Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Review of Legislation on Prostitution: Discussion
We are starting hearings on the review of legislation on prostitution in Ireland. The purpose of today’s meeting is to have discussions with some of those who have made written submissions on the review of legislation on prostitution in Ireland. This is the first such day of hearings. We will probably have at least two more, if not more. As we have a large number of organisations with us today we will hear from them in groups of three.
I thank everybody for giving of his or her time to come to the meeting and providing submissions on this important topic. In group one I welcome from the Irish Medical Organisation Dr. Matthew Sadlier, vice president, and Ms Vanessa Hetherington, senior policy executive; from the National Women's Council of Ireland Ms Orla O'Connor, director, and Ms Jacqueline Healy, women's health and human rights worker; from Trinity College Dublin Dr. Gillian Wylie, and from the National University of Ireland, Galway Dr. Eilis Ward. The format is that each group will make a short opening statement. As we have received the submissions, there is no need to go through them. Perhaps they might keep the opening statements to five minutes, in which they can make the necessary bullet points. I realise time is short, but over 800 organisations and individuals have made presentations. As a result, time is very tight. There will then be a question and answer session with members. As there is a lead questioner, one member will engage with one organisation. Not every organisation will be subject to that arrangement, but most will.
Before we begin, I draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members should be aware that under the salient rulings of the Chair, they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite the IMO representative to make an opening statement.
Ms Vanessa Hetherington:
The Irish Medical Organisation is the representative body for all doctors in Ireland and represents over 5,000 medical practitioners. It thanks the committee for giving it the opportunity to present its views on the future of prostitution legislation in Ireland.
International research shows that sex workers and those trafficked for sex are exposed to a wide range of physical and mental health problems, in addition to sexually transmitted diseases. The demand for unprotected sex puts pressure on sex workers and exposes them to a higher risk of sexually transmitted infection and HIV. Sex workers, particularly those involved in street prostitution, are exposed to high levels of violence, including sexual and physical assault, rape and murder. Studies show that the majority of women and adolescents who have been trafficked or are involved in prostitution have been physically assaulted or raped and show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Other mental health issues are common among sex workers, including depression and anxiety disorders which can continue long after a woman has exited prostitution.
Drug and alcohol addiction is also prevalent among sex workers. Sex workers often enter into prostitution to support a drug addiction, but they can also become reliant on drug use as a support mechanism to cope with the trauma of prostitution. Sex workers who use drugs are more likely to risk unprotected sex and neglect their health, seeking care only at more advanced stages of illness. Research has also found that mortality rates are higher among females involved in prostitution than in the general population. In London, mortality rates are estimated to be 12 times higher among women involved in prostitution than the national average, while a Canadian study estimates that mortality rates are up to 40 times higher.
Data compiled from the HSE's women's health project in 2007 showed that the majority of women recorded symptoms related to sexually transmitted infections, reproductive tract infections or other health complications related to prostitution, including bacterial vaginosis, thrush, hepatitis A and B, chlamydia, vaginal-genital warts, urinary tract infections and cervical cell abnormality. Project workers received regular reports from women of violence inflicted on them and expressed concern about the long-term impact of prostitution on the women's health.
A study by the national advisory committee on drugs, NACD, of drug using sex workers in Dublin found that the women and men interviewed were dependent heroin users before engaging in sex work and that a significant minority were minors at the time. Most had grown up in marginalised communities and experienced prolonged periods of homelessness. Most entered sex work for financial reasons or to maintain their drug dependency, while increased income from sex work invariably contributed to an escalation in drug use. Drug use enabled sex workers to work longer hours and minimise distress levels as a consequence of the work but increased the risk of engaging in unprotected sex or affected their ability to assess the dangers of a situation. A total of 78% of interviewees reported having hepatitis C, while 21% reported that they were HIV positive. The vast majority had been physically or sexually assaulted by a client.
Most women do not choose prostitution but are forced into it because of poverty, homelessness or a drug addiction. Purchasers of sex exploit their desperation. A wide range of measures is necessary to combat prostitution and sex trafficking, including the provision of health and social supports for prostitutes to enable them to exit prostitution, as well as social supports for young people at risk of prostitution. There is also a need to change attitudes towards prostitution and the growth of the sex industry through legislation criminalising the purchase, not the sale, of sex and a public awareness campaign to educate the public on the physical and mental harm caused by prostitution and trafficking.
Experience in Sweden shows that criminalising the purchase and not the sale of sex has reduced demand and contained the extent of prostitution. A recent evaluation by the Swedish Government found that since the introduction of legislation in 1999 street prostitution in Sweden had halved. In 2008 the number of people involved in street prostitution was estimated to be two thirds lower than in neighbouring Norway and Denmark. While the level of Internet prostitution had increased, as elsewhere, the report found no overall increase in the level of indoor prostitution or trafficking as a result of the legislation. Police officers and social workers report that purchasers of sex have become more cautious and surveys show that the legislation has had a deterrent effect on men.
The IMO supports the Turn Off The Red Light campaign and calls on the Government to introduce legislation to make it illegal to purchase sex.
I welcome our guests. This is a very important issue facing our society. It would be most helpful if we could achieve as much unanimity as possible on how we should proceed. My party, Fianna Fáil, made a submission and attended the recent consultation day with the Department of Justice and Equality. We fully support the Turn Off The Red Light campaign. As the public will be watching this debate closely, it is important that we conduct our business in a timely fashion and try to progress this issue, as it has been dragging on for a number of years.
I am the lead questioner for our first group of guests representing the IMO. Part of our job will be to recommend penalties and sanctions in proposals emerging from the committee. What penalties would the delegates envisage or recommend in this area? Second, do they think imprisonment should be an option or what sanction should there be? Do they have any views on financial penalties? Do they have views on the issue arising in the United Kingdom, that is, strict liability?
Dr. Matthew Sadlier:
On the issue of penalties and imprisonment, it is not an area in which our organisation has expertise. It would be whatever was seen to be an effective deterrent. Regardless of what legislation is introduced, we seek a robust data collection system to allow for analysis of whether it was effective in implementation. Certainly, imprisonment would be an option, but this is not an area in which our organisation has the necessary legal expertise.
I welcome the delegates. Sinn Féin has historically taken the approach of trying to protect the women who find themselves in this situation and assist them by giving them every support to have an exit strategy in place.
There are concerns about the Swedish model. Ms Hetherington cited the recent report and said the level of street prostitution had halved. What is the benchmark for that assessment? How can we know what the levels were or what they are now? I do not have a definitive view on this matter and would like to hear the thoughts of the Irish Medical Organisation on the allegations that the Swedish model suggested pushes prostitution further underground and creates additional dangers for the prostitutes who are mostly women. One of the concerns is that legislation would prevent a number of women involved in the industry, for want of a better description, from sharing an apartment for safety.
Dr. Matthew Sadlier:
The Swedish figures are taken from a report which is referenced in our submission from the Swedish Institute. The Deputy is right. Data collection, pragmatically, can be difficult, especially when one is talking about underground or illegal prostitution because, by its nature, it is difficult to measure. The argument for the Swedish model is that it reduces the demand for prostitution services. By reducing demand one reduces the drive among certain people to enter the market through the forced exploitation of others. It looks at the demand rather than the supply side of the equation.
I accept the Deputy's point that men or women who enter prostitution - a certain percentage of men do enter prostitution - do so for various reasons. To allow them to exit one needs outreach services, specifically in the areas of education and drug and alcohol treatments.
Dr. Matthew Sadlier:
Mental health is a significant issue among sex workers and a number of studies have been conducted. Probably the most systematic was a Swiss study published in 2010 which found that the incidence of mental health problems among people involved in sex work was significantly higher than among the general population. Specifically, one is talking about post-traumatic stress disorder. Sex work, even in areas where it is legalised, is associated with violence, degradation and other factors that can lead to mental health problems. Another interesting study from Holland, an area where prostitution is legal, showed that depersonalisation - where sex workers move into a state of de-realisation to allow them to cope with the work they are doing - was prevalent. Depression, anxiety disorders and other diagnoses are more commonly found in sex workers than the general population.
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
The National Women's Council of Ireland is a feminist non-governmental organisation representing women's groups in Ireland. It currently has 170 member organisations affiliated to it, representing an estimated 500,000 women. Our vision is of an Ireland where all women and men have equal power to shape society and their own lives.
The National Women's Council of Ireland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the review of the legislation governing prostitution in Ireland. The prostitution of women and girls constitutes a fundamental violation of their human rights and a serious form of male violence against women. It is an issue that affects all women in society and the council has a strong mandate from its member organisations to work on tackling it. At our annual general meeting this year our members voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion to lobby the Government for a legislative response to tackle prostitution and that the council continue its work as part of the Turn off the Red Light campaign. The council has been a member of the co-ordinating group of the campaign which has been lobbying the Government to criminalise the purchase of sex as the best and most effective way to address prostitution as a form of violence against women and deter the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation.
The National Women's Council is also involved in co-ordinating the work of the European Women's Lobby in Ireland. The European Women's Lobby has been working on the issue of prostitution and trafficking for many years and is running a campaign, Together for a Europe Free from Prostitution, which we fully endorse.
Prostitution cannot be seen as an occupation that women freely choose, but it is both a cause and consequence of the range of inequalities that women face in Irish society, in particular socioeconomic inequalities, barriers to active participation and inequality of opportunities and outcomes. The existence and toleration of prostitution in Irish society intersect with other structural and systemic forms of discrimination against women and prostitution needs to be discussed within that framework.
Research shows that nine out of ten women involved in prostitution would like to exit the system but feel unable to do so. No matter how a woman enters prostitution, it is harmful. Prostitution has a devastating impact on both the physical and mental well-being of women and girls, as has been well documented by some of our member organisations, including Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Both organisations highlight the strong link between prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. As our laws on prostitution have a direct impact on the problem of human trafficking, any Government strategy to prevent sex trafficking will be ineffective if it is not complemented by strong measures to tackle prostitution. We must seek to eliminate the sex industry, not regulate it. Regulation does not protect women and it does not work. It only legitimises and encourages an industry that is inherently harmful to women.
The introduction of legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex, while at the same time decriminalising those who sell sexual acts and offering enhanced and sustained support services to women who wish to exit, is the only viable way to work towards an end to this exploitative industry. The introduction of legislation has great potential to establish a new norm in our society which deems prostitution to be an unnecessary and unacceptable social phenomenon and send a strong message to future generations that it is not acceptable for women to be treated as commodities, to be bought and sold for sexual use. Prostitution is a violation of women's human rights, including human dignity. The system of prostitution perpetuates patriarchal views on women's sexuality and legitimises male domination in society. As long as it is tolerated, it is an obstacle to equality between women and men. A society that tolerates prostitution cannot achieve gender equality. The abolition of the system of prostitution is a progressive and realistic objective, based on the fundamental principles of equality between women and men.
I thank Ms Healy and Ms O'Connor for their presentation and the expression of these views.
