Friday, 3 May 2013
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It has been described as one of the oldest professions in history - an industry that cannot and, some would say, should not be abolished. Everyone these days has an opinion on prostitution, the overall sex industry and its place in society. For me it is simple: anything that contributes to gender inequality and allows for the purchase of one human being for the gratification of another is not only unacceptable, it is fundamentally and morally wrong.
Ireland's current approach to the regulation of prostitution is partial criminalisation, whereby the sale or purchase of sexual services in Ireland is currently not criminalised, provided it is conducted out of public view and with some activities associated with prostitution - such as pimping, soliciting in public or brothel keeping - being a crime. It is also an offence to organise prostitution, coerce or compel a person to be a prostitute, or knowingly live on the earnings of a prostitute. The rationale behind these offences is the protection of prostitutes and an attempt to protect society from the nuisance and public-order problems associated with prostitution. However, the buying and selling of sex indoors remains protected by omission under the presumption that this is a private contract between consenting adults.
Since 2008, there has also been specific legislation on human trafficking, which makes it an offence to knowingly solicit or importune a trafficked person, in any place, for the purpose of prostitution. Prostitution by children is also outlawed.
The nature of prostitution in Ireland has changed dramatically over the past decade. Street prostitutes, the most visible face of prostitution, have been outnumbered by off-street prostitutes who can be contacted over the Internet or by telephone. Many more foreign prostitutes operate in Ireland than a decade ago and the true extent of the trafficking of women into and within Ireland for sexual exploitation is unknown.
I strongly believe that prostitution is incompatible with contemporary values and that it is a serious social problem which can and should be abolished. In reality, very few women choose to willingly engage in prostitution, with most who are involved having very few real choices. This issue must be addressed. We must decriminalise the victims in this so-called "trade" and give them the option of rehabilitation, while targeting demand. It is for these reasons that I am presenting my Private Members' Bill, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013, in line with the Swedish legislation.
This Bill sets out a number of offences for the purchase of sexual services that are initially intended to act as a deterrent and lead to serious consequences for repeat offenders. It makes provision for the introduction of the criminalisation of the purchasers of sexual services. It will reduce the demand for sexual services thereby reducing the incidence of prostitution in society. In addition, it will create a situation that will remove the attractiveness of prostitution and trafficking from organised criminal elements by creating the risk for purchasers of sexual services to be prosecuted with the element of "name and shame" acting as a deterrent.
The proposed new section 7 of the 1993 Act makes it an offence for a person to actually engage or attempt to engage, in any place, a person for the purpose of buying sexual services. It also makes it an offence for a person, in any place, to obtain sexual services by means of prostitution. It goes on to provide that first-time offenders will be liable to an on-the-spot fine; second-time offenders will be liable to a class C fine, which is currently a maximum of €2,500; and third-time and other repeat offenders will be liable to a class B fine, which is currently a maximum of €4,000, and a possible prison term of up to four weeks.
Section 4 inserts a new section 7A into the 1993 Act so as to put in place arrangements for the collection of on-the-spot fines which are provided for in section 3 of the Bill. The proposed new section 7A provides that a garda may issue a fixed payment notice to a first-time offender. This requires the offender to pay a fine of €500 within 21 days. In respect of first-time offenders, a prosecution is only instituted where the payment is not made within that period. The Bill's language is gender-neutral to accommodate for the involvement by both sexes in this exploitative industry.
I wish to express my thanks to, and acknowledge the presence here today of, representatives from the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, who have been very supportive throughout the drafting of this Bill. I understand there were public hearings in recent months conducted by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and that the Government is awaiting its finalised report. I am glad that this issue is being discussed. However, each day that goes by, women and girls are being exploited in the most degrading way and I strongly believe that only the Swedish model can address this. I know I am not alone in this view. Now is the time to take an affirmative stand on this issue.
One in four sex-buyers in Ireland - that is, 24% - have come across women and girls who appeared trafficked, controlled or underage, according to a major survey on prostitution published recently by the Immigrant Council of Ireland. In addition, the findings showed that fear of a criminal record, prison time or being named in a local newspaper were selected as effective deterrents by sex-buyers, and are only surpassed by fear of contracting disease.
The facts do not lie. In Sweden in 2010, a high-level inquiry headed up by a supreme court judge, showed that since the introduction of the ban in 1999, street prostitution has halved. In 1995, the estimated total of women involved in prostitution in Sweden was 2,500-3,000 with 650 of those on the streets. In 2008, there were 350 advertised prostitutes on the Internet and 300 on the street.
Some may say that all the legislation has done in Sweden - and would do here - is to drive prostitution underground, but is prostitution not already underground? If a sex-buyer can find a prostitute in a hotel or some other establishment, then the Garda can find them too. What is needed is a change in attitude and a shift in public opinion on prostitution. If people understand the dire living conditions and backgrounds of these women, they will quickly realise it is not the glamorous, luxurious, empowering lifestyle that some believe it to be.
Prostitutes would be safer under this legislation because they would be the victims, and thereby could report acts of violence and seek medical treatment without ramification. Once people accept that prostitution is a barrier to gender equality and a form of violence against women, their opinion changes. That is what has happened in Sweden where public opinion was initially hostile, but now 70% of the public support this law. Norway and Iceland have brought in laws banning the purchase of sex and the UK has taken tentative steps towards criminalising clients. We are backward enough on societal issues in this country, but let us not make this another one.
