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New laws needed to tackle prostitution in Ireland

The current Irish legislation hasn’t kept pace with the changes in the sex trade environment and needs updating.

Amy Lewis

Legislation around prostitution in Ireland should be reviewed to ensure that it is as effective as possible in the changing sex trade industry.

This was the conclusion formed at a Dublin conference at the weekend where possible future prostitution laws for the country were discussed.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter spoke at the conference, along with representatives from Ruhama, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland.

See his speech here.

Under current Irish legislation, it is illegal for a sex worker to solicit in public, as is the organisation of prostitution. At the conference, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter spoke of how these laws are becoming less sufficient in the modern sex trade environment where prostitution is moving indoors and becoming web-based.

Nusha Yonkova, Anti-Trafficking Co-coordinator for the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said that this change is evident in Dublin city.

“Prostitution is a big problem in the city of Dublin,” said Nusha. “The industry has changed dramatically. It is becoming an online and indoor trade with websites such escort-ireland.com advertising Irish prostitutes. Although the site owners break prostitution legislation, they have found a loophole by registering the company abroad.”

Escort-ireland.com publishes around 650 advertisements daily for Dublin-based prostitutes. At present there are eleven online advertisements for women in the Dublin 8 area.

Nusha pointed out that the majority of prostitutes do not choose their lifestyle.

“80% of Dublin’s prostitutes are very young migrants. They live in isolation as they have no family and few services to help them. Their legal status in the country adds to their vulnerability. The vast majority of women don’t consider prostitution as a normal job and given the opportunity would exit.”

Along with 61 other organisations, including Ruhama, the Immigrant Council of Ireland is campaigning for criminalisation of prostitutes to be replaced with the penalisation of those who buy sex.

Local City Councillor for the Labour Party, Emer Costello, has played a significant role in helping women in Dublin city trapped in the cycle of prostitution since the early 2000’s. She also feels that those who pay for sex should be tackled.

“When I began working in the Dublin 7 area, I saw that many women were drawn into the industry due to financial crisis,” she said. “The area had a major issue with prostitution and residents who attended our meetings felt that the ‘curb crawlers’ who approached these women caused the problem to worsen. They called on the Gardaí to tackle these men and by doing this, the situation improved significantly.”

Those at the conference also looked at different approaches that other countries take on the issue of prostitution. These were examined by hearing submissions from Detective Inspector Simon Haggstrom of the Prostitution Unit of the Stockholm Police Force in Sweden, where the purchase of sex is criminalised, and Jack Verbruggen from the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice.

Minister Shatter said a report on a recent public consultation process on the issue would be drawn up by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality by the end of 2012.

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