My first question has to do with the diversity of women's experience. I know from some of my former work of the extraordinary diversity among the membership of the National Women's Council of Ireland. Because of that diversity, I am interested that the council is coming out with these very strong recommendations. There are some who would say a move towards the Swedish model would offer us a one-size-fits-all approach. Given the diversity of women's experience, there may be some who freely choose to enter into prostitution and feel their human right to make this choice is not being violated.
I think the witnesses may have had some of those discussions in the context of coming to a resolution to make these recommendations. Do the witnesses have views to share on this point?
Ms Orla O'Connor:
Some of those views were expressed. The important point in terms of where the National Women's Council of Ireland is coming from and discussions among members is that prostitution was viewed within the context of violence against women. That was the strongest element in coming to the view and giving us a mandate and the overwhelming support for the motion with regard to our involvement in the Turn Off The Red Light campaign. Part of the analysis is about where women come from in terms of entering prostitution, which is socio-economic disadvantage, poverty, debt, a history of abuse, and neglect. Given the diversity of our membership, it is important that it is seen in the context of violence against women and moving on to supporting a particular model, which is the Swedish model.
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
We attended a conference on prostitution last month. The presentation by the Swedish police was convincing and its implementation did not seem to be particularly onerous in Sweden. It is a different country and Ireland is examining its resources. There will be work for the police if it wants to take this on board but the National Women's Council of Ireland believes this is an extremely important area in which resources need to be assigned to tackle the problem. It is not just a case of examining prostitution and violence against women, which is an area we encourage the Government to make a priority. It also concerns the involvement of organised crime and gangs, social problems and effects on the wider community. Resources targeted at the area will have a major benefit for women and for society at large.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Is there research on where the appetite for young women and children is coming from? We can look around at the images we receive from the media in terms of an attempt at the normalisation of pornography through popular television shows and the sexualisation of children through inappropriate dress in our chain stores. Does the National Women's Council of Ireland have research on this topic, which is linked? If an appetite is being fuelled, this is where people will go to satisfy it.
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
The National Women's Council of Ireland has not carried out research on this point. The Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women, which we convene, carried out research on this a few years ago. More work needs to be done, particularly in light of the fact that we have become more technologically advanced with the Internet and the easy availability of pornography on mobile telephones. We have always made the link between pornography and its fuelling of different forms of violence against women, including prostitution.
I have a follow-on question. We are all agreed upon the need for a change of culture among men in respect of this issue. We must engage with every means we can. Do we require two approaches first, before a change of legislation? The first concerns a comprehensive effort by all agencies, including television advertisers, to change the culture that facilitates this. In every small town in Ireland, we see reports and photographs of young men and women - mainly women - in newspapers whereas those who avail of the service seem to get off scot free. The second issue concerns an exit strategy for the women. We have not set up the appropriate services on the ground to assist women who find themselves in this position. When arrested, they appear to be dragged before the courts and kicked out of Ireland if they are not from Ireland. Must these two issues be addressed before we pass this legislation? Are we putting the cart before the horse?
Ms Orla O'Connor:
I agree a cultural change is needed but, from our point of view, legislation is critical. So many areas with regard to equality for women require legislation first and foremost because it is a matter of the Government showing leadership in bringing about change. Then, we can work on the cultural change. It tends not to work in the opposite direction and many examples of women's equality illustrate that point. It is important that legislation is passed first.
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
I want to emphasise the point about support, which I mentioned earlier. This cannot work unless there are support services for women. That came across in the conference on prostitution last month. We talked to people in the delegation from Sweden and emphasised that the supports needs to be in place. We cannot let women in a vulnerable position be thrown out on the street with no support or, as the Deputy mentioned, deported. Support must be part and parcel of any legislation introduced.
I totally agree that legislation is needed but the core issue is broader and concerns violence against women and exploitation. There is a strong Garda Síochána element to the resolution of the problem. We need the resources to treat this issue as a major criminal problem in Irish society. Gangs running cigarettes and drugs rackets are also involved in prostitution. Society must deal with these people and with other major security issues. We can have all the legislation we want but we must also rescue these people. There is a major security element needed from the Garda Síochána. In debates inside and outside the Dáil, the issue of prostitution is not taken seriously. Do the witnesses agree? Do they agree that we must focus resources on treating these people, who are exploiting people, as criminals?
I would like the issue to be treated from the Garda point of view in the broader criminal sphere rather than as an issue concerning women. I refer to violence against women, which is a crime. The Garda Síochána should be involved. We need legislation and support services but it involves a serious criminal aspect and requires a Garda response.
My question is linked to the comments made by Deputy Finian McGrath. What are the views of the witnesses on the ability of the Garda Síochána to deal with the issue? By the end of January 2011, some 495 members of An Garda Síochána had participated in training to tackle trafficking in human beings, its prevention, protection and prosecution.
A further 3,000 probationer gardaí were trained on the same course, along with 32 members of the Garda Reserve. Do the witnesses have any views on the ability of the Garda Síochána to deal with the issue at ground level? We have a different debate with the Minister about the resourcing of the Garda Síochána, which cannot become part of this debate, but are they sufficiently well trained to deal with the issue?
Ms Orla O'Connor:
The Deputy is right that introducing legislation will need additional resources. It also means training for gardaí. That is a wider question, however, about choices and priorities in a time of austerity. I do not think that should prevent legislation from coming forward; the legislation must come first and then resources follow. That is a wider discussion about the choices we are now making in Ireland.
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
There was a well-publicised raid recently where gardaí entered premises where prostitution was taking place. That sent out a strong message to the public, showing that prostitution is exploitative and that vulnerable people are involved. Resources must be put in place. That is a worthwhile exercise to send out a message about prostitution.
Dr. Eilis Ward:
Dr. Wylie and I will address our marks on issues of prostitution and trafficking as distinct but interrelated phenomena. We do not represent any institutional, organisational or advocacy position. We are here as social scientists who have been working on research in this area for about ten years.
We want to make three general statements and then I will speak generally on the sex trade and my colleague will speak on sex trafficking. Any discussion of prostitution must be based on the recognition it is associated with both rights and risks and any productive analysis and workable policy must consider both questions. We know very little about prostitution and the sex trade in Ireland. There has been very little competence research and there are very few benchmarks against which the change could be measured. We are aware the sex trade in Ireland has been largely privatised and may be largely beyond the reach of the State in terms of traditional surveillance and interventions. Our knowledge of sex trafficking is also very scant. This raises similar questions in terms of measuring change and the effectiveness of policy.
We have four comments to make about the sex trade and prostitution in Ireland. We have a very limited knowledge base of the sex trade in Ireland. That is particularly problematic when it comes to making statements or establishing causality between changing the law and changing practice. We know nothing about transactional sex. We know very little about social policies and practice, we know little about gender equality research and practice and we know very little about vulnerability and practice, in other words what it is about the women involved in the Irish sex trade, their vulnerability profile and involvement in the sex trade.
There have been some micro-studies and drawing on those we know the Irish sex trade has adapted to every single change in the law or policy since the foundation of the State. The sex trade has simply changed and this reflects a global pattern whereby the sex trade is infinitely adaptable to all laws and changes in policy.
Such research prompts two generalisable conclusions. Every one of our statements is based on evidence-based research. The generalisable conclusions are that prostitution may be an area of public policy which cannot be managed or controlled effectively primarily by law, although not by social policy. In addition, prostitution may be an area of public policy that can never be completely abolished.
Related micro-studies reveal a vast diversity of experience of those in the sex trade in Ireland, with both men and women with different sorts of experiences. There are different experiences with levels of risk and risk taking behaviour, and different experiences with vulnerability. Two of the studies based on research among prostitutes in Dublin support the case for managed zones or decriminalisation. Furthermore, Dr. Kathryn McGarry's micro-study on women and risk-taking in the sex trade in Dublin supports the concern that abolitionist regimes such as the Swedish model increase risk, especially for the most vulnerable in the sex trade.
Both of these conclusions drawn from Irish studies are supported by two consistent themes in the international literature, namely, that women in prostitution are not homogenous and are not all victims and they do not wish to be seen as victims - many first-person stories and narratives resist this label - and abolitionist or prohibitionist regimes increase the risk for marginal questionable gains.
Recent discourses in Ireland proposing the Swedish model are not supported by evidence-based research that validates the suppositions contained within the Swedish model. There is no evidence to say the suppositions in the model support its applicability to Ireland, largely because we do not have the comprehensive research that would be required for policy change in this area.
We suggest the situation captured above constitutes an unwise basis for the implementation of legal change, particularly given the critical literature on the Swedish model that is now beginning to emerge. From the point of view of prostitution, the State's current legal framework may be as good as it gets, an accident of history rather than planning, in that it enables the containment of the growth of the industry. In addition, its intention is not to criminalise the sex worker, although in practice it does, and it enables policies to minimise the risk to the individuals involved in the sex trade and risk in terms of public health issues.
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
There are different ways of regulating prostitution, through abolition or legalisation, or points in between. These are often discussed as ways of combating sex trafficking. The international research and literature is highly inconclusive. The Dutch national rapporteur reports ongoing sex trafficking in the Netherlands. The Swedish Government's own evaluation has provided very little concrete evidence of the efficacy of the Swedish law as a means of combating trafficking. The 2012 "Trafficking in Persons Report" of the US State Department names both Sweden and the Netherlands as countries of transit, destination and exploitation for human trafficking.
There is a problem in the conflation of sex trafficking and prostitution. As Dr. Ward said, people experience a diversity of outcomes and experiences in the sex trade. Our research showed that and the Department's conference poignantly illustrated that with very divergent views from the floor from women involved in the sex trade. It is also important to recognise that human trafficking occurs for reasons beyond sexual exploitation, such as forced labour.
If we are to take a demand-led model, we need to understand the complexity of demand for exploitable labour in society more generally, in domestic work and in construction. This leads me to an analysis which points to the importance of recognising the paucity of migrant workers' rights and the lack of access for migrant workers to employment in the European Union, creating a nexus between trafficking and migration.
In Ireland we have had an anti-trafficking law since 2008 and we are in line with our UN and EU obligations. We have anti-trafficking infrastructure, policing commitment and civil society collaboration with the anti-human trafficking unit. There have been investigations and prosecutions but barely any convictions. While I do not maintain everything is right with Ireland's current anti-trafficking legislation or with what happens to people identified as victims within that law, at the same time we have the makings of an adequate anti-trafficking framework in the Irish context. These issues, along with the necessity of addressing the issue of migrant workers' rights more generally should be considered by the committee in combatting human trafficking rather than the reductive route of criminalising the purchase of sex.
I thank Dr. Ward and Dr. Wylie. The key message in the presentation of the delegation relates to a lack of research and evidence or data in Ireland on prostitution. The presentation also questioned the causality or connection between prostitution and trafficking. The delegation is suggesting that there is not enough evidence to link the causality. I note the delegation is critical of the Swedish and Dutch models. Is there an appropriate international research model? The delegation is looking for two things. Relevant research is an important element for the committee to make recommendations and in determining how we might come to a decision. Can the delegation give us an example or context of another state where there is particular and clear research? I do not suggest coming up with a particular option but in terms of data collection, can the delegation offer an example of a country where it works or where such information is available? That is my first question.
