Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Review of Legislation on Prostitution: Discussion (Resumed)
The purpose of the meeting is to have discussion with some of those who made a written submission on the review of legislation on prostitution in Ireland. The committee will hear from representatives of six organisations, including Women's Aid, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, Ms Monica O'Connor, NUI Maynooth and the Irish Feminist Network. I understand Women's Aid representatives must leave soon and I propose to deal with them first. They can engage with members and then leave. On behalf of the committee I welcome the following: Ms Margaret Martin, director, Women's Aid, and Ms Monica Mazzone; Dr. Teresa Whitaker, SWAI; Ms Monica O'Connor; Dr. Jane Pillinger; Dr. Kathryn McGarry; and Ms Emma Regan.
We are in the middle of a process. We received more than 800 submissions on this topic and we are working through the issues in a thematic way as best we can. We still have a great deal of work to do. I ask each contributor to make a brief opening statement and perhaps to confine it to five minutes. We have the written submissions and members will then engage in a question and answer session.
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 call Ms Martin to make her presentation. Deputy Collins is the lead questioner and he will then engage with her. Others may intervene if they wish.
Ms Margaret Martin:
Women's Aid welcomes the opportunity to present at this meeting on the review of legislation of prostitution in Ireland. Women's Aid is part of the Turn Off the Red Light, TORL, campaign and is aware that some leading members of the campaign have presented to the committee. Our focus will be on the links between prostitution and domestic violence and, in particular, on domestic violence as a factor of entry into prostitution and the similarities and common vulnerabilities between these two forms of violence against women. Both are violations of human rights and a barrier to gender equality. Like women experiencing domestic violence, women engaged in prostitution experience physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse. The issue of control is central in both situations. The isolation, emotional and financial dependency, the threats and the use of violence are tactics that we also see in our work.
The following words reported in the Paying the Price report by a woman named Frances are strikingly similar to what women experiencing domestic violence tell us every day:
For my second pimp there was no way I could finish work without having at least £200 every day... I didn't have a penny of it. He chose my clothes... he chose my food, he told me when to eat, when to sleep, when to work, when to go home, when to speak. I just could not do anything without his permission.Another similarity is the range of extremely harmful effects from this violence which include psychological harm, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and low self-confidence, as well as physical harm and severe injuries. The two issues conflate when the intimate partner of the woman is the person coercing her into prostitution.
In our work we sometimes hear of women experiencing domestic violence who are forced by their abusive partner to work as a prostitute or who are coerced by their partner to have sex with other persons in exchange for money or for drugs. Conversely, Ruhama comes across the issue of grooming or direct coercion into prostitution by an intimate partner in the work they do with women involved in prostitution. Intimate partner abuse by a partner or pimp is often a reality for women engaged in prostitution. This is confirmed by US and UK research outlined in our submission.
At times, women experiencing or escaping domestic violence who are forced into prostitution by the lack of any other income generation opportunity. Poverty and lack of access to money and resources makes women vulnerable to entry into prostitution, particularly women with no access to household income for themselves and their children. Following separation, non-payment of maintenance can be a major issue. Some of the women we work with are not entitled to welfare benefits or social housing and may find themselves in extreme poverty. Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness, making women and children more vulnerable to prostitution. A study of 60 homeless women in Ireland published in 2012 found that 72% of them had experienced violence and abuse in childhood and two thirds had experienced intimate partner violence, with 15% having engaged in sex work as a means of generating income.
Child abuse and domestic violence often co-occur. The Paying the Price report states that 85% of women in prostitution report physical abuse in the family, with 45% reporting familial sexual abuse. It also concludes that, "Given their vulnerability, children who have been affected by domestic violence are likely to be over-represented among children abused through prostitution". Other TORL members have previously referred to the young age at which women get involved in prostitution, many of them when they are still under age. In this respect, we are concerned about the trend of so-called "loverboys" where by young girls are groomed and coerced into prostitution by older boyfriends. The UK report I mentioned also states:
There is evidence to show that there are shifting patterns in the way in which prostitution is operating. The trend is away from pimps controlling a number of women and towards 'pimp/partner' relationships.Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research on this issue in Ireland. A recent article on women in Northern Ireland outlines the similarities and links between domestic violence and prostitution, especially with reference to the cycle of entrapment into prostitution and the cycle of domestic abuse.
In our experience the law can be a powerful instrument to change attitudes and set the limits of what is and is not acceptable in society. However, legislative change, while vital, is not enough on its own. Support services and access to housing and welfare supports are equally important to offer viable exit strategies.
Women’s Aid believes prostitution is intrinsically exploitative, harmful and violent and best tackled by targeting demand. Targeting the sex buyer sends a clear message that buying sex is not socially acceptable and for this reason, we support the call for introducing legislation based on the Swedish model.
I thank the groups for their attendance. The joint committee will be required to produce a recommendation on what penalties should apply for engaging in any future offences. What penalties should apply? Should they include imprisonment?
Ms Margaret Martin:
One of the issues noted by Women's Aid in its 40 years' experience is the increasing criminalisation of the act of breaching a barring order. The other day, for example, one of our support workers told me that she was highly impressed recently by the decision of a judge who had imposed a suspended sentence on a partner who had breached a barring order to speak directly to the defendant and tell him he had engaged in unacceptable and criminal behaviour. Irrespective of what penalty is imposed, the objective is to change social attitudes. The decision on penalties should be based on an examination of what would be effective and what move us in the right direction. In the area of domestic violence, as Women's Aid has noted, while it has taken a number of years for many things to come together, this has had a significant impact during that time.
Ms Margaret Martin:
No. Partners convicted of a domestic violence offence are seldom imprisoned and the level of sanction in domestic violence cases if often low. For this reason, it is important to be realistic and consider what is the desired outcome and what could be the most effective tool at any point in time. I do not feel I am able to respond to the question any better than that.
The submission refers to the provision of support services to assist people in exiting the sex industry. Are adequate services provided at present? What more could be done to support people who are entrapped and trying to exit the industry?
Ms Margaret Martin:
As I noted, poverty is a major issue. Many women, particularly those in direct provision, have limited means. This is especially the case in respect of those who are trying to care for children and face competing demands on what limited income they have. They need to be able to find a way into work and secure some independent income. Similarly, we know that poverty is a major reason for women remaining in abusive relationships. Until one starts to address these issues, one will not be able to make much progress. My colleague, Ms Mazzone, wishes to make a point.
Ms Monica Mazzone:
As Women's Aid noted, we need to remove the barriers facing women. In the area of domestic violence, we encounter cases where migrant women are not able to access housing or social welfare because of the habitual residency condition and become destitute as a result. If one is to address the issue holistically, one cannot criminalise prostitution and at the same time tell people they cannot make money by other means. One must remove barriers to allow women to access social welfare and housing. This issue must be addressed at the same time.
I thank our guests for their presentation and the broader submission they provided. The submission refers to a 2010 evaluation of the Swedish model which indicates that issues such as the indoor sex trade and technology such as mobile telephones are being targeted by the Swedish police. A delegation from the joint committee visited Sweden in November to find out a little more about the operation of the Swedish law on the ground. I was impressed by what we heard from the Swedish police who pointed out that the new model, which decriminalises the seller of sex, has assisted them in investigating and prosecuting offences because the woman, the seller of sex, is not at risk of being prosecuted or criminalised. I do not know if the witnesses wish to comment or have a view on that issue but it strikes me that there is a parallel with domestic violence. In the case of the latter, the police work in conjunction with someone who is viewed as a victim and under the Swedish model for dealing with prostitution, the seller of sex is essentially viewed as a victim or witness, rather than as another person who can be prosecuted, as is the case under the Irish system.
Ms Margaret Martin:
In terms of domestic violence, in many cases the woman is placed under pressure from her partner to withdraw from any criminal processes. This is a live and ongoing difficulty for many women and one which needs to be addressed. Any measures that can be introduced to remove these types of pressures from women and allow them to support criminal investigations and so forth would be much more effective if they mirrored the position regarding domestic violence. Unfortunately, this is very often not the case. The waiting time to have a barring order issued at the Dublin District Law Office in Dolphin House is approximately 12 weeks, which is a long time for people who are under pressure and whose partner knows everything about them. Even if a barring order is in place or one feels one is protected, one needs a great deal of support and protection around that time. Perhaps Ms Mazzone wishes to comment.
I welcome the delegation from Women's Aid and concur with its primary point on domestic violence and prostitution. We heard that 15% of homeless and abused women become involved in prostitution. I would have expected this figure to be higher, as I would find it an amazing feat if the remaining 85% of homeless and abused women did not become involved in prostitution.
How does Women's Aid respond to a recent television programme which showed wealthy, middle class women directing prostitution services? If one reduces demand for prostitution in Ireland, those involved in the industry will move to other countries where they will continue to exploit women.
Ms Monica Mazzone:
The figure of 15% refers to a small study but one that is interesting because it was carried out in Ireland. The lack of research in this country should be addressed.
On the Deputy's question about women who may not face constraints arising from poverty, the people who came before the joint committee in December made clear that the number of women who sell sex and do not experience coercion, whether physical or arising from poverty, is small and not sufficiently large to satisfy the market. As the research showed, the majority of those engaged in the sex industry have been forced into the industry, have experienced harm and more than 90% of them would like to exit prostitution. For this reason, we must keep the bigger picture in mind. What was the Deputy's final point?
I expressed the view that if demand were to be reduced in Ireland, those involved in the sex industry would travel to England, Asia or elsewhere in the world where it is easier to access prostitution.
Ms Monica Mazzone:
While I agree with the Deputy, that is not a reason for failing to take action.
Sweden was the first country to adopt this model, and other countries, such as Norway and Iceland, have started doing it. We are thinking about it. We hope that if we were to adopt that model, we could then support other countries to do the same.
