some to suicide. There were persistent rumours in Limerick last week that one had killed himself. There was a male suicide in the area but the man was not on the list of those arrested.
Mr McCarthy told a local newspaper: "This whole episode has had a huge effect on some of the men, some who may even be suicidal. My impression before the cases came to court was that they would not be named and this is what should have happened.
"The people that are really suffering are the families and especially the children with the run up to Christmas, they could have done without this." He said he had never experienced such a public parading of men for the offence of soliciting in 30 years.
Limerick District Court imposed the maximum €470 fine on each of the men and ordered that the money be handed over to the group, Doras Luimni, which is one of the leading advocates for a change in the State's prostitution laws to have men who pay for sex prosecuted and publicly named.
Doras Luimni describes itself as a charity for migrants but its chief executive officer said that it is one of the leading advocacy groups for the change of Irish law to make it a crime for men to pay women for sex and for the prohibition of female prostitution.
The same group is one of several advocating the criminalisation of paid-for sex in receipt of money from the $1bn (€843m) Atlantic Philanthropies foundation set up by the Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney, who was a major donor to Sinn Fein.
Karen McHugh confirmed that Doras Luimni is "one of the leading members" of the Turn off the Red Light network of immigrant, women and religious groups which is advocating the so-called 'Sweden model' for Irish law on prostitution. Sweden and Norway criminalised the purchase of sex from women by men and are being followed by the French government which is expected to introduce the same laws in the New Year.
She said her group receives a "tiny, tiny" amount of finance from the Sisters of Mercy. Records show Doras Luimni received $1.37m (€1.05m) from Atlantic Philanthropies between 2006 and 2008; €750,000 from Declan Ryan's One Foundation between 2009 and 2010; and €200,000 via the State agency, Pobal, from the European Refugee Fund (ERF).
Another group, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, set up by Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, received $4.3m (€3.3m), according to Atlantic's records. Another of the anti-prostitution groups, the National Women's Council of Ireland is recorded as receiving $1.1m (€843,000) last year.
Money from the EU, through its European Refugee Fund, poured another €29m into Ireland last year with some of this money going to advocacy groups.
Ms McHugh says on the Doras website: "It is evident from press and other fora that the demand for paid sex is an ongoing issue here in Limerick as well as every other village, town and city across the country. To meet this demand, women (predominantly) and young people are being enticed and coerced to come to Limerick to service this demand. A societal and legislative change is required to show that it is not acceptable to purchase sex for male (predominantly) gratification."
The Turn off the Red Light campaign bases their argument on the claim that a high proportion of women working in the sex trade are trafficked and are enslaved. Several garda investigations have failed to turn up evidence of trafficking and found that most of the young women involved in prostitution are here voluntarily. There have been no major cases involving trafficking in Ireland, though there was evidence of African women being enslaved in a case involving a prostitution ring run from England.
Ms McHugh said her group had "information" about sex trafficking in the Limerick and Mid-West area but she had no details at hand when called on Friday. When asked if the group had come across women who had been trafficked she said: "This is a well-known research evidence-based issue," and said she would have to "look at our data" when asked how many cases had come to the group's attention.
At the court hearing last Tuesday week, a solicitor for one of the men said his client was a middle-aged man in full employment who had never previously been before a court and was extremely embarrassed.
Another 63-year-old farmer from Limerick, a retired headmaster and a prominent figure in the GAA were among those sentenced and named in court. None of those arrested and charged has a criminal record.
Limerick gardai have made 126 arrests, mostly of young foreign sex workers and 42 have been brought before courts where they pleaded guilty to brothel keeping. All received either suspended sentences or simple fines and in at least one instance a judge ordered that money found at one apartment be returned to two Brazilian women so they could travel home if they wished. There have been no prosecutions for trafficking in Limerick or elsewhere in the past two years despite repeated claims by the anti-prostitution groups that trafficking is widespread.
Limerick city's Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan last week defended the operation to use two female gardai posing as prostitutes to catch alleged kerb crawlers in the city centre. He denied any entrapment was used. He said it was "totally within the remit of the law" and all the men could have pleaded not guilty if they so wished.
Despite the fact that the Garda Press Office in Dublin issued a press release shortly before the court appearances last Tuesday week, Chief Supt Sheahan said the gardai "had no desire whatsoever" to have the names of the men printed in national newspapers.
Limerick's lord mayor, Councillor Jim Long, said he was concerned the high profile garda operation was sending out a message that Limerick "is the place to be" for sex.
Mayor Long stressed he was not criticising the gardai, but believed there are other ways in which to tackle the problem of prostitution in the city.
"The gardai need to pick up ladies of the night, take them to the pimps and examine the extortion going on," he told the Limerick Leader, "This indirectly sent out the wrong signal. It sent out a signal if you want sex for sale, then Limerick is the place to be."