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
In trafficking research there is a general acceptance that the data are problematic. This is because of the criminality of the act but also because of the different perspectives researchers bring to their understanding. I do not think there is any country where there has been agreed research. The United Nations produces the global initiative to fight human trafficking, GIFT, report, which is helpful in the sense that it reports only on prosecuted cases or investigations and prosecutions. Therefore, it provides hard data, but the problem is that not all cases will ever come to light and there is a problem with how the law defines the problem. It might make it rather narrow in terms of who is seen as a trafficking victim. There have been attempts by the International Organization for Migration, IOM, and the Austrian Government to produce a model which would allow for better data collection. There is an ongoing research struggle to provide a way of doing research that is grounded. It remains a highly contentious issue.
Does the delegation have a proposed model in terms of their disciplines? Is there a model we can look at? The delegation is saying that there is sporadic and uneven data collection in this area internationally. Is there any model that could be addressed to Ireland? The delegation has not made such a proposal. Can the delegation recommend anything in terms of its discipline?
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
The anti-human trafficking unit in the Department of Justice and Equality collects data on prosecutions, convictions and people in State administrative arrangements, and it reports annually. We conducted research as part of which we interviewed stakeholders and gatekeepers in the area in 2007. We encountered all the difficulties of doing the research in this area but we have carried out research which attempted to explore the extent of trafficking.
My next question relates to the study carried out by the delegation. The presentation referred to a one-size-fits-all reason. We need not go into too much detail. The delegation carried out a baseline study in 2007. One of the key findings related to research into trafficking and lap dancing in Ireland. I am interested to hear the facts about it. The delegation referred to women's experience and that the degrees of choice were diverse. I am keen for the delegation to explore this with the committee in order that we are aware from the delegation's point of view that there is no single, one-size-fits-all reason why women enter prostitution.
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
Absolutely. During the research we interviewed members of the Garda Síochána and we heard about diverse experiences. There were women who flew in from other EU states to work in lap dancing to fund education for their children at home. There were women who did not consider themselves to be exploited and returned to the lap dancing industry when they could. There were others who had experiences of duress. That diversity is there and it is recognised broadly in international research as well.
The delegation referred to emerging critical evidence in its presentation relating to the Swedish model not working. Some of my colleagues went there recently. Previous presentations have referred to it as well. Can the delegation provide the evidence or let us know something of the nature of that evidence?
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
One of the issues is that the Swedish Government evaluation has been criticised for lack of baseline data and concrete evidence and the fact that Sweden continues to have an issue with sex trafficking. Last summer in Gothenburg there was a major prosecution of a trafficking ring. Women had been trafficked from Romania to the sex industry in Sweden. There has been no abolition of the sex trade in Sweden and there is no evidence that sex trafficking does not take place in Sweden. The same applies to the Netherlands. I see both ideological poles as problematic.
There are several Members offering. I call on speakers to be very brief because there are many people waiting and we do not want to be here all night. I call on people to be as quick as they can, with short focused questions and answers. I call Senator Zappone.
I have two quick questions. I wish to build on Senator Mac Conghail's questions on research. The delegation has argued that we need more research to justify policy or legislative change. Has the delegation begun to outline the parameters of the type of research required to bring us to a point where we could be ready for such change?
Dr. Eilis Ward:
That is difficult because of course it is formulating continuously. There are continuous conversations but we have not begun the research yet. However, I believe we are beginning to build up data by working together and we are beginning to identify some gaps. For example, we know nothing about research on the men who use prostitution in Ireland. I am particularly interested in the relationship between law, policy and the practice. What happens when one implements certain types of policies? What changes occur and what is the relationship between them? That is another type of research which should be done. There is a problem with funding. There is no funding for this type of research. Our research has had to be self-funded. If there is no funding, the research will not get done, at least not the comprehensive surveys that are required. Only micro studies are being done.
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
It is very difficult. When I started research in this area, the first thing I discovered was that people come at this from different ideological starting points. If one believes prostitution is always exploitative, it leads one to a certain understanding of the relationship between trafficking and prostitution. If one believes there is more diversity in the situation, one works from a different set of premises. There are some hard data studies that give us the convictions, prosecutions, etc. but they cannot capture the fact that I believe the definition of trafficking, which requires the elements of deception, coercion, movement and exploitation, is so narrow in law that it is very difficult to identify actual victims of trafficking.
Many people who are sadly not considered to be exploited enough in respect of labour or sex are not identified as victims of trafficking. There is a problem with that kind of hard data that only goes to the prosecutions because they do not pick up that breadth of exploitative experience. Where people start from in their imagination regarding the nature of the problem affects what they then count or see. It will be very hard to find really hard evidence.
I am mindful of the fact that the two most recent speakers are probably some of the few who will advocate for a different position from that espoused by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. It might be important to give them more speaking time to have a balance.
We may invite them back later if that is necessary and if the two speakers are willing to come back at a later time. I am conscious of all those present here today and I want to give everyone an equal chance to speak. If we need to come back later, we can discuss whether the speakers are willing to do so.
Has any study been carried out to inform the committee in its deliberations as completely as possible? Is Dr. Wylie aware of any study which puts a value on the sex trade to the black economy in Ireland? Does anyone from the delegation have that figure? It is important that this be established.
Can I put the question I put to the IMO earlier to the delegation from the National Women's Council of Ireland? What does the council envisage as a penalty? Does it favour imprisonment, a register or the publication of names?
Ms Jacqueline Healy:
We are part of the core co-ordinating group of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. Obviously, the question of what a legislative solution should be is one of the things that has come up. I agree with my colleague from the IMO that there must be an effective deterrent. Such a deterrent could even be a name-and-shame in a newspaper or a financial penalty but it needs to be something that sends out the message that this is a crime, that one cannot do it and that Irish society will not tolerate it anymore. Research needs to be carried out but our view is that the penalty, whether it is a financial penalty or imprisonment, must be effective. We have veered towards fines. Being named in a newspaper would probably be quite effective.
I have a few brief questions as I am trying to achieve a balance. I have two questions that come from a different perspective from that of my other questions. One of the problems with the current legislation is that in order for a person availing of the service of a prostitute to be convicted of availing of someone who has been trafficked, it must be proved that he or she knew the person was trafficked, which is very difficult to do. What is the delegation's view on the obvious weakness of that legislation in protracting what is essentially slavery? When the committee visited Sweden, we met someone who made a powerful impression on the committee. This was a social worker on the front line who would have dealt with hundreds of prostitutes. Whenever a situation arises in which a user is arrested, the prostitute will immediately be given support services. In addition to all of the evidential issues, the social worker was quite clear that virtually all of them wanted to exit prostitution and she acknowledged the only voices she heard were those still in prostitution. There seems to be a divergence between those who are stuck in prostitution and who advocate for it to be maintained and those who have managed to exit it and who rarely argue that it should be maintained. What are the delegation's views on that unscientific but powerful testimony from somebody who works with prostitutes?
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
Again, opinion is divided. We heard from the Rose Project from Sweden at the Department's conference. They are women who either are or were sex workers and who do not support the Swedish model. There is an incredible range of opinion among people who have been involved as to what the right approach is.
Dr. Gillian Wylie:
It has not proven to be workable. Reports from the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence anti-human-trafficking task force suggest that there has been only one conviction for adult sex trafficking to date. There were five convictions in 2010 but most of those people were prosecuted under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act. The legislation is not workable.
We are back in public session. On behalf the committee, I welcome Ms June Tinsley from Barnardos; Ms Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland; Mr. Jerry O'Connor, who is also from the Immigrant Council of Ireland; and Ms Sarah Benson and Ms Geraldine Rowley from Ruhama. I thank the witnesses for attending here today and for the submissions they supplied to the committee. The format for the meeting will be the same as previously. The witnesses will make brief opening remarks followed by a question-and-answer session.
Again, I draw witnesses' attention to the situation regarding privilege. Witnesses should note that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members should be aware that under the salient rulings of the Chair, they should not comment on or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy has some questions for the delegation from the Immigrant Council of Ireland but she has been called away to the Dáil for a few minutes. With the committee's indulgence I will invite the Immigrant Council of Ireland to make its presentation after which the Deputy will ask her questions. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms Denise Charlton:
I thank the committee for the invitation to speak today. I wish to address a number of points, some of which may respond to questions asked earlier. The Immigrant Council of Ireland is a core member of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, of which the committee is aware. We are one of 64 robust organisations which represent most counties and sectors in Ireland. We come from very different perspectives and angles to the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking, but what unites us is that we believe if demand for sexual services is tackled by targeting the buyer it will have a real impact. The Immigrant Council of Ireland came to this conclusion in a number of ways. We commissioned robust research which over a 21-month period examined sex trafficking and prostitution in Ireland. It was one of the first studies of its kind in Europe and was conducted by Dr. Pillinger, Dr. Kelleher and Monica O'Connor. I hope the committee will invite them to present their findings.
What also motivates us as a human rights organisation is that we challenge the notion that prostitution is a harmless transaction between consenting adults. Survivors of prostitution are at the core of the Turn off the Red Light campaign and some committee members heard their remarks in the Oireachtas a number of weeks ago. When they described their experience they left us in no doubt of the violence that underpins prostitution and sex trafficking. We have a particular lens on human trafficking as a migrants rights organisation concerned with the migration process, and we were delighted earlier this year when the US President, Barack Obama, highlighted it as modern-day slavery. He is prepared to apply the full resources of the US Federal Government to combat the problem.
Trafficking for sexual exploitation is the biggest human trafficking phenomenon in Ireland and throughout Europe. In our research we identified 102 cases, but these are only the cases that have come to our attention. They tell horrifying stories of which committee members are aware, such as that some of the women with whom we have worked did not even know they were in Ireland, never mind whether they were in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Portlaoise, Letterkenny or any other town or city. There is a demand for child trafficking in Ireland and we have seen evidence of it as 11 of the 102 cases involved minors and 29 child trafficking cases have been identified by the Irish State. Some media reports on high-profile cases uncovered child victims of trafficking. The sex trade allows and facilitates child trafficking, for which there is a demand in Ireland. This provides a reason for the legal change.
There is much discussion about voluntary prostitution. One cannot talk about sex trafficking unless one takes a stance on prostitution. Within the sex industry are varying views and voices, and all voices should be listened to and respected, but we must be very clear that one cannot confuse the fact that a minority of women have independence and agency within the sex industry with the fact that the average age of entry is appallingly low. Children do not have a choice to consent and the average age of entry into prostitution is 14. We cannot avoid the fact that the majority of women enter prostitution because of poverty, child abuse, gender-based violence, war or broken promises of a better life after having had few choices in their own country.