I thank the witness for the presentation and for drawing links between prostitution and domestic violence. That adds to earlier evidence from the members of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. The witness noted that the issue of control is critical to both domestic violence and prostitution, so one would probably seek experience in regard to working with women on the issue of control. There are arguments in favour of the legalisation or decriminalisation model for prostitution which say that if we move in that direction, it would increase the potential for the woman to have more control in the situation. Will the witness comment on that?
Ms Margaret Martin:
The serious thing we were concerned about relates to that piece of work in terms of lover boys. That is happening in Holland. Over there, young girls are being groomed when they are very young and going to school by young men who are five or seven years older. They might take them when they are on the mitch. We referred to an article that goes through this in some detail. It is clear from talking to our support workers that similar things are happening to some extent here. What was interesting about Holland is that it is a country that has taken a different approach from the Swedish approach. It has not addressed the demand and it still leaves a huge number of women very vulnerable. That was the concern.
On the issue of control, we see a huge amount of isolation with domestic violence. Certainly, the "Prime Time" programme showed women who never had a minute's peace, were at the end of a mobile telephone all the time and were not in a position to be able to make contact. They were very much controlled. I cannot imagine that this would shift significantly in a different jurisdiction. However, it is important that somebody is able to control their own destiny and to be involved in work that is dignified and respected. If one criminalises the buyer, it gives a very significant message to society that women and their bodies are not commodities, and the issue of parity of esteem and gender equality comes into play.
I thank our guests for the presentation. Is the organisation satisfied that policing of the situation under current law is satisfactory? If there was decriminalisation and this country adopted the Swedish model, what would be the effect on Garda resources, for example, which are currently diminishing, and the supports and resources from health and other support groups? Would there be an improvement? What is the witness's view on the changes? What is the current situation on the ground? If there were changes, would there be sufficient Garda resources to enforce the law and sufficient HSE resources to provide assistance and help to the women? Would there be a seismic change in the level of support in that regard or would there still be a lack of resources?
Ms Monica Mazzone:
Initially, they might possibly require an increase. The idea of the Swedish model is to decrease the demand in the long term. If there is less of this happening, therefore, less policing would be required. In Sweden, for example, the opinion that this is wrong has changed quite dramatically in the last few years. If there is less demand, it might not be necessary to have the same resources in terms of policing and one could concentrate those resources on certain points. However, initially there might be a demand for increasing resources. As regards resources for supporting the women, Ms O'Connor's research refers to 1,000 women in Ireland. While the numbers are huge in the sense of the harm being done, they are not huge in terms of the resources we should be able to provide. While we are in a recession and need to examine resources, ultimately this is about a principled stance and we need to look beyond the resource basis.
I have two questions. Is there a downside to the Swedish model? There was a reference to women who voluntarily enter this business. You are dealing with people who are subject to domestic violence or who are coerced, trafficked and so forth, but we have received representations from people at the other end of the scale, who say it is voluntary, that it is their human right to do this and they want to work in this area. They say they are not coerced and it is their free choice. Will you comment on those two issues?
Ms Margaret Martin:
No, to my knowledge in terms of reading about it, there does not appear to be anything that strikes me in terms of the work of Women's Aid or the broader violence against women movement.
You asked about women who voluntarily choose this life. The shift in the Swedish model is that it criminalises the buyer. It might mean there is a reduced market but it does not penalise a woman who is already involved in something that is potentially quite dangerous at times. I have been involved with the issue of violence against women for a long time. I was a volunteer in the Rape Crisis Centre a long time ago and have kept up to date with much of the research. Women can be extremely vulnerable, certainly when one considers much of the serial killing in the past. I was in Leeds during the time before the Yorkshire Ripper was captured. He had moved from killing women who were seen as sex workers to students. The view of women that is supported in society is very important. It is important for women in terms of how they feel safe and what they can do. When I spoke about coming here today to the women I work with, to gather information, they said they would see it as a positive endorsement to see something like this introduced in Ireland, whereby it is not acceptable that women's bodies are for sale.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, SWAI, was established in 2006. It is an alliance of sex workers, researchers and health and social care providers directly engaged with sex workers. SWAI's mission is to promote the social inclusion, health, safety, civil rights and right to self determination of female, male and transgender sex workers in Ireland. As a priority, we assert that any developments or changes in laws on prostitution should be informed by the voices of sex workers. We trust they will be consulted in this process.
I am a social scientist and an educator. I have conducted research on prostitution for the national advisory committee on drugs and I engage with international organisations on sex work research. I am speaking here on behalf of SWAI.
We welcome the Government's decision to review legislation on prostitution in Ireland. However, SWAI strongly opposes current proposals to introduce the Swedish model of criminalising people who buy sexual services. I will comment briefly on international findings regarding such legislation and its potential impact on health and safety for sex workers and their customers. In Sweden, the law has not succeeded in eliminating prostitution or trafficking. In Norway, the legislation enacted in 2009 has had harmful, unintended consequences for sex workers. The Ministry of Justice surveyed 123 sex workers in Oslo last year. A total of 59% had experienced violence in the course of their work as opposed to 52% in 2008. In addition, 25 sex workers were raped in the last year in Norway. The law had heightened societal disapproval. Harassment had increased. The women felt more criminalised, stigmatised and isolated.
Above all, they were afraid to report the violence and seek support.
As it stands, Norway is considering repealing its law in this area. The UN has stated: "[T]he [Swedish] law has not improved – indeed it has worsened – the lives of sex workers." The Global Commission on HIV and the Law recommends decriminalisation of private and consensual adult sexual behaviours, including voluntary sex work, on the basis that criminalisation serves to "drive people underground, away from essential health services, and heighten their risk of HIV". The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization also oppose the criminalisation of clients. The Irish Government is committed to reducing the spread of HIV, but the reality is that criminalising clients of prostitution will drive them and the providers underground and away from essential health services, including programmes to eradicate HIV.
SWAI's key concerns regarding proposed legislation relate to its potential impact on the health needs of sex workers and their clients, and the safety and freedom of sex workers. There is concern about the incidence of trafficking into sex work in Ireland. SWAI abhors coercion by trafficking or other means. However, the research to which I referred indicates strongly that while criminalising clients may deter some operations, its main effect will be to drive the industry underground into the hands of criminals, thus making the detection of coercion and exploitation more rather than less difficult. On behalf of SWAI, I thank the committee for the opportunity to present our concerns regarding this significant legal issue.
I thank Dr. Whitaker for her presentation. She has described prostitution as a form of work that can be chosen voluntarily. Where is the evidence that sex workers in Ireland are engaged voluntarily in the work? I have done a good deal of reading on the subject and listened to people who have exited prostitution. Much of the information we are receiving suggests that people enter prostitution at a young age and for various reasons. The market demands young people - male, female and transgendered - and my question is how these young people can be said to choose the business voluntarily. What is the age threshold at which Dr. Whitaker would say that such a decision can be taken voluntarily? Where does her organisation stand in this regard?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Anyone who enters the sex industry before the age of 18 is not engaged in sex work but is a victim of child sexual abuse. The numerous reports published in the past 20 years show that, sadly, such abuse is not an uncommon feature in Irish society. We cannot, however, generalise about the background or situation of sex workers. In looking at research, one must consider the social context including, in particular, location. Without a doubt, some people enter sex work voluntarily. There is a massive amount of research from Australia and New Zealand, for example, showing that there are women in their 20s and 30s who go into prostitution by choice and consider themselves sex workers. The issue of people being groomed for prostitution at a very early age is a separate matter. Those who are coerced, exploited or groomed by older people are in a different category from those who enter the business willingly. There are laws to protect children in Ireland and that is not related to the situation of people who enter sex work voluntarily.
Of the 35 people we interviewed for our research, three had been coerced into prostitution. The others, who were using substances such as heroin or cocaine, chose sex work over other types of criminal activities including shoplifting, stealing and pushing or trafficking drugs. Their choices were very limited but the option they chose was prostitution. When I started my research, I had the same opinion as has been expressed here today. As a sociologist who came through the traditional Irish universities and participated in feminist studies, I assumed that all women were coerced into prostitution. I could not imagine how any woman in her right mind would do it and that it must be a terrible thing for all of them. When I spoke to these women, however, I discovered that to them it was just work. They were doing it to make money and had learned all types of survival strategies, such as how to negotiate with punters and so on. However, the research from Sweden shows that sex workers there can no longer negotiate with clients because everything is done in a big rush. Whereas before they might check out whether a potential client has a passenger in the back seat, for instance, there is no time for such precautions when the transaction must be done very quickly. The research from Norway in the past year shows that for the women who remain in prostitution, their lives are in greater danger than they were before criminalisation.
In the case of the people Dr. Whitaker represents in this country, how many have made the decision independently to choose prostitution as a way of life? Has their experience been positive in so far as they are working independently in their own apartment or are they linked in with pimps or other parties who control the finances? It is important to have these details in order to form a full picture, and what Dr. Whitaker is saying seems to go against much of the evidence we have heard. I would like greater clarity on exactly how many sex workers in Ireland are independent, safe and making autonomous decisions.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
We can never say statistically how many people are involved in prostitution. Researchers all over the world will agree with me on that. It is an activity that is so clandestine, stigmatised and underground that one can never definitively say that X amount of people are engaged in it in any particular location. If a person has been pimped into prostitution, he or she will not be talking to us. The people who talk to us are independent sex workers, some of whom are migrants. Some of these women said they would come here today but I do not know whether they did. In the case of migrant sex workers, their view was that there was money to be made in this country. They work independently and are happy with what they do. I cannot offer figures for how many people are coerced and how many independent. Nobody can give those figures, and members should be suspicious of anybody who claims to do so. They are simply not available.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
We cannot give numbers for the simple reason that we are an alliance and have loads of people in contact with us. We do not keep a database of names and addressed or anything like that, simply because of the nature of the activity in which these people are engaged. It is important to note that the exchange of money between a man and woman for sexual services is not illegal in Ireland. Making it illegal for men to buy sex will inevitably affect the women who are selling sex. We are saying that the Government must take a compassionate approach to this very sensitive issue.