I find the use of the term "voluntary prostitution" and the myth of choice when entering this industry, to be counterproductive to this debate. What exactly can be defined as voluntary in this situation? Is it someone who cannot make ends meet or put food on the table, or a woman whose partner tells her she only has to do it a few times but never seems to find a way out? Is it perhaps a young woman who was made to walk the streets as a girl and knows no other way of life, or who has very limited life choices? How about someone who has a drug habit?
No one chooses to enter this industry. While not everyone is forced into it by pimps and traffickers, limited life choices have a big part to play and need to be addressed.
When I began to look into the issue of prostitution, I initially probably held the same views as most people in Irish society, that is, women who choose to be prostitutes should be regulated and made safe and everything should be done to try to protect them in the choice they have made. However, that was a view I held without really looking into or researching the issue. In recent years, as I began to consider what the Turn Off the Red Light campaign was trying to achieve and having examined the Swedish model and other models around the world, my views changed. Last year, I attended a briefing in Buswells Hotel at which former prostitutes spoke about their experiences and life in prostitution. That experience was horrific and to hear at first hand of the abuse, how women were forced into the activity and the abuse they went through while prostitutes was enough to make me change my mind. Moreover, I believe firmly that regulation has not worked. In Amsterdam, prostitution has been legalised for many years but, recently, that city has been obliged to introduce an age limit for prostitutes who enter the trade. An over-21 age limit was set because the authorities discovered they could not prevent under age girls from being used and forced into prostitution. The police in Amsterdam estimate that 50% of brothel owners actually have a criminal record or are involved in criminal activities in the background and yet this is the type of industry people seek to regulate. In Germany, where prostitution was also legalised, a major study in 2007 found there had been no improvement in the circumstances of prostitutes working in the industry. This demonstrates that regulation cannot and does not work. Moreover, steps must be taken to remove the criminal element and the only way in which to do that is by removing demand.
I certainly do not suggest this legislation in isolation is the remedy. Each woman has her own story and her own reasons for being in the sex industry and cutting off her means to earn a living certainly would not better her situation. While a voluntary individualised rehabilitation programme would be needed to offer such women alternative life choices, this is a policy decision, not a legislative one and consequently cannot be included in this Bill. There are 139 men, and only 26 women, in this House, who I am asking to make this decision on what is largely a women's rights issue. Some may think that what goes on between two so-called consenting adults by means of a private contract is no one else's business. However, do Members seriously believe people have the right to buy other human beings? While one may dress it up as one likes, it is the same thing as one must buy the person to gain access to his or her body. While some may say one cannot end prostitution - I personally disagree - that does not justify doing nothing.
Nothing else curbs human behaviour like legislation. When people make a conscious decision to purchase the body of another human being to do with it what they see fit, that is unacceptable human behaviour, which should not be tolerated or accepted as the norm. Legislation should always reflect the values of a country and, at present, bodily integrity is not valued in Ireland even though the protection of bodily integrity is enshrined in the Constitution. Gender equality is not achievable as long as women are for sale. From the years I have voiced my deep concerns on this issue and having met former prostitutes, this much I know to be factual: the sex industry is a cruel and disturbing place that is run by criminals. The only feasible way to bring this industry to its knees is to cut off the demand. Members need to send a clear message to traffickers and pimps that women are no longer for sale in Ireland and this is the time in which to take those steps.
I compliment Deputy Pringle on introducing this Bill on an extremely serious issue affecting society with which Members must deal and which they must face. Fianna Fáil absolutely supports this legislation. The Bill builds on the work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, which aims to tackle the scourge of prostitution across Ireland. The shift of criminal responsibility onto the buyer reflects the need to tackle the demand-led nature of the industry and the exploitation of the women, and often the children, involved. Switching to the Swedish model approach to combating prostitution will yield greater results in eliminating prostitution in Ireland.
Fianna Fáil supports actively the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland. This Bill reflects the work undertaken by this umbrella organisation and the need to take a different approach to tackling prostitution. Human trafficking for the sexual exploitation of women and children is one of the most heinous crimes in society today and prostitution laws must be reviewed and updated to end such exploitation. Fianna Fáil agrees that prostitution is inherently harmful and that those who are being prostituted, or the vast majority of them, are victims in some way or another, whether through abuse, poverty or sheer exploitation. It also is clear that criminal gangs are making hundreds of millions in profits each year through the exploitation of vulnerable immigrant women, many of whom have been trafficked or coerced into prostitution in Ireland. It is necessary to review the prostitution legislation now in order that it recognises that those who are being prostituted are victims and to ensure the laws are sufficiently robust to tackle the sexual exploitation of women and children. Fianna Fáil commends the work of those organisations involved in the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, such as Ruhama, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, which have managed to raise awareness and put this important issue onto the political agenda. It is clear, from the support for the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, that every part of Irish society wants to see this change.
As for the current legislation, I note the sale or purchase of sexual services in Ireland is not criminalised at present, provided it is conducted out of public eye. However, activities associated with prostitution such as pimping, soliciting in public or brothel keeping are crimes. It also is an offence to organise prostitution, coerce or compel a person to be a prostitute or knowingly live on the earnings of a prostitute. The rationale behind these offences is the protection of prostitutes, as well as an attempt to protect society from the nuisance and public order problems associated with prostitution. However, the buying and selling of sex indoors remains protected by omission under the presumption that this is a private contract between consenting adults. When in government, Fianna Fáil introduced the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, which criminalised the trafficking of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This makes it a specific offence to solicit or importune a trafficked person for the purposes of prostitution in any place and not merely a public place.