I wish to discuss the link between prostitution, the sex trade and organised crime. Somebody asked earlier about research into the amount of money being made out of prostitution in the black economy. Based on our research, we estimated a figure of approximately €180 million, while the Criminal Assets Bureau has a figure of approximately €250 million for organised crime in Ireland. One does not have to take our word for it; as part of an independent investigation for "Prime Time", the journalist Paul Maguire tracked women and saw how they were moved at high speed from one area of the country to another, that mobile phones were bought in bulk, and that few of the women even knew they were in Ireland. Paul Connolly of TV3 also had a programme that looked at how vice gangs use force to keep women under control. In the Linnane case the women were filmed and were allowed to use only one baby wipe per customer. There is a high level of control in prostitution and the sex trade. All of this confirms what survivors and the women who access our services tell us.
We have had a conversation on whether the law is fit for purpose. It was developed at a time when women were on the streets selling sex. It is now a multi-million-euro industry which has gone online. Earlier we spoke about whether the Swedish law has sent prostitution underground. Prostitution has gone onto the Internet in every country regardless of the legal context. The nature of the crime means it must be accessible so that punters can find the women. The law in Ireland is not fit for purpose. We have had minimal prosecutions and very few women and victims have been identified as having been trafficked. We have two legal options. Many of us have visited the Netherlands, where it was decided to legalise the commercial exploitation of prostitution in 2000. Between 50% and 90% of women in prostitution do not want to be there and were forced into the industry against their will, according to the Dutch police. A total of 50% of brothel managers have a criminal record and it is now the hub of human trafficking. Ten years after the decision to legalise prostitution, an independent evaluation was carried out which showed the welfare of women in prostitution was worse on all measured health indicators. It was also clear from the independent evaluation that one cannot separate legal adult prostitution from child trafficking, illegal prostitution or criminal gangs. Twelve years after the law was changed in Sweden, 250 prostitutes are for sale on the Internet in that country, which has a population of 9.5 million. In Ireland, a thousand women are for sale in a population of 4.5 million. Amsterdam has approximately 2,500 legal brothels. The law in Sweden was introduced against much public opinion and now it enjoys 80% support.
The Turn Off the Red Light campaign includes people who represent every county and sector in Irish society. We are nurses, doctors, human rights organisations, farmers, trade unionists and survivors and we are all asking for the law to be changed. Eighty public representatives support us and nine local authorities have passed motions advocating the change we seek. We believe if one wants to change the exploitation, rape and violence which occurs in the sex trade in Ireland today and stop child trafficking, one must target the buyer. It has worked in other jurisdictions and we believe firmly that it will work here.
I thank Ms Charlton for her presentation, which mentioned voluntary prostitution. Does Ms Charlton have any figures for how many women are voluntary prostitutes? How can prostitution be made safe for them if they wish to remain in the industry?
Ms Denise Charlton:
We do not have exact figures, but the evaluation done in the Netherlands examined whether women felt safer and whether there were more positive outcomes for them. The answer was negative, so the legalisation model has not worked. Some of the research and evaluation from the Swedish model indicated women feel safer in the Swedish context than they did prior to the introduction of the legislation.
The one point that is clear, from all the research and from our work on the ground, is that we cannot segregate the industry. One cannot say we will have adult women here who choose to be in prostitution and keep them in one area. Pimps, traffickers and punters do not care. The reality is that wherever there is a sex trade, there will be child trafficking, exploitation of adult women and illegal prostitution. The Netherlands and New Zealand are prime examples of that.
I have another question about children. Ms Charlton mentioned the number of children of whom we are aware so far. Are those migrant children or is there evidence that children born here are being used in this trade?
Ms Denise Charlton:
I will leave it to Barnardos to explain, but the majority of the children who have come to the attention of the anti-trafficking unit are migrant children.
With regard to the research, somebody asked earlier about demand and whether we know anything about men's behaviour and the culture. There is a great deal of money being spent in Europe to examine demand and what deters men from buying. The immigrant council and others will be involved in a piece of research, but there is much evidence out there. One of the greatest deterrents to buying is legislation that penalises buying.
Ms Denise Charlton:
There are other countries that are considering it, including France and Croatia. Norway and Iceland have introduced such a model. England has looked at a version of it, Scotland is considering it, and Northern Ireland is now having conversations on it. Across Europe there are many considerations similar to what we have heard today. There is significant support for the Swedish model, and it has worked.
We recently received a briefing in Buswell's from a number of former workers in the sex trade, which was forceful and informative. One of the key points that we took from it was that the younger these women advertised themselves as, the more in demand they were. Ms Charlton mentioned that there are a thousand sex workers available today in Ireland. What number of those are under age?
Ms Denise Charlton:
We do not know. Women would be told to present as over 18. Even some of the clients of the immigrant council who are clearly under age and who have come to the attention of the authorities on a number of occasions have been told to present as over 18, and I am sure that is the experience of Barnardos and Ruhama as well.
I have a related question. That figure of a thousand women for sale is exceptionally high for a small country such as Ireland. Does Ms Charlton have any idea of the percentage who are foreign nationals?
I ask that the committee note my request that we hear from the researchers who produced Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland, the piece of research identified by the ICI. I note that the independent researchers were overseen by an advisory committee which included members of the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive.
We have not spoken much about the New Zealand model. In her presentation and in her work, Ms Charlton argues on the basis of research that there is a link between prostitution and trafficking and that there is a need to reduce demand in order to deal with the human trafficking issue. As part of its evaluation of the implementation of the model of legalisation for prostitution in New Zealand, according to its department's consultation document, the committee that reviewed the law determined that there was no link between the sex industry and human trafficking. Perhaps Ms Charlton would comment in that regard?
Ms Denise Charlton:
I do not know that part of the report, but there is an absolute link between sex trafficking and prostitution. Trafficking is a legal definition that most of the women in the sex industry are not even aware of. If women who are in the sex trade come to the immigrant council seeking assistance, often it is with regard to their immigration status. That is how they present to our services. Alternatively, they present to the women's health project because of a health need. They do not describe themselves as having been trafficked; they describe themselves as being in the sex trade. They can then be defined as having been trafficked in order to receive limited services in the country, but it is a legal definition. I would say that women present as being in the sex trade and then some of them are identified as having been trafficked. There is an absolute link; one cannot separate the two. It is merely a way of defining some women within that industry.
In Sweden, the penalty is up to one year's imprisonment, but that rarely happens. If one accepts responsibility, one is fined and, I think, one's name is retained on a register. I do not think the name is published. However, the imprisonment deterrent is there if a person alleges that he or she was not responsible. I think only one person has been taken to court. I note that in its presentation the ICI recommended a fine-by-post approach only, not imprisonment. If I am correct, there is an issue of legal precedent in Ireland whereby one cannot get legal aid unless the offence committed renders one liable to imprisonment. Perhaps the ICI could take the committee through the rationale of proposing something that is not exactly in keeping with the Swedish model.
Ms Nusha Yonkova:
The Immigrant Council of Ireland has enclosed legal opinion on penalties that was prepared for us by Dr. Alan Brady. He looked extensively at our penal system and has proposed something that could serve as a basis for future debates. What we are recommending at this stage is not a high level of penalty but one that is comparable with the amount of money men are ready to pay, for example, for unprotected sex in more high-class agencies. It has been pointed out in many pieces of research that a really efficient deterrent for men would be notification to their families, places of employment or addresses they submitted to the authorities, and that is also recommended by us as part of the penalisation procedure. It is applicable. It is possible.
It is true that potential offenders may not have recourse to legal aid. That is an additional deterrent. It is true that their families may find out about their behaviour, which is unacceptable not only because it is an offence but simply because of what it is. This is a further deterrent. All of these small steps will serve the final purpose. However, the complete analysis is available to the committee.
On the removal of legal aid, would the ICI have concerns about a person's innocence until proven guilty? I ask the witnesses to clarify the ICI's position on the proposal that legal aid be removed.
Ms Nusha Yonkova:
Looking at the profile of potential offenders, provided we have such an offence, we know for sure that these men are professionals with money who can afford to engage in this sort of prostitution activity. The level of penalty that we recommend is fairly comparable with and similar to what they are ready to pay. Surely they are in a position to provide for their defence if they are not guilty.
In terms of data, it would be useful.
I have two questions. First, when we debated this in the Seanad a while ago under the Independent group motion, the Minister was wary about the issue of strict liability and was falling back on that as a default reason for not making any changes to the legislation.
Can Ms Yonkova give us her view on the strict liability? I will ask the second question afterwards.
Ms Nusha Yonkova:
That issue has been researched for us by a senior counsel and also by another legal practitioner. The research is available but in a nutshell it concluded that strict liability has not been deemed to be constitutionally completely permissible in sexual behaviour-related offences. It is possible to introduce this, in particular in combination with penalties that are not very high and therefore not a lot is at stake for the offender. Therefore, this consideration from the C.C. case, for example, would not be applicable in those cases.
Furthermore, it has proven that unconditional penalties in relation to situations where behaviour is regulated work far better. The UK, which had opted for conditional penalisation of buyers of sexual services through prostitution, is finding it difficult because of this. We already have an example of how conditional penalisation in the cases of men who are purchasing services from trafficked individuals does not work at all. Since 2008, when the legislation was introduced involving penalties, we have not obtained any convictions. The likelihood is that we will not because who is to say who the trafficked person is in Ireland? We barely identify one or two people per year.
Yes. It appears that there is now a different law in Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to Article 64A. Can Ms Yonkova brief us on the new legislation in the North of Ireland and how it might impact on the purchase of sex in the North? It might have an impact if there is a causality between prostitution and trafficking.
Ms Nusha Yonkova:
Northern Ireland forms part of the debate around the UK's policing and crime Bill. A penalty was introduced for men who purchase sex from individuals who are controlled. The word "controlled" was defined much more broadly than "trafficked". In our jurisdiction we have penalties against men who purchase trafficked people, which is a narrower situation and more difficult to prove. The idea behind the UK legislation, including the Northern Ireland legislation that is now in operation, is that more men will be captured in the scope of this prohibition, and demand will be impacted on a greater scale with their legislation. Currently, in Northern Ireland there is a call for a review of this conditionality and to outlaw demand unconditionally for all men who are seeking and purchasing prostitution. It remains to be seen what will happen.
It has been in place there for two years, but does Ms Yonkova have any data on what has happened in that time? Can we examine that data from the time that Act has been in place in the North to see how it might benefit our committee in terms of making a decision?
Ms June Tinsley:
Thank you, Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee on this important topic. I will be speaking about prostitution from the perspective of children and their vulnerability in being lured and exploited in this manner.
Childhood should be a precious time when innocence is protected. We have a moral and societal responsibility to ensure children are protected from those who may harm them. For children who have been exploited through prostitution, it can taint every day of their lives both now and into their future.
The reality is that child prostitution is a grotesque form of sexual exploitation. It is not something that any child chooses but is something they are coerced into by people seeking to make money, exert power over them or by circumstances. Children abused through prostitution are often not visible on the streets and this makes it easier for abusing adults to continue to exploit these children for their own gain and gratification.