The bottom line is to help people and to help society. If we introduce the Swedish model, we will just push it all underground like we have done with so many other things in Irish society. We really believe this is not the way forward. Let us look at Australia and New Zealand. Why is the committee looking at Sweden as a model? Prohibition has never worked in any country. Look at what happened when there was an attempt to prohibit alcohol in the United States. It does not work. The same is true of cigarette smoking. Prohibition does not work; it just drives things underground.
In Sweden, pimping has got worse because now women need a protector in order to have someone between the client and the sex worker. Pimping has increased in Sweden and sex tourism has also increased there. For example, the Swedish Government's 2012 report to the United Nations states:
Annual reports from Swedish social workers who meet buyers and sellers of sex indicate that the number of Swedish men who pay for or give other than a monetary form of compensation for sex is increasing. The increase seems to be due to the purchase of sex when travelling to places where the sale of sexual services is common.The regime there has not decreased prostitution.
On the evidence we have from the Garda unit and the Blue Blindfold, do the witnesses accept that there is a large amount of trafficking in this country which leads to many people ending up being sexually exploited in prostitution? I accept forced labour is also an issue. How do the witnesses see it fitting in with what they propose in terms of having sex work as a career option?
What I am asking is whether the organisation accepts that at the moment people are being trafficked into this country for the purposes of sexual exploitation. That is the first thing. How do those people fit in with Dr. Whitaker’s vision for sex workers in the future, which is that they would be autonomous and independent and that it could be a career choice?
I am asking Dr. Whitaker whether she accepts that people are currently being trafficked – women, men and children. Does she accept that is the case and how does it fit in to what her organisation wants for sex workers in this country in the future?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Yes. The concern is that of the Turn off the Red Light campaign and the media. We have had a programme on RTE and TV3. The question is whether those people were trafficked. We have concerns about it but it is up to An Garda Síochána and members of the anti-trafficking unit to tackle trafficking. That is a different issue.
I will be brief. A number of us heard Dr. Whitaker’s presentation previously at the Department of Justice and Equality conference and we have been immersed in the topic for some time. I disagree with Dr. Whitaker’s analysis of the Swedish law. Having read the recent analysis and having visited Sweden and spoken to many of the stakeholders, we have seen strong results in terms of halving the incidence of street prostitution since the law was introduced in 1999. What we have heard and read is that the Swedish model is under serious consideration for expansion to other countries, notably France and this country also. One must bear that in mind to balance out what Dr. Whitaker said.
I also take issue with what Dr. Whitaker said about criminalisation. Under the 1993 legislation, the purchase of sex is not itself an offence. However, all the surrounding circumstances such as loitering for the purpose of prostitution and soliciting are criminalised. The sale and purchase of sex are criminalised in certain conditions when it is done in an organised fashion and indoors. Effectively, clients are currently criminalised. That begs the question of what Dr. Whitaker is advocating. Is the Swedish model not preferable to the current Irish model following her analysis of the negative effects of criminalisation, as it effectively criminalises both parties involved - the seller and the buyer of sex? Dr. Whitaker says criminalisation has negative consequences. If that is the case, is it not better to decriminalise the seller of sex, as in the Swedish model, than our current model? If not, what model does Dr. Whitaker favour?
Prostitution is underground in this country but it must still be accessible in order that people can purchase sex. Numbers must be made available on the Internet and people must be able to know where they can buy sex. It can never be underground to the extent of making it impossible to prosecute. Again, what we heard in Sweden is that it is easier for police to prosecute where the seller of sex is not criminalised and is therefore not herself a target for the police. It is easier then to get the evidence necessary to bring in the people organising the sale of sex – the pimps and traffickers. Surely that is in everyone’s interests no matter what our position on prostitution.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
I thank Senator Bacik for her question. The reality is that selling sex is not criminalised in Ireland. Women can sell sex and it is not a crime. What is a crime is loitering, which is a nuisance in residential areas. The organisation of brothels is criminalised. The actual selling of sex is not criminalised. When one criminalises the buyer, it will have an effect on the seller.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
They are only criminalised if they solicit, importune or run a brothel. Individuals are not criminalised. Now, the intention is to criminalise a group of Irish men who buy sexual services. What we are saying is that will have negative consequences for the women who are selling sex. I would have thought that we should all be very concerned about women who sell sex, and also men who sell sex, that they should be safe and use protection. The problem with the law is that it will reduce harm reduction services.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
It has been shown in England that funding is now going to anti-trafficking organisations away from harm reduction services. The philosophy of harm reduction is that we realise prostitution exists. It is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing but it exists. We have harm reduction services in Dublin and elsewhere in the country to help reduce the harms, which includes the spread of infections. That is a public good. We must tackle violence against sex workers and women. We must tackle such issues. The Association of Chief Police Officers has tackled violence in Merseyside in Liverpool by having crimes against sex workers designated as hate crimes in exactly the same way as the beating up of a gay man or a black person is considered a hate crime. A scheme called The Ugly Mugs has been devised whereby if a woman is attacked and she reports the case to the police, they immediately text all the sex workers they know to warn them to avoid such and such a person.
As a result of that practice in England, the number of attacks on women sex workers has been reduced.
Is the current provision of sexual services in Ireland not underground anyway? Does the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland support the Dutch model of regulation and legalisation of the sex industry? Does it consider the work of Ruhama and Turn Off the Red Light as misguided?
In support of Senator Bacik's remarks, the evidence we have obtained, particularly from the Swedish police, was that trafficking of women primarily, although not exclusively, has declined. Trafficking is perhaps the major problem we face. It was mentioned there was an increase in Norway from 52% to 59%. Surely that is not an alarming increase?
A compassionate approach on the part of the State to the sex industry was mentioned. Does that mean that we turn a blind eye, as we have so often done in the past?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
We commend Ruhama; we need more organisations for those women who want to exit and who have been coerced or pimped into this work, for women who need counselling and who have been traumatised by prostitution. It is very important to have an organisation like Ruhama. On the other hand there are women who simply want the right to work and that is a very different group of people. It is a few years since the committee went to Sweden-----
In both Sweden and Finland there was a huge issue of the involvement of Russian gangs in trafficking. That has stopped. While there might have been an increase in sex tourism, where Swedish men are leaving Sweden to go elsewhere, the evidence we got from sincere senior people was that the trafficking of women into Sweden had declined dramatically and that was only three months ago.
I asked about the current situation. I am not an expert on it but it seems to be underground at present. Does the alliance favour the Dutch model of regulation and legalisation? What is a compassionate view? Is it to do what we seem to always do on issues like this and turn a blind eye to the sex industry?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
We have good laws at the moment. There are laws against soliciting and human trafficking, and laws that prevent children from being sexually abused. There is a range of laws to protect people. We are not lawyers, however, so we are not saying that sex work should be decriminalised, we are pointing out that the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization all say this.
Perhaps the legislation on brothel keeping should be reviewed so women could work in pairs. In New Zealand they can work in fours. Women could work in twos without third party involvement. If there was no pimp running a brothel, but it was two women working on their own, as they often do from an apartment, that law on brothel keeping might be reviewed. We are trying to consider safety for sex workers and how we can make it safer for them.
Dr. Whitaker is one of the few voices we have heard who is arguing for the existing system so it is important we give her as much time as possible to go through these issues.
When the committee was in Sweden, we read the criticisms of the Swedish system, including research by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and others. The most particular criticism is that the Swedish system drives prostitution further underground. When we met with the Swedish justice committee, the Swedish police and social workers, we put that to every one of them, playing the role of devil's advocate. All of them replied that prostitution by its very nature is underground but to sell "the commodity" it must be marketed, it must be put on a website. Even though we talk about driving it underground, the seller of the commodity must market it to sustain a business. There must be advertising of sex workers on a website to invite customers. Their response, particularly from a policing perspective, was that this is never truly underground, even if efforts are made to be covert, because there must be open marketing. What does the alliance make of that analysis?
We have heard the point that not every sex worker has been trafficked or coerced, there are those who choose and who wish to continue working in that industry. A social worker at the coal face who appeared before us and who has dealt with hundreds of women in this situation, told us that almost all the women she was working with on an exit strategy did not want to remain in prostitution. Very few wanted to remain working in the sex industry. Obviously a small number wanted to remain and that is the cohort Dr. Whitaker is advocating for.
In Ireland, there are groups who work at the coal face with victims of prostitution: domestic violence groups, immigrant groups and trade unions. This plethora of organisations has given evidence that in the vast majority of cases this is damaging to the women and men in this situation. Our Swedish counterparts told us that we cannot legislate for the minority the alliance advocates for, we must legislate for the majority, we must look at the bigger picture to protect those who do not wish to continue. What would the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland say to the argument that has been put to us that we cannot legislate for a small group when there is damage to a wider group?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
It is very difficult to police prostitution. Many of the sex workers with whom I speak have the telephone numbers of their regular customers recorded in their mobile telephones. In the event that the purchase of sex is criminalised, how will the Garda find the customers? Given that this is a private transaction between two consenting adults, how would the Garda police it? How does it police the advertising of sexual services by women on the Internet? Prostitution is, by its nature, a clandestine activity but one that takes place in the public sphere once it is advertised on the Internet and so forth.
In terms of legislating for a minority, why was prostitution decriminalised in New Zealand, Queensland and other parts of the world? The authorities in the regions and countries in question obviously did not believe only a minority was involved and they clearly believed it was safer to decriminalise it. It is interesting to note that since decriminalisation pimps are largely absent from the sex industry in New Zealand. Women have kicked out the male managers who previously managed brothels because they no longer needed them when prostitution was decriminalised. They run the brothels themselves and there is less evidence of pimping in New Zealand. There is no doubt that prostitution is an emotional topic.