The nature of prostitution in Ireland has changed dramatically over the past decade. Street prostitutes, the most visible face of prostitution, largely have been replaced by off-street prostitutes, who can be contacted over the Internet or by telephone. In addition, the massive explosion in the number of foreign prostitutes operating in Ireland over the position that obtained a decade ago raises questions on the extent of the trafficking of women into and within Ireland for sexual exploitation. According to recent Garda testimony before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, approximately 800 women per year are involved. Moreover, a year-long RTE "Prime Time" investigation estimated a number of almost 700 on any given day, while regular checks on websites, chatrooms and forums by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign shows that sometimes this figure is close to 1,000. The issue at stake in this Bill is the exploitation of these women and the need to develop a fresh approach to the problem. Sex trafficking exists in Ireland as it does in every European country. This is recognised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, the European Commission, the annual Trafficking in Persons Report produced by the US State Department and figures from the Department of Justice and Equality. According to the aforementioned Department, 134 people were trafficked here for sexual exploitation between 2008 and 2011, of whom 32 were children.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland believes these figures do not give the full picture and notes that the OSCE and US State Department have identified Ireland as falling short in identifying victims of trafficking.
An attempt is made to portray sex-trafficking as modern day slavery but it is far more sophisticated. People are not brought here in containers or chains. They arrive at Dublin, Cork or Shannon Airports, often under false pretences of work, a relationship or marriage, and it is only when they go outside the terminal and their passports, documents and money are taken from them and they are placed in a brothel that reality dawns.
This Bill draws upon the Swedish approach to tackling prostitution. In 1999, Sweden was the first country to pass a law prohibiting the purchase of sex. Those who sell sex were decriminalised in view of their subordinate status and limited life choices. The rationale for the offence was rooted in the belief that prostitution is a serious barrier to gender equality and causes serious harm to the people involved in prostitution, as well as to their wider society. A high level inquiry headed by a Swedish supreme court judge found in 2010 that since the introduction of the ban street prostitution has halved. In 1995, the estimated number of women in prostitution was 2,500 to 3,000, with 650 of those on the streets. By 2008, there were 350 advertised prostitutes on the internet and 300 on the street. The law in Sweden assumes that prostitution is incompatible with contemporary values and that it is a serious social problem which can and should be addressed. The
purpose of the Bill is to adopt the Swedish model.
The question was raised of regularising prostitution. Fianna Fáil does not believe prostitution should be regularised and we would reject any proposal to that effect. Amsterdam has tried regularising prostitution over the last decade but instead of offering protection to women, the city has become a hub for human trafficking. Amsterdam police report that half of all legal brothel managers have criminal records and that their activities are fronts for criminal behaviour. The Dutch are now trying to row back on their failed laws, the most alarming result of which is the failure of regularisation to prevent the abuse of underage girls. This has forced a rethink of the legal age for prostitution, which has been raised to 21 years.
The issue of underage girls being involved in prostitution arose during the briefing organised by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland in Buswells Hotel. I commend Ms Charlton on the outstanding work she has done in campaigning on this issue. She arranged for Oireachtas Members to be briefed by former sex workers, who shared their experiences of the sex trade. It was harrowing to listen to them. We were told that they often misrepresented their age to clients because the younger they pretended to be, the busier they became. The demand led nature of prostitution in Ireland creates a sinister market of men who desire underage prostitutes. The penalties and punishment for offences must take heed of the fact that some people desire to purchase sex with minors. I was also struck by the level of violence that was visited on the former sex workers. They recounted violent encounters driven by alcohol and drug intoxication. Many of them suffered horrific injuries. This demonstrates the sinister nature of the people who pimped them and the environment in which they operated.
A number of months ago in my own city of Limerick, the Garda Síochána undertook a high profile operation to target prostitution. I compliment Limerick gardaí for the way the went about their work despite the unwarranted negative commentary they received for their efforts. The presence of prostitutes on certain streets impacted on the business community and people's livelihoods. The Garda acted in response to the concerns raised by those so affected and for several weeks the problem appeared to have been addressed. However, I recently passed along one of the streets in question and observed that prostitutes had returned to the area. As we are aware, the Garda is stretched to deal with various areas of crime but this is a problem that will not go away until we make the fundamental reform of criminalising those who purchase sex.
The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which I am a member, is considering a draft report on this topic. In July 2012 the committee invited submissions on a discussion document produced by the Department of Justice and Equality. In September 2012 the Department held a conference on the issue which was attended by members of the committee. We have considered hundreds of submissions and have engaged a consultant to assist us in assessing them. We have also held a series of meetings to hear from people with opposing views on the issues arising. My party supports the Bill because the serious problem it identifies must be addressed.
I commend Deputy Pringle on introducing this timely Bill. As Deputy Niall Collins has noted, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has been examining this issue and has invited a variety of spokespersons for national organisations, academics and former prostitutes to share the views and experiences of those who want to change our law to adopt the Swedish model and those who oppose such a change. We have heard hours of testimony, questions and examinations.