The harm caused to children by sexual exploitation through prostitution is well documented and the emotional impact of that harm can show itself in a range of behaviour such as self-harm, addiction, overdosing, eating disorders and criminal activity.
Given the secretive nature of prostitution, it is hard to identify the scale on which children are involved. The use of technology, however, can make the exposure of child prostitution even harder as mobile numbers are swapped around, thus allowing the adult to keep control over the young person.
The statistics we do have-----
I am sorry to interrupt Ms Tinsley but there is a vote in the Seanad and a lot of our Senators have been called away. I propose therefore that we suspend our meeting until the vote is over. I apologise for this but it is out of our control. Unfortunately, the Senators must leave to vote in the Seanad Chamber. They will be back as soon as they can.
Ms June Tinsley:
I will jump in at the point at which I had referred to the scale of child prostitution and how the use of technologies could make the exposure of child prostitution even harder, as mobile phone numbers are swapped, while still keeping control over the young person. From the statistics available to us, we know that at least half of women involved in prostitution first became involved when they were under 18 years of age. It was evident from the "Prime Time Investigates" programme that the women concerned certainly were under 18 years when they first became involved in prostitution. That programme also highlighted the fact that this issue no longer was just occurring in urban areas but was taking place throughout the country and that children were being moved around to meet demand.
As for the experience of Barnardos, members are aware that it is Ireland's largest children's charity and has 42 projects nationwide. Through our guardian ad litem service which helps to present the best interests of children in court proceedings, we have worked with children who have been taken into special care because they have been sexually exploited and with others who have engaged in prostitution as a means to feed an alcohol and drug problem. We have also come across instances of children from the Roma community being pimped out. In addition, through our teen parent support programme, we have worked with children who have been trafficked and are trying to escape from their trafficker.
Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on child protection, agreed in his fourth report that children who were leaving the care system were particularly vulnerable to becoming engaged in prostitution, as are those who have experienced homelessness, suffer from alcohol or drug addictions or both, as well as separated and trafficked children. Child trafficking does not simply equate to children being brought into the country from outside Ireland but is also linked with internal trafficking. The anti-human trafficking unit's annual report for Ireland for 2010 found that six of the 19 children who were alleged victims of trafficking were Irish.
Barnardos UK and Barnardos Northern Ireland have worked for a number of years with children who were sexually exploited through prostitution. In their experience, reporting rates of child prostitution will always remain an underestimate because many of the children do not view themselves as victims or do not believe they are even being exploited. Moreover, the phenomenon of so-called lover boys is growing, which sees young adult males becoming the boyfriends of vulnerable teenage girls, usually aged around 13 or 14 years, and making them sleep with other men. The girl is terrified that the lover boy will break up with her and so will oblige, after which the boyfriend tells her that he is proud of her and consequently she feels happy that she has made him happy. However, the girl quickly becomes scared and emotionally dependent on the boyfriend because he threatens her and states he is the only one who can protect her, yet he is also there to confuse her because occasionally he can be affectionate and consequently she thinks he genuinely cares about her. As a result, the girls can feel completely trapped and confused. As we heard, according to the research, young people aged 12 to 15 years are those most at risk of experiencing sexual exploitation. Those leaving the care system and certainly those in residential care as opposed to those in foster placements are particularly at risk.
As for current legal protections, while a number of laws are in place for children who have been abused, they do not explicitly deal with prostitution and its organised nature. The three main laws that deal with the exploitation of children through prostitution are the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Act 2007, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 and the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. Both Barnardos and our partners in the Turn Off the Red Light campaign believe that fundamentally the most effective way to tackle the issue of prostitution is to introduce criminal sanctions against the buyers of sex as a way to discourage the demand for prostitution. While the introduction of legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex would be a fundamental step as it would benefit all those exploited through prostitution, Barnardos also believes there are other legislative measures that could reduce child exploitation. For instance, I refer to introducing the offence of grooming which is still outstanding and has been sought for a number of years. This offence would reduce the chances of children being exposed and lured into situations which could result in abuse and exploitation. Moreover, as children leaving the care system are particularly vulnerable, having an automatic guarantee of after-care services could certainly help such vulnerable young people and reduce their vulnerability to being involved in child prostitution.
Ms June Tinsley:
We are referring to the preparatory acts involved to lure a child into a situation. Grooming them online is obviously becoming increasingly prevalent, certainly through social networks, either by appearing as an adult trying to befriend a child or setting up a false profile as a child, trying to befriend another and then making efforts to meet that child to engage in sexual exploitation or to show child pornography. I was referring to that activity. At present, there is no particular offence of grooming.
Ms Sarah Benson:
I thank the joint committee for its invitation to address it today.
The matter of Ireland's prostitution legislation is of deep importance to Ruhama, as the only NGO that works on the front line exclusively with women affected by prostitution, including victims of sex trafficking, which we have been doing for more than two decades. In that time we have worked with thousands of women and girls who have been involved actively in prostitution, both indoor and on-street, who are seeking to exit or still remain involved and with those who are victims of trafficking, as well as with women with a past experience. Notwithstanding the actual research which we also conducted over a period of two years and published in 2005, as well as this international research, most importantly, our direct contact with women and girls over this period of 23 years informs our position on the entire issue of prostitution. We have concluded that, overall, prostitution is both intrinsically harmful and violent to the women and girls involved. In addition to the significant physical damage and risk, there is the emotional and psychological harm which has long-term consequences, even after women have exited the sex trade. It erodes self-esteem and self-confidence, can cause depression and, as has been mentioned, creates issues regarding post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to the harm to each individual, there is the social, cultural and global impact, that is, the damage to the social position and perception of women both nationally and globally. If one woman's body is perceived as being for sale, the implication is that all women and girls potentially are for sale, which undermines directly the potential for gender equality. Unless we recognise the harm caused by prostitution and the real challenges faced in getting out, once one finds oneself involved in that life, as a society, we are falling short of meeting the needs of those who need support and are involved in the sex trade.
Those who argue in favour of decriminalising or legalising prostitution tend to take a highly utopian view of the sex trade. They take the perspective that if one regulates, it will all be okay, that one can eliminate or minimise child prostitution and child trafficking and can make it safer for everyone involved. Our experience - I have travelled to both Sweden and Amsterdam - is that this is an utterly unattainable goal because prostitution is predicated on the availability of vulnerable young girls and the exploitation of vulnerability of impoverished women in the main to ensure the demand for sex for sale is met. It is not possible that there would be enough of that small cohort of freely choosing independent women who are without control, coercion and have other positive viable choices available to them. There are simply not enough of those woman to meet the demand. Consequently, there will always be exploitation in the sex trade, no matter where it is situated or how it is regulated.
As a support service, we are completely non-judgmental of individual women's involvement in prostitution because we understand the complexities of entering therein and the barriers to exiting therefrom. However, after 23 years of witnessing and hearing from women about their experiences and the awful challenges they often face, it simply is impossible not to judge the systems and structures, as well as the other stakeholders who complete the picture. Pimps are pimps. They are not agents or managers, which tends to be the dialogue one hears. These are pimps who are making money off the backs of others for the profit of others at very high gain and low risk to themselves. Buyers, equally, simply do not care about the reality of the women and girls they buy and this has been well documented internationally. Their focus is entirely selfish. I draw the joint committee's attention to an appendix to Ruhama's submission which gives a sample of the reviews left by Irish sex buyers of the women they purchase right across this country.
One example is as follows:
That is the attitude of the sex buyer with regard to the women and girls being bought. These people simply do not care where the women come from and it is about the good time the buyers have.
First of all, she is not the girl in the photos. She kept me waiting half an hour. We met at her apartment, then with another girl. I had the choice of two and went with the so-called [name]. One good thing, she has a tight pussy but that is where it ends. I would avoid.
The commercial sex trade in this country is also actively organised by criminality, and there are numerous criminal gangs organising and profiting from prostitution of vulnerable women and girls right across this island in urban and sometimes very rural settings. To separate trafficking from organised prostitution, as the representative of the Immigrant Council of Ireland has indicated, defies logic. Given the mechanisms by which the sex trade operates, victims of trafficking are advertised in the same places as all other forms of the commercial sex trade and not in a separate corner or cohort that is restricted. A cohesive approach to organised prostitution is also the means by which perpetrators and victims of trafficking can be identified and assisted.
We have spoken much about the Swedish model as a way forward but this is really about examining the Swedish example. We must develop an Irish model fit for an Irish purpose and Ruhama believes there is scope to create an environment in Ireland which is hostile to those criminally organising and truly profiting from prostitution while recognising and ensuring that those who find themselves involved in prostitution are not prosecuted and criminalised but supported.
Targeting the sex buyer sends a clear message that buying sex is not socially acceptable. There is no human right to buy sex and sex buyers are not a vulnerable group whose rights need protecting in this regard. This minority of men - it is one in 15 men, compared to up to one in three in Spain - drive a very large and profitable criminal trade. In addition to considering the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, there is a need to recognise that existing laws are out of date and fall short, making the organised sex trade difficult to police. This is particularly with reference to the Criminal Law (Sex Offences) Act 1993, as there have been so many changes in the Irish sex trade since the law's enactment. In reviewing legislation there should be a strong increase in penalties and sentencing for specific offences involving the organisation of prostitution. There should also be a review of the legislation to account for the use of modern telecommunications such as the Internet and mobile phones by pimps and traffickers in both the advertising and organising of prostitution, which has contributed significantly to the large-scale growth in the Irish sex trade over the past decade. The use of these technologies allows for anonymity in pimping and trafficking, as people no longer need to be on-site to operate crimes, making it much more difficult to police organised prostitution.
For those in the sex trade it is equally important that they receive the message that they are not criminals and that they can seek health, emotional, practical and police support when required. For the majority of people, who are trying to get out, it is critical that the maintenance and further development of resourced exiting programmes and health services creates alternatives and viable choices. Updating the 1993 legislation in tandem with criminalising buyers and the continued provision of health and social support services for those in prostitution form an Irish model that would achieve the best outcomes in reducing the degree of organised crime and exploitation in the sex trade in this country.
I thank the group for the presentation. This non-governmental organisation has worked on the front line with prostitutes for decades, and it has considerable experience in that regard. There is a concern that there has been a lack of resources for non-governmental organisations working in this area. Perhaps the Immigrant Council of Ireland's representatives will respond to the question as well. Do we have enough support for those involved, who are mainly women? Are there adequate Garda resources in place for us to adopt the Swedish model? The concern is that the process may drive prostitution further underground and put more women in difficulty. It is a question of whether we are putting the cart before the horse.
Ms Sarah Benson:
The issue of prostitution being driven underground has been addressed by Ms Charlton. It cannot be driven underground. This has been consistently argued by police in jurisdictions where the sex buyer has been criminalised in a process where the overall trade is criminalised with the exception of those working. If a buyer is seeking a service or product, he or she must be able to find it. If the buyer can find it, authorities can find it. We see advertisements all over the place and on the Internet. When looking for this activity, it is not hard to find.