I will be as succinct as possible. It is a tragedy that the trafficking of women has been mixed up with the issue of prostitution because they are two entirely separate issues. Every discussion of prostitution becomes emotional and immediately strays into the areas of trafficking. This is seriously hindering efforts to find a solution that addresses the needs of female, male and transgender people who want to work in the sex industry and those who need their services. I am not a psychologist or lawyer but I hope my experience in life has made me a compassionate person. While it is fine for people who are in legitimate sexual relationships, the compassion I feel is for those who need and may have to purchase the services of others. That is my main point.
When this issue came on the radar last year I noted statistics from the police in Sweden showing that the recently introduced Swedish model had resulted in prostitution moving from the main streets into back alleys and caused an increase in violence against women prostitutes. I have seen the relevant figures.
I compliment Dr. Whitaker on her exemplary and rational presentation. She should present her case on "Prime Time". I note she arrived at her conclusions on the basis of research she had carried out. While I do not wish to be controversial, should prostitution be legalised to protect the purchaser of sexual services and the person offering his or her services in cases where the transaction is carried out for health reasons? People clearly have psychological and physical needs.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Go raibh míle maith ag an tSeanadóir as an cheist sin. The Senator is taking a very compassionate view. There is plenty of research on the reasons men buy sex. UNAIDS argues that one should not demonise, villainise or make men who buy sex into folk devils because they are, for the most part, ordinary men. Some of the women I speak to have indicated that the clients they prefer are those who have baby seats in the back of the car because they are the guys who go home to their wives afterwards. I will not judge men - I will leave that to God - or comment on the reason they have sex drives.
In some countries, men with disabilities can pay for the services of a sex worker. In Australia, a woman who was born with a certain medical condition whose name I do not recall decided to enter politics and is now a Member of Parliament. She had never had sex because no man would look at her. She asked her dad to help her find a male sex worker because she wanted to experience sex. She has championed the cause of sex workers in Australia and the decriminalisation of prostitution. We need to be more compassionate.
If we had a referendum tomorrow on legalising prostitution, I am sure the majority of people would reject it because they do not understand all the issues. For years, we have heard the same message, namely, that prostitution is a sin, immoral and dirty and all the women involved are pimped into it. Let me put the issue this way; there are 50 shades of grey.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
I thank the Senator for asking that question because last night Twitter was full of tweets asking how dare I represent sex workers. I am not a sex worker except that the sex I have in marriage sometimes feels like work. I am a happily married woman and mother of three children. The joint committee should speak to sex workers.
Dr. Whitaker referred to Norway, which is considering repealing its law because it is creating greater harm for sex workers. She also referred to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Justice in Oslo. Is it Dr. Whitaker's view that the survey provided evidence to support the view that criminalisation of prostitution is creating more harm for sex workers?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Yes, I was highly disturbed when I read the report in question. It is heartbreaking to read such reports because the level of violence against women who are selling sex is unbelievably high. The report stated that no other group of women in Norway would be exposed to this level of violence. Sex workers are, therefore, a distinct group. The report noted there was more violence against Nigerians - I do not know if racism is also a factor - and less violence against women from Thailand. I also found it highly disturbing that the women were afraid to report violence to the police because attitudes are changing in Norway and people are become less tolerant of prostitution. This change is a result of the Swedish model of legislation which has led people to ask why women are engaged in prostitution if the purchase of sex is a criminal offence. Prostitutes are afraid to report violence for this reason.
Dr. Whitaker also referred to the Global Commission on HIV and the Law which stated in July 2012 that criminalisation drives people underground. A number of questions were asked about driving people underground and away from essential health services. Is the judgment expressed in the report in question based on evidence? Does the report refer to a sample or establish a clear cause and effect between specific laws and prostitution being driven underground?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Mr. Anand Grover visited Ireland on 19 December.
He is the UN special rapporteur. He said that India has managed to turn things around. For example, its sex workers are now using bottles and condoms, there is less stigma attached to it and so forth. They say that where it is criminalised, it is driven underground. They are looking at it globally.
I welcome Dr. Whitaker and thank her for her submission. It is important that we hear all the different views on this issue. I have three questions. Dr. Whitaker uses the word "compassion" a great deal in her presentation. As a woman, mother and citizen of this State, does she truly believe that the vast majority of women involved in prostitution are not exploited? Is her compassion not really about their safety? Is that not the reason she is directly involved with this issue? My second question-----
Does Dr. Whitaker really believe in her heart that the vast majority of women involved in the sex trade are not exploited? From listening to the debate and submissions, I know a minority feel differently. Second, is not her compassion really based on their physical safety?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
I was a student of political science in Trinity College. One of the questions in my final year examinations was: "Is prostitution alienation of labour under industrial capitalism?". I was very taken aback by that because I certainly was not thinking of prostitution, but of the alienation of labour under industrial capitalism and exploitation. One must define what one means by "exploitation". Who is being exploited? Is it the person who gives the money or the person who gets the money?
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Exactly. Many of the women I spoke to had a menu of services. They did not do everything that men asked them to do. They negotiated with their clients. There were things they would do and things they would not do. One woman told me, for example, that she would never kiss a guy. She saved that for her partner. Another girl said she always takes the keys of the car from a man if she gets into a car. In doing that she feels in control. The issue of exploitation is very difficult. It is very difficult to explain what exploitation is. Many workers in many industries are exploited. I cannot say; one would have to ask the woman.
Dr. Whitaker mentioned somebody who is addicted to drugs. I felt uncomfortable when she did so. I asked myself the question I will ask her. Can somebody who is addicted to drugs make an informed and balanced decision, such as whether to sell drugs for the dealer or work in his brothel? I do not buy it, and I felt uncomfortable about it.
I wish to clarify the matter of convictions for trafficking. There was one conviction in 2009, there were five in 2010 and four in 2011. Three of those four convictions related to the accused exploiting children for sexual exploitation purposes. One was convicted for exploiting a woman for sexual exploitation purposes as well. I say this to clarify that there are cases being taken and won by that unit.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Representation is a difficult thing because we do not pretend to be elected by anybody. We are simply a group of voluntary workers that had concerns about prostitution and the people involved in it. There are organisations all over the world. For example, we have strong links with the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, the collective of prostitutes in New Zealand and international research organisations. People just come to us after seeing our website or after hearing me on the radio or the like. They simply contact us.
People who have been exploited and who are in difficult situations have also contacted us. In those situations we refer them to Ruhama. We are not trying to say there are no harms attached to prostitution. There are terrible harms involved. There is violence, rape, the spread of HIV and so forth. What we are saying is that we must tackle all those harms and violence.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
No, but in my last presentation I gave a list of the organisations and I have the list with me. As I am a social scientist I have issues with the other campaign because it says it represents X million people. Were people balloted in organisations? The only way one can say one represents somebody is if one carries out a survey and if that person agrees.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
Yes. There is the Dublin AIDS Alliance, which sadly could not be represented here today due to a personal tragedy; the Chrysalis Community Drug Project; the UK Network of Sex Work Projects; the Centre for Sex Work Research and Policy in Europe; the Rose Alliance; Feminist Ireland; New Zealand Prostitutes Collective; and the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, among others.
To be honest, as a woman I am a little disturbed by what Dr. Whitaker has been saying. Every woman for herself and I realise Senator White has her own view on it, but I have not come across many women who would admit to allowing a stranger use their body for sex and being happy about it. I had not intended to speak but when listening to Dr. Whitaker's presentation it sounded as if she was talking about an organisation of nannies or the like. Two things came to mind, and I am quite upset and angry about it. First, the film "Pretty Woman" came to mind. It conveyed the image of happy sex workers. The second film that came to mind was "Mary Poppins". I am not attacking or insulting Dr. Whitaker personally but what she is saying does not fit well with me as a woman. She is saying that these women are perfectly happy to go out and do this job and that they are entitled to work. Of course, they are entitled to work and to be a sex worker if that is what they wish to do. However, do not tell me that they are happy about it.
In regard to the Swedish model, if we accept that sex work is demand-led, it seems logical that a growing demand will see increasing numbers attracted to the work. Some workers are, as Dr. Whitaker observed, attracted into the occupation by free choice. It seems clear, however, that where there is money to be made, there will be people who find themselves coerced or trafficked. The bottom line is that rising demand creates a pull factor. The Swedish delegates who appeared before the committee made the case that if one can tackle the demand, fewer and fewer people will be coerced into sex work and there will no longer be the push of the euro, dollar or krona. In a situation where substantial profits are being made by traffickers, pimps and others, reducing demand would reduce the incidence of coercion. Will Dr. Whitaker comment on that?
That is not a response to the question I asked, which related specifically to the demand issue. The argument is that if a potential buyer of sex, who could be a man with a wife and children, knows there is a risk that his identity might be made public through discovery by the police, he will be less likely to purchase sex. As demand goes down in this manner, it is argued, the pull factor will decrease. Does Dr. Whitaker believe there is merit in that argument? I would be grateful for a "Yes" or "No" answer.
Dr. Teresa Whitaker:
The issue is that buying sex is actually a minority activity. We know from the ESRI study that only some 6% of men purchase sex, which is in line with the prevalence in other countries. Incidentally, the percentage of gay men who buy sex is approximately the same. The question of whether demand fuels supply in the sector is one for an economist to answer.
I expect most economists would say that it does. I thank Dr. Whitaker for her contribution to today's meeting. We are in the midst of a process of examining this issue and will take on board what she has said.
I now invite Ms Monica O'Connor to make her presentation. I thank her for her patience thus far.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
Thank you, Chairman. It is quite difficult to come in at this stage when much of the discussion has already taken place, and I hope members will forgive me if I repeat anything that has already been covered. I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me and my colleague, Dr. Jane Pillinger, with whom I co-authored a research paper entitled Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution, to present to the committee. Several speakers referred to the lack of research in this area. In fact, our research gives a very comprehensive review of both trafficking for sexual exploitation and the prostitution regime as it currently exists in Ireland. The research has been validated by the Garda and the figures contained therein are very accurate. It is our estimate that some 1,000 women are being purchased for sex at any given time in Ireland.