At the recent Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis, my party overwhelmingly endorsed the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. The campaign is supported by more than 60 organisations across the State, including most trade unions, women's groups, domestic violence support groups, immigrant groups, farming organisations, young people's organisations and organisations that support children. This is the context in which Deputy Pringle has brought the Bill before us.
We need to change the law because the current system is simply not working.
I was moved by the testimony given to the joint committee on the reality of prostitution. The vast majority of those who find themselves in prostitution, most of whom are women, never wanted to become prostitutes. It was not their childhood ambition or the ambition of their families that they would become available for purchase by men they do not know or love and with whom they do not have any affinity, other than through an economic transaction. Prostitution does not involve equal interaction because the purchaser is the dominant economic party. The industry is a tragedy and if I hear it described one more time as the oldest profession, I will scream. Prostitution is an insult to everything for which Irish people stand and to the Proclamation to which Members pay allegiance every time we enter this building. It could not be further away from the principle of equality.
It makes me very angry to hear terms such as "sex workers" used by those who argue for maintaining prostitution, many of whom receive funding from the industry for online forums, websites and agencies. As the spokespersons of the trade union movement stated during the hearings of the joint committee - I recall in particular the contribution of Mr. Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation - prostitution is not work and has no connection with the workers rights for which we fought. We want to support the women and small number of men involved in prostitution, those who moved to Ireland from abroad, were trafficked here or found themselves addicted to drugs or in economic hardship, by offering them a means to exit the industry. It is not good enough to change the legislation and give the Garda a new set of guidelines. We must provide meaningful supports to the women involved.
I listened recently to a report on "Today with Pat Kenny" in which Paddy O'Gorman, one of the reporters with the programme, spoke to some of the women who are affected by prostitution. I was deeply moved by the story of one woman, a drug addict, and the stark reality of what her life entails. Her life is a human tragedy which began in her teenage years in foster care when she experienced abuse and subsequently found herself on the streets of Dublin as a result of drug abuse. It is scandalous that some men believe it is acceptable to drive to Dublin from different parts of Ireland to purchase the services of the woman in question. We must confront and put an end to this scandal.
I received an e-mail this morning from a person lobbying on the legislation who used the term "adult entertainment business" to describe prostitution. The industry in Ireland, in which approximately 1,000 women are involved, is a modern form of slavery. We need to confront this issue by saying "No" and "Stop" to those who insist on using this language.
I had the opportunity of visiting Stockholm with a delegation from the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to study how the Swedish law on prostitution came about and the way in which it operates. We spent a full day in meetings with legislators, including members of the Swedish parliamentary committee on justice, officials from the Department of Justice, police and prosecution service and social workers. While there is no panacea for prostitution and the Swedish legislation is not perfect, it is the best model I can imagine. I was particularly moved by our encounter with a social worker who travels with the vice squad when it arrests some of those, primarily men, who avail of prostitution. I was very impressed with the support she provides. We asked her difficult questions, including whether the Swedish law will drive prostitution further underground. She and many others pointed out that prostitution, by its nature, requires people to offer themselves for sale, whether on the streets or websites. The argument that it will be driven underground is, therefore, nonsensical. When I asked how the women engaged in prostitution felt about the law she indicated that the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of women she dealt with were pleased to be offered a route out of a life of prostitution and welcomed the supports she provides. She was a highly impressive and remarkable woman, working at the heart of an impressive and remarkable law. I hope a similar law will be quickly introduced in this State in order that our legislation comes to reflect the promise of the Proclamation that hangs in the Lobby. Prostitution and trafficking have been dramatically reduced in Sweden since the new legislation was introduced. While women are still involved in prostitution and the model is not perfect, it is a hell of a lot better than the model in place in this country. Moreover, it reflects the values of the Swedish population much more than the status quoin this country reflects our values.
While the opponents of Deputy Pringle's Bill will never say so aloud, their objective is to completely decriminalise prostitution and allow prostitutes to work where they like. I point them to Amsterdam, the best example of a European city where prostitution has been fully liberalised, which is a disaster. To see women lined up in windows is an affront to all the values we claim to hold dear. Where does equality enter the picture in the red light district of Amsterdam? The Dutch are a fine people but their law on prostitution lets down their country and everything they stand for, which is a shame. The Swedish law is the model we should adopt.
Members of the Garda Síochána informed the joint committee that organised crime is behind prostitution. A legal loophole has allowed an English based website to offer hundreds of women for sale in Ireland. The site was set up by a convicted pimp whose son is also a pimp who was convicted in this city. These are the kind of people who make millions in profit off the backs of women available for sale in Ireland. The individuals in question also support an online campaign that seeks to prevent people such as me, Deputies Thomas Pringle and Niall Collins, and many others from doing what is right. They organise online attacks on individuals such as Sister Stanislaus Kennedy. They have also claimed the Turn Off the Red Light campaign is run by the religious and compare it to the Magdalen laundries. Pimps are funding campaigns to prevent us from doing the right thing.
As legislators, we can choose the side of English based pimps or align ourselves with all the women's groups, Macra na Feirme, Barnardos and the rape crisis centres. I know where I stand. We need to do the right thing by the women who find themselves in these tragic circumstances by offering them supports, housing and genuine equality. They must be helped to get off drugs and find their place in society again. We must tell the small minority of men who purchase the services of women that they have no right do so. If they wish, as Irish men, to stand by the Proclamation and claim the rights of citizenship of this Republic, they do not have any right to use their economic position to pay for the services of a woman. They should be men and do what is right by refusing to avail of prostitution.