With regard to whether we are putting the cart before the horse, our argument is that we must start this process in order to make it possible for the limited resources of the NGOs and the Garda to respond. Given the significant extent of the involvement of organised crime in the indoor sex trade, if Ireland becomes a less attractive location the market will shrink. If something is not against the law, a cohort will do it; if the activity is outlawed, a portion of that cohort will stop doing it. That will lessen the incentives for routes that go as far as South America and Africa to bring women here. If the attraction is eliminated, the market will dwindle.
We are very stretched with our resources, as is the Garda. In order to achieve a manageable response, there must be some deterrent to shrink the trade. Some women will remain involved but the number will be smaller. We could probably channel our resources in such cases to help them.
Our committee has examined the Swedish model and met with representatives of the enforcement agencies, including the Swedish justice department. We had a long day of meetings during which we went through the issues in detail. It struck me that in the context of ongoing cuts to police resources, we cannot ignore the fact that we would have to put in place substantial resources if we went with the Swedish model. I presume most of the thousand people available are women. The point was made by the Swedish authorities that this cannot be driven underground and that the so-called commodity must be marketed. The difficulty is how we can be sure the Garda will examine the thousand Internet images and use surveillance on every one to ensure that users are prosecuted and that there will be necessary social service supports for women. There must be a clear assurance for those concerned, as women may be driven into positions in which they are more desperate and put themselves in more danger. Do the witnesses agree that significant resources must be put into policing to make this work?
Ms Sarah Benson:
I do not believe so. Everything the Deputy has outlined is happening right now and we are not coping well, as the sex trade is growing and resources have not been targeted. We must prioritise the issue. There are some dedicated Garda resources and we have lobbied the Garda and the Department for increased and dedicated responses to the vice trade, which incorporates trafficking and organised prostitution. Currently there is a small unit but it needs further dedication. Notwithstanding this, everything described by the Deputy is happening right now, and the sex trade is currently growing. We are still considered a highly attractive and profitable market.
The Swedish model has three or four elements in legislation and is not restricted to criminalisation of the user and decriminalisation of prostitutes.
When two prostitutes share an apartment for safety reasons, the premises constitutes a brothel and the prostitutes are forced to work on their own. What are the witnesses' views on concerns that have been raised in this regard?
Ms Sarah Benson:
Brothel keeping is a tricky issue. We have significant concerns about cases of women being criminalised in circumstances where someone else is controlling them. The Swedish model is for Sweden and the Irish model needs to be for Ireland. We need to ensure that the legislative response that emerges maintains a penalty for the organisation of prostitution. However, we do not see any value in prosecuting women who are involved in prostitution on their own. We advocate an approach whereby the Garda would recognise that those at the coalface are vulnerable and should be treated as potential victims and witnesses. Such a policy is being taken at senior level, at least to some degree, but it should be rolled out throughout the force and should apply where there is clear evidence of the organisation of prostitution. This would be a matter for policy once the legislation has been re-examined. We do not want women to be criminalised.
I am interested in the area of data collection and research. Have any international comparisons been done? Will Ruhama provide a short summary of the background to the 2005 research to which Ms Benson referred? Does it address the reasons women enter prostitution?
Ms Sarah Benson:
My colleague Ms Rowley will answer the Senator's second question. On international data which would allow a comparison to be made of various jurisdictions, we have referenced such research in our submission. The most recent research, which makes a statistical and empirical comparison of different jurisdictions and poses the specific question as to whether legalising prostitution increases trafficking, was done by Dreher et al. The paper, which was published in 2002 and updated in 2012, drew a clear conclusion, based on an empirical comparison, that sex trafficking increases in jurisdictions which legalise prostitution.
Ms Geraldine Rowley:
Ruhama's Next Step initiative was research carried out in the early part of the previous decade with women in our services who were involved in prostitution. It examined the barriers that affected women when they wanted to exit prostitution. It recognised that some of the barriers preventing women from leaving prostitution were internal, including addiction, mental health issues and poor self-esteem, while others were external, such as societal structures and poverty. Ruhama also recommended a range of best practice models which would help women to exit prostitution. The research was strongly focused on exiting prostitution and we have a clear exit strategy in our services to women in prostitution.
I was about to ask about the exit strategy but Ms Rowley addressed the issue. While banning the advertising of sex for sale and escort services would be a relatively simple step to take, the problem is where the trade would go afterwards and what we could do to tackle it. I am trying to formulate a view on how to approach this issue. Does Ruhama have any views in this regard?
Ms Sarah Benson:
It is currently a criminal offence to advertise prostitution. Until now, case law, as it has been tested in Ireland, has pertained only to printed media. However, given that everything is now done via the Internet, trying to regulate the Internet would raise major cross-jurisdictional and international issues. There is case law to indicate that advertising on the Internet that is targeted at a specific jurisdiction may constitute the advertising and publication of material that is prohibited in this State. We recommend updating the penalties attached to this very old legislation, which are currently a non-custodial sentence and a fine of up to €10,000. The largest prostitution website operating in Ireland is conservatively estimated to net €10,000 per day. Certain more current legislation provides for penalties of up to €10 million. If such a penalty were attached to legislation, it could put a dent in profits.
On behalf of the committee I welcome the following: Sr. Mary Ryan and Sr. Síle McGowan of Act to Prevent Trafficking; Ms Maeve Lewis, executive director, and Ms Julie Browne, advocacy officer, One in Four; Ms Fiona Finn, chief executive and Ms Jennifer DeWan, campaign and communications officer, Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre; and Ms Claire Mahon, president, Mr. Liam Doran, general secretary, and Ms Clare Treacy, director of social policy, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. I apologise for any inconvenience caused by the delay in bringing the witnesses before the joint committee. We have used this process to address other issues. In this case, the issue under discussion has been of such interest to members that proceedings have taken longer than expected. I thank the various groups for their patience and the submissions they supplied. The format is that each group will make a brief opening statement, followed by a question and answer session.
Before we commence, I draw witnesses' attention to the position as regards privilege. By virtue of 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a Member of either House, a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask everyone present to switch off mobile telephones as they interfere with the recording systems of the House.
I ask the spokespersons of the groups to confine their opening remarks to five minutes. I invite Act to Prevent Trafficking to make an opening statement.
Sr. Mary Ryan:
I thank the joint committee for the opportunity to speak on this topic. Act to Prevent Trafficking, APT, is a faith-based non-governmental organisation working to end human trafficking, with a particular focus on those trafficked for sexual exploitation. In addition to awareness raising, we seek the implementation of effective legislation to prevent trafficking and provide better conditions of recovery for victims.
Demand is the primary driving force behind sex trafficking. The way in which the State addresses the legal status of prostitution will have a major impact on efforts to control trafficking. For this reason, APT recommends that the purchase of sex be criminalised. We are convinced that prostitution and sex trafficking are inseparably linked. Even women who allegedly enter the sex trade willingly have little or no freedom to consent. Poverty, coercion and deception are factors that prevail in this area, as is evidenced by research carried out by Kelleher et al.
The sex industry does not differentiate between free and forced participation and nor do those who buy children, women or men in prostitution. Approximately 75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children.
The so-called sex trade and the crime of sex trafficking are forms of contemporary slavery and are growing in the 21st century. Act to Prevent Trafficking, APT, holds that it is important for legislators to address prostitution as a root cause of sex trafficking. We also believe that the demand of the buyers for sexual satisfaction without responsibility is the primary driving force behind sex trafficking and prostitution. Without this demand, it would not be profitable for pimps, recruiters or traffickers to seek out a continuous supply of vulnerable people to exploit. APT takes the view that prostitution is sexual exploitation, violence against the person and a grave violation of basic human rights.
Reports from the UN, UNESCO and the European Commission show that, where prostitution is legal, as in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, the demand for prostituted women and girls is such that the local market cannot cope. Where prostitution is considered as work, sex migration becomes easy when girls and women can be coerced into demonstrating that they are coming for employment or that they will be self-employed.
Targeting the demand for the purchase of sex would lead to a decrease in prostitution, as evidenced in Sweden. Contrarily, where prostitution has been legalised, the illegal trade in sex has increased, especially through human trafficking. Therefore, our key recommendation is to criminalise the purchase of sex while decriminalising the seller, as in the Swedish model.
Current legislation on prostitution in Ireland is based on considerations of public order and the sensibilities of so-called ordinary citizens with no concern for the well-being of those prostituted. Whereas the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 has made it an offence to purchase sex from identified trafficked victims, the burden of proof imposed on the State has been such that there have been no prosecutions to date. This measure is an ineffective deterrent for buyers of sex.
The terms "sex industry", "sex trade", "sex work" and "sex workers" have become current and imply an honourable status to what has been shown to be the worst form of physical, emotional and psychological abuse to which a human being can be subjected. To call it work is to degrade the notion of decent work as set out by the International Labour Organization, ILO. Decent work has been defined as being productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. To legalise and regulate prostitution as sex work would allow criminals and members of organised crime rings to become legitimate business people with the State sanctioning the marketing of people's bodies, something that would be repugnant to many, if not all, people. The myth that male sexuality must be provided with or is entitled to a category of women called prostitutes who are legitimate targets for rape and sexual exploitation is still prevalent. We consider that to legalise prostitution would add State support to and justify this gender-based fallacy.
Prostitution is a demand market created by those who buy another's sexuality for their profit and pleasure. It treats people as merchandise and legitimate commodities. Therefore, we strongly recommend the criminalisation of the buying of sex as a necessary first step in addressing sexual exploitation in prostitution and human trafficking; that the State continue to criminalise those who promote and benefit in any way from this trade; and decriminalising those who sell sex and the provision of support services to assist victims of trafficking and those who wish to exit prostitution in order that they can provide for their needs with dignity and without the threat of exploitation, abuse or violence.
We also recommend regulation of the role of the Internet and social media in promoting pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking; the introduction of public awareness education and programmes to send out a clear message that prostitution is not acceptable; an interdepartmental approach with the Departments of Justice and Equality, Health, Social Protection and Education and Skills working in collaboration to deter demand; and that the many international instruments produced in the past 50 years on human trafficking, violence against women, discriminatory practices, gender equality and transnational crime to which Ireland has signed up and, in many cases, ratified - in particular, I would mention the Palermo Protocols and the Council of Europe convention - apply when drafting legislation.
Ms Maeve Lewis:
I thank the Chairman for inviting One in Four to address the committee. I am Maeve Lewis, executive director, and my colleague, Ms Julie Browne, is our advocacy officer. I am also a psychotherapist with more than 20 years experience of working with survivors of sexual violence.
All of our groups are present with a common purpose, namely, to ensure the review of legislation achieves the best possible outcome in terms of alleviating the harm caused to those engaged in prostitution, together with the achievement of the common good. It is estimated that the sexual services of 1,000 men, women and children are bought in this country every day. The majority of this activity takes place in private spaces, outside of the public domain. The transactions are increasingly negotiated using new technologies, making them difficult to police. The current system of criminal justice is not adequate to address the complexities of the sex trade, but the question of the best way forward is difficult to answer. As such, the committee's work is important.