I propose to confine myself today to some observations on the role of government in regard to this very contentious issue. There are two main approaches taken by governments internationally. Under the first approach, which is taken by a large number of countries, the state regards the demand for the purchase of a person for sexual gratification as legitimate, acceptable or, as Dr. Whitaker described it, inevitable. Leading from this position is the notion that government should regulate and legislate to provide a legal and regulated market in which this particular consumer demand is met. In other words, the state has a capacity and duty to protect the rights and welfare of girls and women who are made available to meet that demand. This approach is probably best represented within the European Union by the Netherlands and Germany. The stated aim of the Dutch law, for example, is to ensure that all trade in sex is "desirable" prostitution, provided only by adult, free, independent sex workers in legal locations. The objective is to avoid "undesirable" prostitution by removing elements of coercion, force and associated criminality, such pimping, child prostitution, organised crime and trafficking.
In my view, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that, ten years on, this approach has been a complete failure in the Netherlands. The growth of the legal sector has reached unmanageable levels, with approximately 1,700 brothels and location-bound premises and an estimated 25,000 prostitutes serving a population of 16 million. At the same time, the notion that the provision of a safe legal sector would remove the need for an illegal sector has been wholly disproved. All of the research, backed up by the evidence of Dutch police, indicates that the illegal sector in Holland is as large, if not larger, than the regulated sector, and that associated organised crime is out of control. Moreover, despite the fact that a key objective of the new regime was that it would function as an anti-trafficking measure, the number of trafficking victims is, in fact, increasing. The 2007 evaluation, which is very comprehensive, found that pimping was widespread.
It is very important to note that the pressure to regulate and legalise in the first place does come from a desire to safeguard the welfare and rights of sex workers. Sadly, however, the evidence is increasingly more robust that prostitution is not a solution to women's poverty and economic need. On the contrary, it exacerbates that need. Women's welfare is very low down on the list of priorities for the main players in the market, namely, pimps, sex business owners and organised crime. Ten years after the introduction of the new regime in Holland, the evaluators conclude that the emotional well-being of women is lower than it was prior to legalisation on all mental health indicators. Despite a commitment in the law to ensure exit routes for women, only 6% of municipalities are compliant.
A similar approach has been taken in Germany, the view being that prostitution should be treated as legitimate work. Again, the idea was that those engaged in prostitution would be able to access legal entitlements, protection and health care. That approach has now been deemed to have failed utterly. In her latest book, Debra Satz argues that some markets are inherently noxious. It is my view that governments should have no role in legitimising a noxious market.
The second approach to the issue of prostitution is the Swedish one. A decision was made in that country that the demand for the purchase of sex which requires making available a certain number of women and girls is not an acceptable, legitimate demand, not a legitimate market and, moreover, that such a market undermines gender equality. That was the perspective from which the Swedes came at the issue. They also rejected the notion that the state should seek to control this type of market. Much of the discussion regarding the Swedish model has focused on whether it has been a success or a failure. The International Labour Organization is very clear in its position that Sweden has had the greatest success in this area, with its sex trade sector now a diminished, tiny market in comparison with those in similar jurisdictions. In Denmark, for example, the market is three to four times larger despite its population being only 5.3 million. In Germany, according to the economists at the International Labour Organization, the sector is 60 times larger than in Sweden, even though Germany's population is only ten times greater.
If we are seeking to effect a reduction in demand and a reduction in the numbers of people in prostitution, the evidence of what will actually work is irrefutable at this stage.
The Nordic countries are moving towards a reduction and an elimination. They are not perfect. They have not eliminated prostitution at this point and I do not think the word "model" is as helpful as the word "approach". They have been moving over the last ten years towards an irrefutable position which is that they have a diminished and tiny market in comparison with other countries.
Finally, Senator White brought up the issue of the relationship between trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution. Two recent research papers published by the International Labour Organization have shown that there is a very clear correlation, which it has demonstrated and proven, between the scale of prostitution, that is, the number of people involved in prostitution, and the number of victims of trafficking and that the ratio is probably between 10% and 24%. In other words, regardless of the prostitution regime - such as regulation in the Netherlands or tolerance in Ireland - if there are 1,000 women involved in prostitution, at least 10% to 24% of those women would be deemed as having been trafficked for sexual exploitation.
Trafficking is not the only source of violence and coercion, however. A lot of the discussion today has focused on the fact that a lot of prostitution here is underground and indoors and it is critical that we look at more recent evidence regarding indoor prostitution. A recent study of over 200 women in Chicago, for example, showed that the levels of sexual violence associated with indoor prostitution are higher than the levels of sexual violence on the streets. There are certain levels of drug violence and physical violence on the streets but when discussing indoor prostitution, we should not assume that it is somehow a safer or more acceptable environment for women to work in.
As someone who has worked in the areas of sexual rights, reproductive rights and violence against women for most of my adult life, I believe and hope that all of us in this room are genuinely concerned about the rights of women in prostitution and women in general. However, it is incredibly naive and flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence to believe that we can make prostitution safe. It is an inherently harmful, abusive, exploitative and coercive industry. It would be very remiss not to examine that overwhelming evidence and I am very glad that this committee is doing so.
I thank Ms O'Connor for her presentation. Criticisms have been voiced, today and during previous meetings, of the Swedish model and Ms O'Connor also referred to it today. I ask her to expand a little on the issue in the context of the remarks of the critics. I would like to drill down a little more into that issue.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
I have been there twice and have met the police and officials in the justice ministry. Like members of this committee, I asked a lot of hard questions. What is clear about the Swedish model is that the criticisms of it are opinions rather evidence-based. I have read the criticisms from people like Petra Östergren. One of the most common attacks on the Swedish model is that the prostitution is now underground, but all prostitution is underground. However, as Jonas Trolle of the special investigation unit has said, one presses a button and one is able to reach the prostitute. It is a market and the supply is available. It is not as underground as people think. In Ireland we researched the industry and found it is in apartment blocks. I was in apartment blocks in the Irish Financial Services Centre area. Prostitution is all over Dublin and I have been in many apartment blocks where women are available for sex. The reality is, if one wants to buy sex, it is very easy to find. The Swedish police are involved in tracking and surveillance and are finding it very easy to track and find prostitution.
Another issue concerns the debate about prostitution on the streets versus prostitution indoors. Prostitution is primarily happening indoors. It has been argued that it went underground in Sweden but over the last ten years, prostitution in almost every country has moved indoors, primarily. That does not mean it is underground. It is certainly true that it is far less visible than it is on the streets but should one wish to find it, to prosecute and reduce demand, it is not that difficult to do so.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
Yes, the research indicated that 11% of the 102 women and girls who were trafficked were under age at the time of being trafficked. That has been borne out by the Garda National Immigration Bureau and its trafficking figures. Between 10% and 20% of those trafficked are under age when identified. However, what is really critical is that very often by the time women are encountered within prostitution or identified as having been trafficked, they are over age but when asked about their age at point of entry, one often finds it was between 14 and 16. One of the women I interviewed for my research, for example, was 18 at the time of interview but was 15 when she left Romania. The issue of age of encounter and age of entry into the industry is important in terms of policing and services. Basically, in response to the question, around 10% of those trafficked or involved in prostitution are minors.
The word compassion has been used several times today and I believe we are all compassionate and want to ensure that people get to live healthy and productive lives. Sadly, in this industry, it appears to be very difficult to get to the bottom of what is driving it. Is there any research available which indicates where the appetite for young people is coming from? A lot of research has been conducted with those who are servicing this demand, but has anybody looked at where the demand is coming from. Is it a societal issue? Is it learned in the sense that people are becoming desensitised to pornography? Where is it coming from? If we criminalise the user, will people take time to reflect and look on the purchase of sex in a different way?
Ms Monica O'Connor:
I have read about ten of the surveys on buyers of sex and there certainly is a language of consumerism, commodification and the objectification of women. There is also very clearly a relationship between what is available and the consumer response or demand for that. Where prostitution is legal, tolerated, legitimised and available, the demand increases. There is no doubt about that. In Sweden, for example, it is often forgotten that major educational campaigns were conducted alongside the criminalisation process. The drink-driving campaign in Ireland is a useful example in this regard. It is not an either-or situation. We must go for education on what is acceptable. The law in Sweden is declarative and normative and not just punitive. What we should be attempting to do is to change the values. We need to change how men see women in general and change the fact that they see it as acceptable to buy consent and to override consent in the context of a consumerist model. I would urge such an approach, which is educational but is also penalty-based. Fines were mentioned, and in Sweden fines are issued. They have a very rehabilitative system of justice. They are not imprisoning people. That is not what is happening. The law there is very declarative and asserts that the people there want different norms so that young men will grow up with a very different perception of what prostitution and its harms is about.
I thank Ms O'Connor for her presentation and I regret that more members of the committee were not here for it, not only because Ms O'Connor is the author of what I believe is very significant research into this area in Ireland but also because of the way she very helpfully explained the two primary approaches we are examining. Her comments really added value to the submissions she has made.
I have a question on the submissions by Dr. Whitaker and others regarding the recommendations that have emanated from the UN that favour a legalisation model as distinct from the Swedish model of criminalising the buyer. My understanding is that the reports that have been referred to, the ones that emanated from the UN, do not necessarily speak on behalf of the UN, completely and utterly, and other pieces of UN legislation or reports offer a different analysis and recommendation. I ask the delegation to say a few words about that because it would benefit the committee and it is important to put it on public record.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
I have prepared a note. There has been a lack of clarity. It is important to state that the recommendation comes from the UNAIDS advisory group which has stated that it does not represent the views of the UN.
With regard to criminalisation, the Swedish approach has been to decriminalise and enhance harm reduction services. Therefore, binary or polarisation of the issue is totally unnecessary. Obviously if one decriminalises victims then one ensures that there is access to all HIV and healthcare. The situation in Europe is very different to what was referred to by the UN. For example, Sweden does not have an anti-harm reduction policy. The polarisation of the matter ensures that there is an enhancement of harm reduction and harm elimination. It is a parallel and complimentary system. I accept that in places like India, which has a massive level of children and young people in prostitution, one does not want to criminalise them in such a way that they cannot access healthcare. That is not what the Swedish or Nordic approaches are about. There is confusion about the report, that it somehow suggests that what we are advocating in Ireland is not entirely supportive of harm reduction.