I long to see the day that we have a law that does justice to what we claim to stand for. I commend Deputy Thomas Pringle on introducing this legislation, which I fully support.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the Bill. Sinn Féin supports the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, which the party discussed at length at our recent Ard-Fheis. The Bill needs to be matched with resources if it is to make a difference to those who are trapped in prostitution, most of whom are women. Our efforts to protect and support the individuals involved in prostitution, which is sometimes described as sex work, must be inclusive.
Legislation in this area must promote the health, safety, civil and human rights of the workers in question, including their rights to live free from violence, intimidation, coercion, exploitation etc., and to receive high quality care health and other services they require on a confidential basis. Deputy Mac Lochlainn has outlined, in quite graphic detail, the situations in which some of these people find themselves. The services must be provided without discrimination or judgment. Our laws and services must recognise and support the rights of individuals involved in sex work, particularly women. Unfortunately, it is mainly women who are trapped in the type of circumstances to which reference has been made. The debate on this matter and many of the issues relating to it can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. In order that we might engage in an open and honest debate, we must ensure it takes place in a respectful way. In tackling the drugs issue we have learned that one excludes people at one's peril. Part of the success of the national drugs strategy relates to its inclusiveness. Those in authority ensured that the voice of those communities most affected by the drugs crisis, including drug users and service users, were heard. The same approach must be taken to this matter.
We must also deal with the issues which force people into prostitution. Those who become involved in prostitution predominantly come from low-income communities. In most cases and as a result of their economic circumstances, people are forced into prostitution or what is described as sex work. We must deal with that matter. Since the collapse of the Celtic tiger, increasing numbers of women have been badly impacted upon by the prevailing economic circumstances. We must address that fact and the other issues which force people into particular situations. People who are trapped in prostitution or sex work must have full access to the necessary services. In certain instances, the support services need to have access to them. If a group of people become difficult to reach, this could have serious consequences. We must ensure that people do not become isolated because this makes them more vulnerable to exploitation. As legislators, we must ensure that people do not become out of reach of society.
There is a need to acknowledge the impact of human trafficking. Unfortunately, human trafficking is occurring in this State and young women have been brought to many provincial towns, including where I live, in order that they might be exploited for the gratification of men and make profits for those who are orchestrating this activity. In order that we might avoid making people even more vulnerable, a policy of harm reduction must be put in place. One practical step would be the introduction of what is known as the "Ugly Mugs" scheme in order to improve safety. As part of this scheme, gardaí and those in the trade would work closely together to improve safety. The scheme in question was pioneered in Liverpool and was endorsed by England's Association of Chief Police Officers in 2011. It has proved very successful in protecting sex workers - mainly women - and it provides police with much needed information on criminals and other violent individuals. This partnership approach ensures women in the trade are encouraged to report violent incidents and the records are used to identify dangerous individuals and to disseminate the necessary information among police officers. I urge the Minister for Justice and Equality to consider introducing a scheme along these lines.
The Bill before the House is extremely important. I am interested in the evidence brought back from Sweden by those who travelled to investigate the position which obtains there. This issue must be tackled and it can no longer be swept under the carpet.
I wish to apologise on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, who, as a result of a prior engagement, cannot be present. I thank Deputy Pringle for raising this issue. The Minister indicated to me that he will read the transcripts of the debate because this is an area in which he has a major interest.
Before proceeding, I should state that I will use the terms "prostitute" or "sex worker" during my contribution and I assure the House that I mean no offence by doing so. While some find the term "prostitute" objectionable and prefer to use the expression "sex worker", others object to the latter on the basis that it confers legitimacy on an activity which is unacceptable.
The term "sex worker" is, however, used in international discourse.
Deputies will be aware that the law on prostitution is under review. The criminal law in this area is being reviewed primarily because of the changed nature of prostitution in Ireland. Prostitution here was once a street-based phenomenon but that is no longer the case. The organisation of prostitution is now much more sophisticated and highly mobile and is easily facilitated by the use of mobile telephones and the Internet. Technological advances have largely resulted in the movement of prostitution indoors. Modern communication technologies make it easier for clients to contact prostitutes. In addition, prostitutes and pimps use these same technologies to arrange their business, including the setting up of short-term brothels in, for example, rented apartment buildings. These brothels can be quickly moved from location to location. I have no doubt that every Deputy present is very much aware of that. These developments also reflect the trend in other countries. While there is already a significant body of criminal legislation in this area, it is important to review the law periodically to ensure it is up to date and sufficiently robust and flexible to address criminality in the environment in which prostitution currently operates.
Prostitution is a subject that gives rise to intense debate. People disagree on how to respond to the many issues that arise. Those issues cover a wide spectrum and include, among others, the causes of prostitution, sexuality, organised crime, health and public safety, the exploitation of individuals, including children, inequality between men and women and human rights. All of these matters require careful consideration. The Minister is also acutely conscious that persons who sell sexual services do so for a variety of reasons. They do not constitute a homogenous group. Many women involved in prostitution have very limited life choices, whether owing to poverty or other circumstances. Mental and physical harm and violence can be intrinsic to prostitution and some women caught up in it experience objectification and dehumanisation. They can be vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by others. However, there are other women involved in sex work who object to being labelled victims and who claim the right to sell sexual services is a legitimate lifestyle choice. While I am focusing on women, I am conscious that men can also be involved in the sale of sexual services. Whatever one's views about their motivation, who buy sexual services do not constitute a homogenous group either. We must be aware of that reality in considering and formulating policy responses.