My colleagues from the other organisations have been addressing various aspects of this question. In the time allowed, I will focus my comments on the work done by One in Four in the field of sexual violence. I will suggest that prostitution and trafficking must be understood as forms of sexual exploitation and, as such, form part of a continuum of sexual violence.
One in Four is unique, in that we work with every aspect of sexual violence. We offer counselling and advocacy services to men and women who were sexually abused in childhood and provide a sex offender treatment programme. Each year, we work with approximately 1,000 people.
Our clients have taught us a great deal about sexual violence. We know the suffering that lies behind the statistics and understand that the impact of sexual violence in childhood reverberates throughout a person's life. Our clients describe themselves as experiencing self-loathing and feeling contaminated and worthless. They suffer endless shame, fear and guilt. They tell us of how they try to self-soothe by using alcohol and drugs, often developing addiction problems in the process. The majority meet the criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some, both men and women, tell us of how they have worked in prostitution.
We are all agreed that the prostitution of children is always wrong. Equally, I am sure we all agree that the trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is vile and undermines any notion of human rights and human dignity.
On the other hand, it is often argued that adults have the right to choose to sell and buy sex freely and that sex between consenting adults should not be criminalised. That is to misunderstand the nature of consent. Research suggests that approximately two thirds of people working in prostitution have experienced sexual abuse in childhood. What is termed "consent" or "choice" will often have been conditioned by the impact of that sexual abuse. Prostitution reinforces the cycle of self-loathing and shame, causing further harm to the person's psychological and emotional well-being. Our clients who have worked in prostitution tell us of being obliged to fake sexual pleasure, to engage in sexual acts they find degrading and distressing and, at times, being forced to perform unsafe sexual acts. They also tell us of being raped and sexually assaulted and of believing that, as prostitutes, they had no recourse to the protection of the law. Their testimony strongly indicates that we must view prostitution as a form of sexual violence and so-called choice as being anything but free.
A review of international best practice shows that, as others have mentioned, there is no single approach that would provide a definitive model for Ireland to follow. However, One in Four is persuaded that the Swedish model, which criminalises the buyers and those who organise the trade, provides the most promising roadmap. While there are accusations of bias in the outcome research of the Swedish law, it would appear the number of people engaged in prostitution has decreased significantly, as has the number of people trafficked into Sweden.
However, what is most striking in Sweden is the change in social attitudes to the buyers of sex, especially among younger men and women.
Our own experience tells us that legal changes can induce striking shifts in social attitudes. Our drink-driving laws and same-sex marriage laws are but two examples of what extraordinary social change has followed legislative reform. If prostitution were to be decriminalised in Ireland, as it was in the Netherlands, it is likely the sex industry would become normalised, demand would grow and immense harm would be caused to vulnerable men and women. Conversely, criminalising the buyers and organisers would deepen awareness that prostitution is exploitative and damaging as well as helping to create a social norm that stigmatises the buyer rather than the prostituted person.
One in Four proposes that prostitution and trafficking is exploitative and harmful to vulnerable persons and is a form of sexual violence. The most positive way forward would be to criminalise the buyers and organisers of the sex trade with a view to profoundly changing social attitudes to prostitution.
Ms Jennifer DeWan:
I thank the Chairman and committee for inviting us today. We welcome the review process and the opportunity for organisations and individuals to have a say in the development of new legislation that reflects the changing nature of prostitution.
Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, is a non-governmental organisation working for an integrated society based on the principles of human rights, social justice and equality. Nasc, the Irish word for "link", works to link migrants to their rights by protecting human rights, promoting integration and campaigning for change. Nasc was founded in 2000 in response to the rapid rise in the number of asylum seekers and migrant workers moving to the city of Cork. It is the only NGO offering legal information and advocacy services to immigrants in Cork. Nasc's legal team assists some 1,000 immigrants annually in navigating Ireland's protection, immigration and naturalisation systems. We also assist migrants and ethnic-minority Irish people who encounter community-based and institutional racism as well as discrimination.
Nasc is a member of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and supports its call to criminalise the purchase of sex. The information we present today is based on our written submission to the committee, which is in turn based on our experiences working with migrants, particularly in cases in which migrant women and children have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. We are especially concerned with how any new prostitution legislation will affect victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation as well as addressing their long-term needs for support and protection.
As an NGO working with migrants, we focus our presentation on the situation of migrants in trafficking for sexual exploitation as it relates to the review of prostitution legislation. Migration has had a significant impact on the sex industry globally and in Ireland. The existing legislation does not reflect this global reality. Migration and sexual exploitation are structurally linked. Woman and children bear the brunt of this exploitation worldwide. Numerous studies have shown that human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a means of supplying the sex industry, as up to 80% of people trafficked worldwide are destined for the sex industry.
In Ireland, between 83% and 97% of people engaging in prostitution are believed to be migrant women and children. At Nasc, we have provided support to victims and suspected victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. We also have extensive anecdotal evidence of the relationship between trafficking and sexual exploitation among migrant women and children in Ireland, particularly in Cork. From this work, we are well aware of the limitations of the current legislation in combating trafficking and sexual exploitation and in providing the necessary supports and protections for victims.
Depending on their cultural and ethnic backgrounds and their previous experiences, migrant women and children, both trafficked and non-trafficked, can be particularly vulnerable to poverty, social exclusion and sexual exploitation. Victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation often do not know where to seek support, are fearful of disclosing their identities or situations and, in many cases, go underground rather than seek out help from the authorities or support services. We believe the current conditions are not facilitating or promoting opportunities for identification and disclosure. Accordingly, extremely vulnerable women and children are not receiving the appropriate protection and support. Any changes to legislation must take these most vulnerable women and children into account and prioritise their needs, health and well-being.
Nasc recommends in the review of the prostitution legislation the criminalisation of the purchase of all forms of sexual services along the lines of the Swedish model, with the corresponding removal of any legislation which targets the prostitute or victim of trafficking and sexual exploitation. We also recommend that any changes relating to the criminalisation of prostitution be victim-centred and provide any other necessary reforms to trafficking legislation. Trafficking must be dealt with as a human rights issue, not as an immigration issue, particularly with regard to residency, repatriation, co-operation in criminal investigations and so on. Comprehensive victim-centred support and protection for victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking must be provided, and there must be ongoing consultation directly with victims of sexual exploitation, trafficking and sex workers.
Perhaps the greatest success in the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Sweden to date has been the apparent shift in public attitudes to prostitution and trafficking. Prostitution and trafficking are not inevitable, unchangeable aspects of our society. We can and must make changes in legislation, support services and attitudes with regard to the inhuman and degrading treatment of people that comes from turning a blind eye to the trading and purchase of people's bodies. Any changes in legislation must be part of a comprehensive, victim-centred approach that provides support and protection for victims of sexual exploitation, especially victims who have been trafficked into this country illegally and who have likely experienced tremendous physical, mental and emotional suffering.
Mr. Liam Doran:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for affording us the opportunity to make this presentation and engage with it on this critical issue.
The INMO is a registered professional trade union which provides a full range of services to more than 40,000 nurse and midwife members. We are affiliated to several national and international organisations, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the National Women's Council and the International Council of Nurses. Our membership is 95% female.
Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy gave the keynote address at the INMO annual conference and received a standing ovation from the 350 nurses and midwives who steadfastly endorsed her position on prostitution and trafficking. The conference adopted a motion of support for the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and called for the introduction of legislation to prosecute buyers of sex. Many other unions have since joined the campaign. The ICTU women's conference and biennial conference carried resolutions condemning prostitution and trafficking.
The INMO rejects in the strongest terms the idea that prostitution is inevitable. It is a common cliché to refer to prostitution as the oldest profession in the world. However, this does not address the physical, mental and emotional suffering that is endured by women in prostitution. The position of the INMO is clear. It is unacceptable for someone to buy another person's body for sexual gratification, exploiting the poverty, past history of abuse or limited life choices of the person being bought. It is gross exploitation which is almost always imposed by men upon women in pursuit of financial gain.
The Irish sex industry is lucrative and has an estimated value of more than €180 million per annum, thus explaining why it is of such growing interest to many. There are more than a thousand women available through the Internet and involved with indoor prostitution. Ireland is a destination country for trafficked women, with a staggering 97% of women available through the Internet being migrants. Many trafficked women are recruited with promises of employment opportunities, often in the hotel industry. Their difficult life-related situations are used as a pathway to a better life when, in reality, they are being condemned to a life of slavery.
The argument that women make a choice to enter prostitution does not stand up to scrutiny. The situation whereby adults, in the absence of any degree of control, duress or lack of alternatives, agree to exchange sex for money seldom occurs. This is not about those rare situations but about those situations where the woman has no control and is used as little more than an object for gratification. The suggestion that the position held by many of the groups here is not evidence-based is erroneous. These are the groups that work face-to-face with these vulnerable people, and they must be listened to by the committee. They know what is wrong and what needs to be done to arrest prostitution. Any claims from those not on the front line of this problem should not swing the committee's review of the proposed legislation. What needs to be done is that the purchaser of sex needs to be criminalised.
Legislation can change attitudes, as is evident from the smoking ban and drink-driving initiatives. Prostitution is exploitative and incompatible with equality.
As a female dominated trade union, we believe this is a most compelling argument to introduce legislation that supports gender equality. This industry is about men, money and menace, nothing more, nothing less.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is firmly of the view that any attempt to form a prostitutes trade union would be naive in the extreme and merely give credibility to the mistaken belief engaging in prostitution is a choice. It is not possible to justify calling it a job, given the extreme exploitation and the tremendous physical and emotional damage women involved in prostitution suffer. There is no doubt that such women need significant support, including support to exit prostitution. As part of this process, the Government should ensure sufficient funding is available to the appropriate NGOs to provide such support.
Some advocates believe the total decriminalisation of prostitution, together with the medicalisation of the sex industry with mandatory check-ups and screening for prostitutes, would protect women and provide for more favourable health outcomes. Such an approach would only serve to legitimise prostitution via the health care system and should only be viewed as consumer protection for the buyer. It would do little to protect the health of women and be nothing more than a veneer of apparent respectability for a despicable industry.
Prostitution has a devastating impact on both the physical and mental well-being of those prostituted. It erodes self-esteem and self-confidence and can cause depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The repeated violation of the vulnerable female body for the profit or satisfaction of others is wrong and will always be so. The physical health consequences include bruises, broken bones, black eyes, concussion and many more. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, human papilla virus and syphilis, are all prevalent. Infertility, often caused by sexually transmitted diseases, is also evident. Research shows that mortality in prostitution is ten times higher than in the general population. Those involved in prostitution face beatings, rape, assault and degrading treatment. This is the real outcome of prostitution and far removed from the picture painted by those who should know better and those who profit from this industry. Melissa Farley has identified that the trauma sustained by women and girls involved in prostitution is akin to and occurs at the same rate as that suffered by soldiers who have participated in combat. Such a finding is reason enough for immediate action to protect women involved in prostitution against such violation of their human rights.