There is some confusion about gay and lesbian rights in this report. Obviously adult consensual sex is an entirely separate issue from buying somebody for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sometimes it is presented as if we are denying healthcare or HIV and AIDS services but we are not. I advocate that we provide all of those services and move towards criminalising demand.
In terms of the submissions received by the committee there has been criticism of the evaluation conducted by the Swedes into their own legislation, particularly that it lacked scientific rigour. Does Ms O'Connor wish to comment?
Ms Monica O'Connor:
It was a highly regarded commission of inquiry that was led by a Supreme Court judge. Here in Ireland I would not put myself in the same situation of criticising the rigour of a report because it would be unfair. One of the criticisms has been that the starting point adopted by the Swedes was that they would not repeal the legislation. That is a complete misunderstanding of a commission of inquiry which is similar to our own. For example, if we had a commission of inquiry on rape or marital rape legislation then our purpose would be to find out how effective or ineffective the legislation is and whether it could be improved with regard to attrition or conviction rates, not whether to repeal it.
The recommendations in Anna Skarhed's report are mostly about how to improve and enhance the legislation in, for example, convictions. The criticism led me to think that people did not understand that the commission of inquiry had such a purpose in the first place.
I am not a member of the committee but I am interested in the topic. I was attending another committee which is still sitting but I wanted to listen to this debate. I have only been here for 20 minutes and the debate has been fascinating.
I am a former principal and teacher of an inner city girls school that is in an area of acute disadvantage. One cannot introduce legislation without a cultural shift in society or educational programmes taking place. I have a sense of how young girls and young men view themselves in terms of their sexuality and sexual power. I know about the commercial pressures that are placed on children which shortens their childhood and demands them to be sexual objects before they are ready. Does that play a part in dealing with prostitution here? The delegation may have touched on the matter earlier and I apologise for going over old ground. How big a role does drugs play in leading people into the sex trade? I was a political counsellor in the inner city and I had to deal with an issue related to street prostitution. At the time the Garda suggested that a drug habit led to the huge number of young women in prostitution.
The Swedish approach seems to be the most sensible. The delegation has outlined the comparative situations in the countries that surround Sweden and it has led people to believe that the Swedish model is a good approach. However, other issues need to be tackled such as educational disadvantage, poverty, drugs and the sexualisation of young people. This is not a simple matter and I look forward to hearing the response.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
I have spent my life working on issues similar to those outlined by the Deputy. I agree with him that this is not a simple matter but I will give two brief answers.
There are between 40 to 60 young women on the streets in Dublin because of drug related issues. Unfortunately, it has not been mentioned that 90% of prostitution is conducted indoors and the prostitutes are young migrant women. Their level of drug abuse is quite different and includes prescription drugs, cocaine and other forms of drugs. Drugs are still involved but prostitution is less visible. Prostitution does not solve the issues of poverty, drug addiction and migrant women but exacerbates them. The more young women who are in prostitution then the more drugs will be used. Recently I interviewed women and I witnessed their gradual deterioration because they took more and more drugs to cope with what they had to do and they have quickly spiralled out of control. I agree with the Deputy that there is a need for services, especially the provision of health services for the women who will speak about drugs and all of those issues at the next session.
I passionately support the providing young men and women with education on sexuality. By criminalising demand one would create a norm and provide an opportunity to discuss sexual consent and what consensual adult sex is. It is not about the purchase, objectification and commodification of young girls. My son travelled with a Swedish friend and he said that it was interesting that we have forgotten that in Sweden the criminalisation of prostitution was accompanied by a lot of education on how to perceive sexuality and young people participated in programmes about sexual consent. It would be helpful if people could see that the issues are not mutually exclusive. Imposing a penalty here would be a strong message by the Government that we do not accept that this set of girls are available for sale. This approach would present a real opportunity for a wider discussion.
I referred to the issue of drink driving. If we as a society state that something is not acceptable, attitudes change. Normative behaviour has much to do with what we have decided is acceptable. I have worked in the areas that have been mentioned and I was a teacher. The issues in question go hand in hand. Introducing legislation would present an opportunity for a debate.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
The Norwegian report is under debate. I will not comment on it, as I have not read all of the details. We are a year down the road. In Sweden, evaluations were made after ten years. That has also been the period in Holland and Germany. Research and evidence-based evaluations are much more useful.
I thank Ms O'Connor. I must apologise for the fact that members have been pulled away to other duties and for the lateness of the hour. Three speakers remain. Would it be in order for them to present one after the other, followed by a final round of questions? There are no objections. I call Dr. Pillinger.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
I thank the committee for this opportunity to present the findings of my doctoral research, which I hope will be of some interest to the committee. My doctoral research focused on the lived experiences of women involved in prostitution in Ireland and, in particular, on how their experiences were impacted by the context within which they negotiated their lives. In the next few minutes, I will argue that any consideration of policy change should seek to enable rather than disempower those engaged in negotiating risk within the sex work environment. I will briefly discuss some of the major findings of my research and their implications for policy.
As has been mentioned, sex workers are not an homogenous group. There is a variety of experiences of sex work and policy must account for this variability. Sex work is a complex social phenomenon and experiences, including of risk, differ among sex workers, even within the same context. Risk is not inherent - it is situational. Risks transpire differently for different individuals.
The women with whom I spoke as part of my study challenged the stereotypical notions of women and men in prostitution as passive or being vulnerable to risk. They were active risk managers in their everyday lives. However, their strategies or capacities for minimising risk were severely compromised within a criminalised regime, particularly so in the case of the most vulnerable people involved in prostitution. As mentioned, criminalising activities associated with prostitution primarily targets those who are most visible and, as such, has the greatest negative impact on the most vulnerable.
While I found evidence of positive relationships between sex workers and members of An Garda Síochána, many of the women with whom I spoke felt that, because they operated outside of the law, they did not have recourse to legal safeguards and could not report violent crimes. This serious issue is compounded by international evidence highlighting the impact of criminalised or partially criminalised environments on the capacities of sex workers to control where, under what circumstances and to whom they sell sex. This exposes them to violence and exploitation. The women with whom I spoke called for official recognition to ensure that their safety would be an institutional priority.
Proponents of the Swedish model seek to criminalise demands as a means of eliminating prostitution. While selling sex is legal in Sweden, there is a legislative limbo of sorts, as it is difficult for sex workers to do so and to do so safely. This is a concern. Furthermore, viewing sex work through a paradigm of violence against women and viewing all women involved in sex work as being at risk limits the capacity to distinguish between acts to which the women consent, however mistaken we believe their consent is, and acts to which sex workers have not consented and could leave them physically harmed or dead. As such, it limits the opportunity to intervene to ensure the latter type of violence is reduced.
An important issue has not been raised today, namely, that the Swedish legislation on banning the purchase of sex reduces sex work to a heterosexual exchange between a female seller and a male buyer. This ban ignores the reality of male prostitution. There is evidence in Ireland, particularly from the Gay Men's Health Project, of the lived realities and the issues impacting on the lives of male sex workers. This issue needs to be considered.
The ability to isolate and target victims of trafficking, coercion, exploitation and enslavement in the sex industry is severely compromised when all activities associated with that industry are regarded as exploitation. Evidence from Sweden suggests that sex work is becoming less visible rather than less common. Judging by presentations on a previous day, the issue of prostitution adapting to policy change needs consideration. Some commentators have regarded the Swedish model as impacting on the sex industry in such a way that it becomes a chameleon. Rather than retreating, it simply changes form to adapt to the new circumstances. This makes law enforcement unworkable and perpetuates risks for the most vulnerable, as they become less visible.
The criticism of the 2010 official evaluation of the Sex Purchase Act has been noted. Senator Zappone referred to the lack of scientific rigour. From a social science perspective, insisting that the purchase of sex needed to remain criminalised limited and weakened the integrity of the evaluative process.
There has been mounting public criticism of the Swedish model within Sweden despite the official line of widespread public support for the ban. The Swedish model, which has been described as a primarily male disciplinary model, does nothing to address gender inequalities and neglects other inequalities that can play important structural roles in prostitution, for example, class and race. Furthermore, such a system compounds the inequalities faced by an already disenfranchised group of individuals involved in prostitution.
Policies that solve problems need to be begin with pragmatic evidence-based data if they are to construct responses that do not start from ideological standpoints.
While there are arguments, ideological and otherwise, for and against the merits of different prostitution systems, as have been noted, what should be of greatest concern in any debate is the effectiveness of policy in safeguarding the health and human rights of sex workers. We do not know for sure what is valid and how much more needs to be found out, but much of the international evidence points to policies of decriminalisation rather than legalisation as being moves in the right direction.
While the exploitation and coercion of marginalised women, children and men into the sex industry needs to be the focus of criminal justice policy, structures of oppression and inequality that limit autonomy, particularly for women, cannot be addressed through prostitution law. Instead, they call for wider social policy interventions. Marginalising voices through exclusion and stigmatising through legislation compound some of the oppressive practices described at this meeting. Shifting the focus away from criminal justice and towards public health, social justice and social care enables those who work with the most vulnerable groups in the sex industry to provide optimum support. Safety for sex workers should be prioritised through harm reduction to protect those who are most vulnerable, to intervene for those who are at risk and to acknowledge those who do not conform to a victim identity.
While different perspectives have abounded and been aired at this meeting, perhaps we could find points of intersection concerning shared commitments to the safety, social justice and politics of inclusion for all, but particularly sex workers, in issues that will impact on their lives.