In addition to the activities of parties directly involved in prostitution, the current legislative review must, of course, consider the impact of prostitution on communities and, more broadly, the interests of society in general. In examining how the criminal law might address the issue of exploitation or abuse of sex workers in a changed environment, it is necessary to consider the variety of circumstances in which prostitution occurs. There is prostitution which is of an organised nature. This involves third parties and is exploitative to varying degrees. Some sex workers operating in networks are trafficked or coerced, while others are not. There are also prostitutes who operate independently and who choose, for whatever reason, to become involved in prostitution. In devising policy responses, including legislative and enforcement measures, it is crucial to distinguish clearly between, on the one hand, human trafficking for sexual exploitation and, on the other, prostitution. While the two can sometimes overlap, human trafficking and prostitution are separate phenomena and require distinct policy responses if each is to be targeted effectively, efficiently and in a manner which reflects the relative gravity of different types of criminal activity.
In this context, the report of the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law, published in July 2012, emphasised that criminal sanctions against human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors were essential, but laws must clearly differentiate these activities from consensual adult sex work. Also, the report of the UNAIDS advisory group on HIV and sex work, published in December 2011, expressed concerns about the conflation of sex work and trafficking and the impact on sex workers of failing to distinguish clearly between the two.
The Minister would like to highlight that there is already a clear consensus on the unacceptability of child prostitution and human trafficking for sexual exploitation. In this jurisdiction, the criminal law does not tolerate either. Any person convicted of human trafficking for sexual exploitation is liable to life imprisonment. A person who solicits or importunes a child, regardless of whether it is for the purpose of prostitution, to commit an act that would constitute carnal knowledge or sexual assault, is guilty of an offence. In addition to the solicitation offence, a person who engages or attempts to engage in a sexual act with a child can be charged with serious offences under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. The consent of the child is not a defence.
Criminal law also protects persons engaged in prostitution from exploitation. For example, a person convicted on indictment of organising prostitution or brothel keeping can be imprisoned for up to five years and receive a substantial fine. However, there are differing and genuinely held views on the approach the criminal law should take to other aspects of prostitution, particularly the purchase and sale of sexual services in private by consenting adults. Currently, it is not an offence to sell sex. In general, it is not an offence to purchase sex either. I say "in general" because, under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, it is an offence to solicit or importune knowingly a trafficked person, in any place, for the purpose of prostitution. Consequently and other than in this particular circumstance, neither party to the transaction is currently criminalised. Our legislation does not seek to prevent sexual contact, and adults who sell or purchase sexual services in private are not breaking any law.
Traditionally, our law has had two objectives. First, it aims to protect society from the more intrusive aspects of prostitution from a public order perspective. Accordingly, under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, it is an offence to solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. The offence can be committed by the prostitute, the client or a third party, for example, a pimp.
Second, the law seeks to protect prostitutes from exploitation. It is an offence under the 1993 Act to organise prostitution, coerce or compel a person to be a prostitute, knowingly live on the earnings of a prostitute or keep or manage a brothel. In addition, public order legislation prohibits the advertising of brothels and prostitution.
As part of the current review, the Minister published a discussion document in June 2012 on the future direction of prostitution legislation. The document's purpose is to facilitate a public consultation process. It was published to promote public discussion on the function of the criminal law on prostitution and to identify possible legislative responses based on analysis and debate informed by evidence. The intention is to gather views on what the criminal law's approach should be to reduce, deter, detect and prosecute criminal activity and protect prostitutes from exploitation, with due regard to the principle of human rights.
To assist public deliberation, the consultation document sets out four broad approaches to legislative policy for discussion. The four options include the one often referred to as the Swedish model, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services. This is the approach followed in Deputy Pringle's Private Member's Bill. By targeting only the buyer of sexual services, the Swedish model is a partial criminalisation approach. The other options outlined in the discussion document are total criminalisation, non-criminalisation and a model based on legalisation and regulation. For each option, the discussion document identifies possible arguments for and against and raises questions for consideration. The analysis does not favour any particular option, and instead tries to adopt an even-handed approach to assist reflection.
In addition to examining Sweden's legislative model, which has been followed by Norway and Iceland, the discussion document examined legislation in many other jurisdictions, including the UK and other EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. It is important that we determine what works and does not work across a range of potential legislative models. Debates similar to ours are taking place in other jurisdictions and we should take note of the insights gained therein.
On the discussion document's publication, it was referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which has been independently conducting a public consultation process. The committee's report is awaited. There is considerable public interest in the issue, with reports of the committee receiving many hundreds of submissions. I understand that it also organised public hearings over a number of months. The Minister would like to put on record his acknowledgement of the sensitivity and complexity of the committee's task and his appreciation of the work it has done in the public consultation process. He looks forward to the committee's report in due course.