As a female dominated trade union, the INMO is deeply concerned at the growth of the sex industry, the subsequent and undeniable growing exploitation of women and the repercussions for all women in society. Ireland must legislate to criminalise the purchaser of sex, while also strengthening the penalties imposed on those who profit from this grossly exploitative trade. The comment about the Garda and the availability of resources is valid, but it cannot be used to inhibit change. If we wait for the Garda to have sufficient resources to implement every law, we will be waiting for snow in Havana. We need to do this now. Penalty points were brought forward to stop motorists speeding. These laws must be brought forward to deter people from engaging in the exploitation of women for their own satisfaction or profit. Our legislators must have the courage to act now to protect these vulnerable women and offer them some hope of a real life in which they can be free from their terrible nightmare.
I thank all of the delegations for their presentations and patience. It has been a long wait for them.
There have been several presentations which I have found myself reading. In its presentation Ruhama quoted in an appropriately shocking way – it was right to do so - some of the comments of sex buyers. I found myself reading more of them because I did not have a chance to read the document beforehand. Those involved are dealing with a despicable type of human being who does not get the reason the women concerned are there. They see it as a disappointing service, whereas the women involved live up to everything described by Ruhama. No one in the committee would disagree with Ruhama's analysis of the impact on the mental and physical health of the vast majority of women involved.
My questions relate to some of my concerns. If we put in place or advocate for legislation which criminalises the user and the Government brings it through, how will we ensure the poor women, for the most part, who are still locked in will be adequately protected? The arguments we have heard against the Swedish model suggest it forces women in that situation to work with even worse men than those about whom we have read in the comments quoted. The concern is that they might be forced to take more risks and put themselves in more danger. I understand the point made by Mr. Doran to the effect that one must create the environment before one can deal with it and enforce the issue. I am keen to hear some thoughts from the delegations on how we can ensure this. Many of those in the delegations work on the front line and deal with the implications. The priority of all of us is to protect women in these situations and ensure they are given every support to exit from prostitution. I am, therefore, keen to hear the thoughts of the delegations.
I have a comment on a related issue. When we were in Sweden, the impression I got from the Swedish police was that the number of police officers involved was rather small but that they were very focused. Further to what Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Mr. Doran said, we need to ensure we put the legislation in place and that it will have a deterrent effect. Perhaps someone will take up what Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn is getting at.
Ms Maeve Lewis:
One in Four does not work directly with people involved in prostitution. We work with people who have been sexually abused. They come to us and then the issues relating to prostitution emerge. It is clear to us – other agencies support this point – that people need this support to empower themselves to come to feel differently about themselves and change the way they view themselves - I described the issues of self-loathing, low self-esteem and so on - and realise that there are other options. That support could be provided through psychological services and then more practical services in terms of access to education, training and retraining. We believe strongly that while it is a hard road, it is not an impossible one. Every day in One in Four we see that over time people can, with a good deal of support and following a difficult journey, transform their lives and look back on that period as the nightmare it was. I am unsure if that helps.
Ms Julie Browne:
We have said the women involved in prostitution are not a homogenous group and I do not believe the men are a homogenous group either. They probably vary with regard to the levels of violence they inflict. In a society in which prostitution is legal those men will exist, but in a society where it is not normalised and there is a recognition of the harm caused, they will probably still exist also. However, I argue that the women are safer in a society in which the impact is recognised and they have more chance of exiting and becoming linked with support services. There will always be a hard core, but it is present in each of the scenarios.
Mr. Liam Doran:
We must accept that there is no protection for the woman involved. That is the problem and what has brought all of these groups together. They believe they are totally excluded. Any legislation which penalises the purchaser gives the women involved the potential for hope and allows them to believe it is possible to get away from it, to believe they are not to blame, that they are not the guilty party and that they can hold their head up and face society rather than be slammed back as some outcast.
I take the Chairman's point. Were legislation to be passed and enacted, one would come to the question of putting it into operation and making it relevant to the people affected by it. There is merit in having a small core of specialised people; the Criminal Assets Bureau has been very effective in this regard and so on. It is about creating a deterrent. Reference was made to penalties. The Swedish model is what we are seeking, but there must be an Irish dimension to it. I am upfront in saying the naming and shaming in an Irish cultural context is a vital part of this. We must ensure the people concerned are seen for what they are. I am referring to those who exploit the weak and the vulnerable.
By this means we can reduce the number who do that. A hard core will remain but the Garda, with the support of legislation, will be able to reduce the numbers still further while enabling exploited women to turn to NGOs for support in rebuilding their lives.
Ms Fiona Finn:
In our experience, the anti-human-trafficking unit has been phenomenal in engaging on the issue of women who have been trafficked. Considerable support has been put in place and women are dealt with in a positive and caring manner. Effective support services are already in place in this State, although some are in need of improvement.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I ask for their opinions on the New Zealand prostitutes' collective and whether that type of outreach initiative is something we should consider.
Ms Jennifer DeWan:
It is essential that we engage with people who work in the sex industry, whether they are in exploitative situations or engaging in what they would see as consensual activities. Nasc is happy with the way in which the committee and the Department of Justice and Equality have engaged with a variety of groups and individuals connected to the industry. Every stage of the preparation and implementation of legislation should involve ongoing consultation with those who work in the industry.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. My question is primarily directed at Mr. Doran and his colleagues. He raised the question of whether prostitution comprises work. I am aware that a debate is ongoing in the trade union sector about whether sex workers should be represented or whether we should move towards legislation that creates better conditions. I ask for more information on the other side of the debate in the trade union sector. For those who argue that it is not work, is it not a job or is it just not a good job? If, for example, the individuals concerned are destitute and suffered little or no sexual violence in their childhood, would criminalising the buyer put them in jeopardy by removing their only source of income?
Sr. Síle McGowan:
The International Labour Organization definition of decent work, which has been endorsed by the international community, is productive work done by women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Decent work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income; provides security in the workplace and social protection for workers and their families; offers better prospects for personal development and encourages social integration; gives people the freedom to express their concerns, organise and participate in decisions that affect their lives; and guarantees equal opportunities and treatment for all. From all that has been said thus far in this discussion, I think I can say it is not decent work.
Mr. Liam Doran:
I cannot add a great deal to that. Anyone who would venture to suggest that prostitution can be termed work in any reasonable definition or interpretation of that word, or in terms of the role of trade unions in representing workers, is grasping at straws in order to defend a vested interest in maximising profits at the expense of vulnerable people. We would never be able to accept that a prostitute could be viewed as a worker with the type of rights expected in a civilised society in terms of collective bargaining, periodic reviews of wages and annual leave entitlements. I do not think these rights would surface because it would not be a contract of equals. Any contract between a worker and an employer must at least hold out the perception of being a contract between equals. The exploited prostitute in a vulnerable situation would not be an equal and could not be deemed a worker.
Ms Julie Browne:
If it is a job, is it a job that any unemployed person could be requested to do? If any of us became unemployed, could we be asked to do the job? What skills and qualifications are required? I do not think it is work or could be conceived of as work. Are only vulnerable or particular types of people suited to it?
Ms Fiona Finn:
If one tries to follow the argument that criminalising the purchase of sex denies an individual on the poverty line his or her livelihood, it implies there is no consent. This is clearly a version of coercion, forced labour and exploitation. Should we then expect the law to force anyone else working - for want of a better word - in different sectors to remain in conditions of exploitation?
Ms Lewis stated that she is a psychotherapist and that One in Four provides a sex offender treatment programme. Over the years we have seen media reports about high-profile individuals with what they describe as a sex addiction. I ask Ms Lewis to comment on this issue. We are speaking about people who buy sexual services; other speakers suggested explanations for why that happens. Is sex addiction a fact or a myth and can it be dealt with if it exists? We are considering legislation aimed at deterring people.
Ms Maeve Lewis:
The sex offenders who attend One in Four have sexually offended against children and, therefore, would not necessarily be sexually attracted to prostitution. Approximately 10% of the people who attend that programme have regularly used prostitution. However, among our male and female clients who have been victims of sexual abuse, male clients are more likely to have ended up in prostitution. This is an interesting point which needs to be explored further. On the question of a sex addict as opposed to a sex offender, these are very different matters in that somebody who is a sex addict may be having sex with other consenting adults within the law in a way that would be considered perfectly appropriate in our society, and not necessarily with prostitutes.
Mr. Doran indicated that the so-called industry is valued at more than €180 million per annum. He also commented on research in the context of his views on the so-called industry. How was the estimate of €180 million arrived at?
Sr. Síle McGowan:
I wish to make a brief point. It has been mentioned that the value of the industry is €180 million. If prostitution was to be legalised in Ireland, it would be subject to taxes. The budget is being discussed and if prostitution was to be legalised, the income from it would appear some day as part of our GNP. Would anyone like to have his or her social welfare, education or other benefits financed through the proceeds from prostitution? That is a horrible thought.
In the final analysis prostitution is not about women; it is about the male customer and the male consumer market. If we focus on the woman's choice or right to engage in prostitution, we deflect attention from the primary fact that there is prostitution because of male customer demand. The sex industry - brothels, trafficking and so on - operates to satisfy that demand by providing women, but neither the market nor nobody else cares how they become involved in it.
My last question touches on that issue. I thought of this when Ms Lewis raised the issue of what could be termed the "contested" notion of consent. Sr. Síle has expressed a view on that issue. Does anybody else have a view on it? Is the argument that there is no circumstance within the context of sex work or prostitution where there is a form of consent between two adults? Is the argument that there is no circumstance where that is the case? I have heard that some women who are sex workers find it objectionable to hear it said they are not participating by choice or to hear people challenge the fact that they are not engaged in the act by choice. What is Ms Lewis's view?
Ms Maeve Lewis:
I have no doubt that a small percentage of those engaged in prostitution freely chose to do it. This year there was a notorious interview on the Marian Finucane programme with a woman who called herself Scarlet, a middle class woman who had fallen on hard times and engaged in prostitution without being part of an organised business. I have no doubt that may happen and that an educated person can make such a free choice. However, from our experience in One in Four, when clients talk about their experiences of prostitution, they speak from a position where they had no choice. We must be careful not to patronise people who experienced sexual abuse in childhood, but when people have such low self-esteem, look at themselves with such contempt and have been conditioned to be compliant with the sexual desires of others from childhood, I strongly argue that until a person has had the opportunity to work through all of this, she is not in a position to make an informed decision on such a serious life choice as moving into prostitution.
I thank everybody for attending the meeting and for their interesting and valuable contributions on this important and complex issue. I apologise for the delay which was not intended and the interruptions due to business in the Houses. As can be seen, there is huge interest in this issue. We will continue this work in the new year and the delegates are welcome to attend meetings as visitors if they wish and make further submissions if they would like to add to what they have said. I am not sure how many more hearings we will have on this issue. We have received over 800 submissions and are trying to focus on those who asked to attend whom we consider have something important to contribute on the issue. Some of the submissions duplicate others. I again thank everyone for his or her attendance.