Ms Emma Regan:
I thank the committee for inviting me to speak. I will summarise our written submission and discuss free choice, violence against women and the legislation. Our submission comes from a feminist perspective, in that we believe that prostitution is inherently exploitative of women. From an ideological perspective as well as a practical one, the Swedish model is the best route to take in terms of legislation.
We referred to trafficking. Many women who are involved in prostitution do not fit the legal definition of having been trafficked, yet they did not enter the industry through free choice. Since many women entered prostitution as children, they did not consent. Coercion and deception are also issues, as are the "lover boy" type of relationships and pressure. Poverty can lead to women who are in desperate situations and with limited choices entering prostitution. Dr. Whitaker mentioned that women may choose prostitution over, for example, shoplifting or drug pushing, but the argument for free choice is not great if the only alternatives are other illegal activities. It must be acknowledged that the majority of women in prostitution have not made free choices to enter the industry.
As Deputy Ferris stated, the belief of all of the women present that we would never freely enter the sex industry is acknowledgement of how unlikely such a choice is for women. We accept that some women freely choose to do so, but the majority do not. We should legislate for the majority.
Prostitution is inherently exploitative and there is a culture of coercion and violence owing to pimps, traffickers and brothel owners. It is the idea that someone can buy another person's body to use as he or she pleases. Given the culture of prostitution, the prostitute feels that he or she cannot say "No" to whatever is suggested and must go along with it once money changes hands even though an agreement has been negotiated beforehand. This leads to a disassociation from the experience and a numbing of the physical senses. For these reasons, there is a high instance of substance abuse.
This situation is not in line with the dignity of people, particularly women. Although it is not solely women who work in the sex industry, they form the majority. The majority of buyers are men. This creates a gender dynamic whereby the bodies of women are for sale in the sex industry, a situation that relates to the wider dynamic of the objectification of women in society and the media.
We support the Swedish model. Demand could be reduced by criminalising the sex industry. Buyers have identified the risk of disclosure and gaining criminal records as a major deterrent for them. We are told that, as the buyers are ordinary men, it would be bad to criminalise them, but there is no right to a sex life if it comes at the expense of someone else's right not to be abused and exploited because he or she is in desperate circumstances. Demand can be reduced and the sex industry can be shrunk.
Legislation would send a strong message to the effect that women's bodies cannot be bought and sold, but it would help were the legislation to be supported by an educational campaign similar to Sweden's. Education on consent and sexuality needs to be in place in Irish schools so that societal norms can be changed when legislation is brought into effect.
I thank both witnesses. I apologise that more members are not present. The presentations were helpful. I will ask Dr. McGarry a question, as I cannot find the details in the submission before me or in the wider submission that she just presented. What sample did she use in her doctoral research, out of which she offered her views and analyses? To how many people did she speak?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
My doctoral research was an in-depth qualitative study that involved approximately 25 qualitative interviews, 13 of which were with sex workers in the Irish sex industry. Eleven of those workers were street-based, one had experience of working in brothels in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and another sex worker was called a "touring escort", in that she worked around Ireland for certain periods before returning home.
It was a qualitative methodology. Dr. McGarry stated: "Policies that solve problems need to be begin with pragmatic evidence-based data if they are to construct responses that do not start from ideological standpoints." Verbally and in written form, she mentioned that safety, human rights and social justice should be at the forefront of any legislative change in terms of prostitution. Would she not consider this statement an ideological standpoint?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
That is an interesting question. My approach is one of removing prostitution from the criminal justice code while determining the best ways of intervening to address the needs of the most vulnerable. Much of the rigorous evidence base suggests an approach that considers social justice in terms of not restricting by way of policy the rights of those involved in the sex industry to health care, social care and so on.
It should not be restricted because of policy and there must be recognition of the vast array of experiences within the sex industry, including both male and female sex workers.
There is an issue regarding redistribution, which has come up time and again. There is an idea that prostitution should never be the only choice that somebody has, and it would be very wrong in our society if that was the case and we were not pooling our resources and putting them to use to ensure it is not the only choice somebody has. That is as opposed to criminalising the buyers, which has been found to negatively impact the most vulnerable people within prostitution.
This is not coming from an ideological standpoint as to the rights or wrongs of prostitution but rather consideration of ways in which we can take prostitution from the criminal code and address the support needs of individuals without any restrictions or limitations. I am not coming at this from an ideological standpoint.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
Absolutely. I am not here to say whether prostitution is right and prostitution policy should not be approached from an ideological perspective. There is evidence to suggest that in doing this, the process will not work.
I have mentioned the example of decriminalising prostitution as a possible policy option, which has not been considered as much as the Swedish model or legalised systems for addressing sex work. There is an example from New Zealand of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003, where section 3 states that in decriminalising prostitution the New Zealand Government does not seek to advocate or endorse the use of or engagement in prostitution. It is simply about protecting the health and safety of those involved in prostitution and a range of other measures. There is no ideological standpoint as part of policy to address prostitution in that context.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations and their patience. As part of her research, did Dr. McGarry establish how many people were independent operators and at what age they got into prostitution? Were they working with another prostitute or pimp?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
All of the street-based women I spoke with executed a range of different risk management strategies, one of which was working in pairs in order to try to deter violence. There is a strategy of taking down car registration numbers and "spotting" for an individual, which has also been noted in other research in Ireland. It is a means of having some sort of control over the working environment and limiting some of the risks. As far as possible, the women work in pairs or groups, although it was not always possible. Some of the women spoke about experiences of violence when they had to work on their own and being exposed to danger when they had to go to locations with which they were not familiar, etc. For the most part, they felt that working in pairs allowed them to feel safe in some way.
Current legislation around prostitution in Ireland criminalises somebody profiting or living from the earnings of prostitution. Where women work in pairs as a strategy to minimise risk, they would also help each other financially, so there is an ambiguous area that cannot always be very readily defined. Under legislation it would be regarded as pimping if somebody took money from another person when acting as a "look-out" on the streets.
The witness initially indicated that it would be a mistake to state that all women involved in the sex trade are at risk. I am not sure if I heard that correctly. The witness also indicated that saying something like this would have a disempowering effect. Will she elaborate? The Irish Feminist Network is advocating an education programme and schools were mentioned. Schools only go so far so is there a recommendation on how a wider societal public awareness campaign can be mounted around the sex industry or rights of women?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
I thank the Deputy for the questions. I stated that arising from my study, viewing all women as "at-risk" in prostitution blurs the line, limiting the opportunity to make a distinction between acts to which a person has consented - however mistakenly we believe that is - and acts to which a person has not consented and which may leave him or her physically harmed or at risk from an individual. It reduces the opportunity to intervene and target violence against women and men in prostitution. If prostitution is regarded as inherently violent, we do not make any qualitative distinction between violence perpetrated against sex workers and the violence of society that forces somebody into the sex trade.
It is a complex issue and there are a number of different ideological standpoints in this regard. Such a stance can be unhelpful as it blurs the lines somewhat. For example, it makes operational definitions difficult to establish from the outset, and coupled with this is the lack of substantial evidence on experiences in the sex industry in Ireland as a base line. I make this point given the criticisms of the official Swedish evaluation, with the idea that sketchy evidence was presented that was very inconclusive with regard to what works, women's safety and so on. With evaluation, we need pre-intervention or pre-policy data collection as well as post-policy data collection for comparison. That was not available in Sweden and we do not have anything substantial in Ireland, regardless of some of the really good attempts at this work from Ms Monica O'Connor, Dr. Jane Pillinger and others involved in data collection on the sex industry in Ireland.
Much of the conversation about the sex industry is Dublin-based and we must think about what is going on elsewhere. One of the women in my study toured Ireland and it seems she did so quite independently and working by herself. She did not advertise her services as much as other touring escorts because she had "regulars", which touches on the argument made earlier about the underground being a redundant notion as a consequence of the Swedish model. People who have "regulars" do not require as much advertising as others.
Ms Emma Regan:
With regard to the educational campaign, I saw it primarily as working in schools so that it could reach young people, and boys and young men, when they are on the brink of forming sexual relationships and developing their ideas about that. There certainly could be a public awareness campaign at the same time, especially when the legislation is introduced, to educate the public about the law, the rationale behind it and what it means. That would tie in with an ideological perspective on equality and gender equality.
I asked a question about the group Dr. McGarry interviewed. How many of the 19 were independent? What ages were they and at what age did they enter prostitution?
Ms Regan will have heard a comment that prostitution was a need for some sectors of society. She referred to this in relation to rights. Could she expand on that? She referred, in particular, to someone who is disabled.
Ms Emma Regan:
If we accept that prostitution is exploitative and that people enter it without making free choices we have to balance the rights of those people with the rights, which were referred to, of people who are interested in having a sexual relationship and cannot do so. It is clear to me in any event, that the right of a person not to be abused in prostitution would come before the other rights referred to. For that reason, it is not vitally important to advocate for the rights of people who cannot have sexual relationship in another context to have such a relationship through the availability of people for sale.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
Three of the sex workers I interviewed entered the sex industry under the age of 18. One of the women was 14 when she entered the sex industry. Her mother, who was also engaged in the sex industry, brought her down to Benburb Street and that was her introduction. Another person mentioned being involved sporadically. After leaving care at 15 she had a sporadic engagement with survival sex and returned to the sex industry at 18. Someone else mentioned getting involved at 16. The other sex workers I spoke to were all over 18. At the time of interview they were between 20 and their mid-30s.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
That goes back to the point I made about the ambiguous concept of pimping. A number of the women had partners who were not working. Two of the men offered protection to the women. The man would stand at the top of a lane to offer protection and the woman would share her earnings with him at the end of the evening. In the eyes of the law, that would be regarded as pimping activity. None of the women spoke about having an independent person, with whom they were not in a relationship or friendly with, who controlled their work. Considerable ambiguity surrounds this issue and the definitions involved in it.
If every person was on the same page and we all wanted to eliminate prostitution through the law, the Swedish model is not the way to do it. It has counteractive effects in that regard.
We are looking at all kinds of models.