Last October, the Minister's Department hosted a day-long conference to discuss the consultation paper. There was a large attendance, and the conference brought together speakers and an audience from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds. The Minister opened the conference and, despite many competing demands on his time, stayed for its duration to hear the many contributions and to engage with attendees. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality also attended and spoke at the event. In addition, members of the joint committee were present.
It is the Minister's intention that the report of the committee and the views expressed at the October conference will be fully considered in the framing of any necessary legislative proposal to be submitted to Government in due course. The Minister also anticipates that, when the committee's report becomes available, there will be an early debate on it in the Houses.
A process of public deliberation is ongoing. Until the consultation process and review are completed, it would not be proper to commit to or rule in or out of contention any particular legislative approach. The Minister has consistently emphasised that the consultation process must be, and be seen to be, objective, transparent, open-minded and fair. He has also consistently stated that the expression of all views should be facilitated and examined in due course. Given the circumstances, it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the merits or demerits of Deputy Pringle's Bill.
I acknowledge and commend the work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, members of which are present for this debate. I look forward to hearing Deputies' contributions. The Minister welcomes the opportunity for a further debate in the House when the report of the justice committee is published.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this new legislation. I thank and commend my colleague, Deputy Pringle, on introducing it. I welcome his great efforts on the important issue of the exploitation of women and men, which is the focus of this debate. Let there be no doubt - it is women, young girls and boys who are being exploited.
It gets up my nose when I hear some politicians and Senators expressing reservations about the legislation. It also gets up my nose when I hear wind-bag Senators say at meetings in the AV room that they do not know whether they can support the legislation. One is either against exploitation or one is not. That is what Deputy Pringle’s Bill is about. He is trying to protect young, vulnerable women and young teenage girls and boys from exploitation and to deal with human trafficking. This is not a time for fudge or sitting on the fence. It is a time to stand up and support the legislation introduced by Deputy Pringle.
I am also a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I have listened to the debate in committee meetings and participated in it. I am convinced that the Bill will assist in ending the sex exploitation and trafficking industry. It is a human rights issue. It is also about compassion, care and trying to protect human beings. There can be no ifs or buts. If one meets the people – sex workers - involved in the so-called industry, and looks into their eyes one sees hurt, damage and vulnerability. I reject the terms "sex worker" and "sex industry". I have met many of such people who come from a situation of exploitation, poverty and dysfunctional families. Many of them end up on the streets. It is important to listen to the detailed research available on the issue. None of those involved want to do what they do.
It gets my goat when middle class pimps go on television, and also in particular women, and say it is an issue of choice. For the vast majority of those people it is exploitation. I do not come to the debate from a moral or ethical perspective. I respect all morals and values, different religions and faiths. It is important that we have a pluralist country that allows for that. Certain issues of human rights and exploitation span religions and faiths. I respect that everyone has his or her own moral and ethical views. However, one must take a stand when one sees vulnerable people being exploited.
I strongly support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. It involves 68 organisations representing many facets of society. It has the support of the ICTU, Chambers Ireland, nursing organisations, doctors’ organisations, Macra na Feirme, the ICA, and survivors of prostitution as well as community and human rights groups across the country. It also has the support of four of the largest political parties and many Independent Deputies such as me. That is important because those people are anchored in every single parish and community around the State.
Organised crime lies behind the sex trade and the best way to end it is to target demand. I accept that, historically, prostitution has always existed. However, that does not mean one cannot try to do something to protect people. Some days approximately 800 women are exploited in this country. That has been highlighted by “Prime Time” and the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. In general, a couple of hundred people are exploited every single day in this country. The sex trade is organised by criminals. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has supported 50 women who were victims of trafficking who now have independent lives. We must deal with the issue and face up to reality. I strongly disagree with those who say it is safer to regularise prostitution. The experience in Amsterdam has shown over more than a decade that instead of offering protection to women the city has become a hub for human trafficking in Europe. Police in Amsterdam say that almost half of all legal brothel managers have a criminal record and their activity is a front for other criminal activity. That is the reality on the ground. The Dutch are now trying to row back on their failed laws. What is perhaps most alarming is the admission that regularisation did not prevent the use of underage girls. The fact has forced a complete rethink of the legal age for prostitution which has been raised to 21. Let us imagine how we would feel if a teenager aged 14, 15 or 16 years old involved in the sex trade was a brother, sister or neighbour’s child coming from a poor or dysfunctional background who is in crisis and on the street as a prostitute. It is an appalling vista.
I call on those Senators and Deputies who have problems with the legislation to wake up and look at the facts. Most people know that we must try to do something about the issue. The prosecution of buyers of sexual services is an important aspect of the legislation. Some say that will force the industry underground but it is already underground and on the Internet. We accept that is the reality. The argument is also used about AIDS and other health issues. We must face the reality of the crisis that exists and that people are being exploited. It is not acceptable.
Sex trafficking exists in this country, as it does in every European country. It is horrific when one thinks about it. That is confirmed by the OSCE, the European Commission, the annual Trafficking in Persons report by the US State Department and Department of Justice and Equality figures. According to the Department, between 2008 and 2011, a total of 134 adults were trafficked for sexual exploitation, in addition to 32 children. That is the tip of the iceberg as the problem is no doubt more extensive than that. Most of those people go underground and they do not get detected. I strongly support the view of the Immigrant Council of Ireland that the statistics do not give the full picture. The OSCE and the US State Department have identified Ireland as falling short in identifying victims of trafficking. The fact that 134 adults and 32 children have been trafficked is a good reason for strongly supporting the legislation. I commend my colleague, Deputy Pringle, on introducing this excellent legislation. Everyone, across all parties, should support it. The Bill is sensible and stands up for vulnerable and exploited people. We all have a statutory duty to do something about that.