Dr. McGarry, did you seek out, or try to discover, people who had been coerced and were in prostitution against their will? Did you come across anyone like that, or try to?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
I spoke to one of the women who had worked in a brothel in Dublin and I asked her about evidence of trafficking. She said none of the women she worked with had been trafficked. One of the women, however, was not a European citizen and had asked a sister to organise documentation to allow her to come here to work in the sex industry. That would, perhaps, be regarded as a form of deception.
I did not seek out people who were coerced. I acknowledge that as a limitation of my research. My interviews were not with people who were coerced or trafficked into the sex industry. The difficulty of researching this area has been raised time and again. We do not know enough about those who are coerced because they are difficult to find.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
This is a complex issue. We can look at the range of entry routes into prostitution and how they vary. We can look at an accumulation of disadvantage across the life cycle. There is evidence of that, particularly for those who may be street-based or are problematic drug users. There is an accumulation of disadvantage and risk across the life cycle. Engagement in sex work is just a continuum of that risk.
May I develop that point? Are you saying there is a continuum from one end where people are trafficked and in sex slavery, through poverty and so on, to a point where people choose prostitution. This might be a question for Ms Regan, because the committee has been contacted by people who say they do this work completely voluntarily. There seems to be a continuum here. Would you accept that many people are involved who, if they had a choice and had different life chances, would not be involved?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
I noticed an explicit pattern of accumulated disadvantage. Some people speak about the Matthew effect, which refers to a verse from the Bible. He who has will always have and he who is without will always accumulate disadvantage. There was a pattern among some of the street workers who were problematic drug users. They were on a pathway of risk which meant they had very weak starting points in prostitution and accumulated risk throughout their experience of prostitution. It meant they were in a weaker negotiating position with men who were seeking to purchase services. There may have been violence within the home. International evidence supports the claims that some sex workers, particularly the most vulnerable who are involved in street prostitution and some indoor workers, particularly if they have been exploited and coerced and are enslaved within the sex industry, can share a number of early life experiences, such as family dysfunction, periods of time in care, early exposure to criminality in the family, exposure to violence within the home, early exposure to and initiation in drug use and early initiation into the sex industry. That is evident and is the experience of some sex workers.
You are describing very vulnerable people. When we were in Sweden we were told sex traffickers target the kind of people you describe. In eastern Europe, for example, traffickers target vulnerable people - girls in the main - entice, induce and kidnap them and bring them to more wealthy parts of Europe to work in the sex industry. You have described very vulnerable people. Some young women may have intellectual disabilities. The argument made to us in Sweden was that by reducing the demand for prostitution one reduces the opportunities for trafficking gangs.
One of the issues we face is that if we somehow or another say to men that there is a risk that their names will appear in the newspaper and they will be shamed by this, many of them could decide not to take that risk and will not go there. The demand would reduce and the pull factor decrease. Will Dr. McGarry comment on that argument?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
It is an impressive and convincing argument. The Chairman first said those engaging with those services or those who have been trafficked are drawn to those who are most vulnerable. The evidence in Ireland is that much of the vulnerability is visible on the street and a number of people who have been trafficked are indoors. With definitions and everything else, we cannot know for certain how many people are impacted or are victims of trafficking but it is important to note that we need to separate trafficking from sex work.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
By criminalising demand, they seek to reduce prostitution but they have not reduced demand. There is evidence to suggest it has not been reduced in any significant manner. The Rose Alliance in Sweden, for example, which represents sex workers, has noted that there has not been a significant reduction in the number of the clients they engage with. One major issue, however, is the increase in the number of violent clients. Furthermore, in 2003 a brothel was raided in Stockholm and the names of 571 clients were found on a database. That was three years after the introduction of the purchase ban.
Another argument that has been made relates to the increase in sex tourism with men leaving Sweden to purchase sexual service elsewhere.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
We do not know. It might be an assumption but certain clients are leaving while other violent clients remain. Brothels have been operating in Stockholm, Malmo, Gothenburg and so on unimpeded by the sex purchase ban. Evidence was provided to the committee by Dr. Eilis Ward and Dr. Gillian Wiley about the uncovering of a trafficking ring recently in Gothenburg. The argument that criminalisation is a panacea does not hold water.
I address my final question to Ms Regan. I apologise for the lateness of the hour but she has witnessed how engaged we all are by this topic. It has been put to us by a number of people that they have chosen of their own free well to engage in this work and some of them want to appear before the committee, which we are considering. They say they have a human right to do what they like and they do not want to be impeded in their work and choice. They say they have made a free choice and a rational decision. What has Ms Regan to say to them?
Ms Emma Regan:
It is a situation of weighing up the continuum to which the Chairman referred to previously and deciding if the vast majority on that continuum have not made a free choice. Then those are the people the law should seek to protect. Those who make a free choice to enter the sex industry would not be criminalised by this law and if demand remains, it is possible that they will manage to operate in the sex industry but the people who do not wish to do so will be less likely to because there will be less demand.
I acknowledge the committee has a great deal of work to do not only on the demand side, but on the supply side as well. Poverty has a huge part to play in that but I was struck by the reference to the 14 year old who was brought into the sex trade by her mother. How prevalent is that practice? Did this result from coercion or was it a by-product of total family dysfunction?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
It was only one case that I came across. The evidence suggested an accumulation of risk across the life cycle of a particular individual through exposure to prostitution in terms of her own mother who was involved. That was one element of her experience and it was her entry route into prostitution. We do not have figures or substantial evidence to suggest how prevalent this is or the scope of this as an issue.
Dr. Jane Pillinger:
I have also done work with vulnerable women in the Philippines who were trafficked and it is interesting. This is not just global; it is happening within small communities. The issue is very much one of the grooming of young vulnerable women by family members, pimps, networks of local criminals and so on. The vulnerability and disadvantage experienced by so many of the women who come into prostitution, particularly those who do so at a young age, needs to be addressed as a serious issue. It is not a free choice for somebody to come into prostitution because it is the only opportunity for them to earn money as an alternative to drug trafficking or involvement in drugs. It is about ensuring those young women have sustainable exit routes out of prostitution. The research both Ms O'Connor and I did in the dignity project showed this is a multifaceted issue. It is not just about demand; it is also about making sure of the protection for the women, the identification of exploitation and abuse and the criminalisation of the traffickers in order that it is not an isolated strategy and is one of many strategies. Fundamentally, we come from the position that the targeting of young vulnerable women whether they are from developing countries is because of poverty, lack of education and a lack of knowledge about what is happening. All our evidence shows us it is about vulnerable, disadvantaged women.
It is wrong to say that there is not sufficient research on this. We identified in our research at one moment in time 102 women who had been trafficked into Ireland and into the prostitution industry. The two are absolutely connected and cannot be seen as separate categories. We also found that the Irish prostitution industry - it is different from the way prostitution has changed over the past number of decades - comprised 98% migrant women, many of whom had been trafficked. Some had come to Ireland through promises of work or they had been internally trafficked after work opportunities failed. There is substantial evidence in Ireland - perhaps more so in Ireland than in most other European countries - as a result of the research carried out.
Ms Monica O'Connor:
As Dr. Pillinger said, we are forgetting that the same circumstances of vulnerability apply to young migrant women, 90% of whom are engaged in the prostitution industry in Ireland. This relates to the Chairman's point about the continuum of vulnerability.
There is also a continuum of coercion and deception. The Lithuanian Minister told me that they do not need to lock these girls up in vans and take them across borders in chains. The reality is they deceive them about the glamorous life they will have in Ireland. They go through Lithuania and come here thinking they will be models. These are 16 and 17 year old girls. Focusing on force and coercion and not looking at the vulnerability and risk factors, as Dr. Pillinger said, and the targeting of those vulnerabilities is very naïve. It is also very disingenuous to differentiate between girls who are trafficked and those who are not trafficked. The reality is that when they end up in the circumstances in Ireland, they are in equally exploitative situations regardless of the means of entry. I believe that Dr. Pillinger would agree with me that at a policy level in Europe there is a shift in seeing that continuum. A recent report referred to it as a continuum of predatory practices. Rather than simply saying there is this very clear division, it is a whole continuum of coercion. It is very rare that on reaching 21 a person wakes up and says: "Today is the day I won't go to medical school and will go down to the local brothel." The continuum is very important in regard to coercion and also in terms of choice.
I have a question for Dr. McGarry. Previous speakers talked about separating sex workers from trafficking and I cannot understand the thinking behind that considering the evidence we have from the anti-trafficking unit in terms of the successful prosecutions it has secured. Why should the two be separated?
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
Basically my argument is that we do not conflate trafficking and sex work. As I mentioned in my presentation, there are a variety of experiences of sex workers involved in the sex industry. Not every person involved in the sex industry is exploited. Not every person has the same entry route or pathway into prostitution. People engage in prostitution for a range of reasons. As I said in response to a previous question, by failing to make a qualitative distinction between the violence of a society that forces somebody into the sex trade and however we might describe that, and violence as perpetrated against individuals in the sex trade - those who are enslaved in the sex trade, exploited in the sex trade, trafficked into the sex trade and so on - we limit the opportunity to intervene in those cases because if everything is regarded as exploitation, how do we identify real exploitation? While we do not have the numbers to quantify that, if a number of women argue they are involved voluntarily and engage in sex work independently without coercion or exploitation, and we paint it all with the same brush, then we are denying the supports and services that should be targeted at real victims of exploitation and enslavement. For that purpose and given the range of evidence internationally which supports the notion, we should separate sex work from trafficking in terms of our responses because, otherwise, the issue gets completely blurred and we cannot intervene for those who are really at risk.
Dr. Kathryn McGarry:
In my research nobody mentioned career choice. This is one of the arguments that comes up repeatedly. Can sex be work and can we call it sex work? I am not here to answer that. I am certainly not here to endorse or advocate sex work. In an ideal world we would like to hope that prostitution should not be an option for somebody to go out to work. There should be a range of options and nobody's autonomy should be limited in terms of that being the only choice somebody has available.