I commend Deputy Pringle on introducing the Bill and I welcome the opportunity to contribute on it. The primary purpose of the Bill is to partially decriminalise prostitution with the criminal element attaching to the person purchasing another person’s body.
The aim of the Bill is to create a situation whereby we would remove the attractiveness of prostitution and trafficking from organised criminal elements. We have seen from various television programmes – “Prime Time” did a very good one – just how lucrative and exploitative it is. I paid particular attention to it because an anonymous apartment block in a town in County Kildare appeared to be a primary location for prostitution. It is not one of the places I would have suspected of such activity. Two women who had been trafficked were asked to talk about their experiences. They referred to fear being the motivation. They did not know where they were and were constantly moved. They were not allowed to have a mobile telephone or contact anyone. They had very little English. They had no expectation that prostitution is what they would end up doing when they came into the country. That is happening as we speak and we have an obligation to do something about it.
The Bill is based on the Swedish experience. Norway has also moved in the same direction in that it has actively discouraged traffickers from going to Sweden.
That is why Norway has moved in that direction.
The Turn Off the Red Light campaign identifies reasons why women and to a lesser extent, men, get involved in prostitution. These include poverty, homelessness, family loss, drug addition, being trafficked or coerced or being groomed by a family member, partner or friend. We can certainly identify poverty as one of the main reasons for prostitution, not just in this century but over many centuries. The campaign also highlights the issue of child prostitution, which is worthy of particular consideration. Claims made in the campaign documentation are all backed up by cross-referenced research. The documentation states:
The female prostitution market is sustained by adult women as well as underage girls, who are offered together in the same cycle of exploitation for the same kind of customer and are considered as 'interchangeable goods'. Research with sex tourists reveals that buyers are quite indiscriminate in using children, girls and women. The majority of women entering prostitution do so for the first time as minors. 11% of those trafficked in Ireland for sexual exploitation were minors at the time they were trafficked. A distinction cannot be made between the "consenting adult" and the child exploited in prostitution.No doubt the vast majority of women and men who work in prostitution in Ireland do so in circumstances where, if they were given a realistic alternative, they would not choose to do so. We should, as a Parliament and as a country, seek to eliminate the circumstances which force people into prostitution, including economic deprivation, drug addiction or exploitation by another party. In the context of drug addiction, the number of detox beds available here is critically low. Furthermore, the distances people have to travel to avail of methadone treatment programmes means that such programmes are not a realistic option for some. The problems with drug addiction services links directly into prostitution for some people.
In the vast majority of cases, the person selling sexual services is doing so within the context of a severe power imbalance vis-à-visanother person who is likely to profit from his or her activities. Often violence is added to this destructive relationship. This must be tackled and if a change in legislation is required then, as parliamentarians, we must rise to the challenge. This is about a change in culture and law can change culture. Obviously, a change in the law must be accompanied by many other actions. There must be a properly resourced, realistic route out of prostitution for people who wish to get out. They should be able to get out of prostitution without the fear of criminal conviction. The Garda Síochána must be adequately resourced to deal with people trafficking. We must reduce the level of targeting of prostitutes and ensure that support services are in place for those who want to get out of prostitution. The approach must be multi-departmental and must focus on support services for women and, occasionally, men.
There are multiple barriers to people escaping from prostitution. We must remember that the primary driver for those criminal gangs involved in trafficking people for prostitution is money. It is a very lucrative business. The primary reason for engaging in prostitution for those who have not been trafficked is poverty. We must address that issue. We cannot leave that to one side because it is a central issue in all of this.
Some sex workers are trafficked while others are not; some are coerced while others are not; some are minors and children but thankfully, most are not. A small group of women report that they entered the sex trade willingly and for them it was a lifestyle choice. I do not judge but I do find it hard to fathom. We have to acknowledge that some women, although a minority, actively choose to enter the profession, if one can call it that. At an average of €150 for half an hour or €250 for an hour, it might appeal to some. Some escorts and prostitutes make a great living. They live very comfortable lives. However, for many others, the story is dramatically different and such women make up the vast majority of sex workers. Their pathway into the sex trade involved no choices, no personal reflections and no decisions. Some know of no other life. Some were reared to be pimped out. Some were brought to Ireland on the promise of a better life.
I find it hard to accept that one person can be purchased for the gratification of another. It does not sit right with me. I find it impossible to accept when the individual concerned is trapped in this role, trapped by the physical environment and trapped by fear or psychological issues. Legislation, as it stands, provides for partial criminalisation of prostitution. It does not cover the buying and selling of sex, which is protected by the current law based on the rationale that it is a private contract between two consenting adults. The key word is "consenting" and as I have said already, many sex workers are trapped in their role of prostitute and there is no consent. For the most part, the legislation is outdated and ineffective. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 was a positive step forward. That Act makes it an offence knowingly to solicit or importune a trafficked person, in any place, for the purpose of prostitution. However, the key word in this instance is "knowingly", which sets a very high burden of proof.
The nature of prostitution has changed dramatically in recent years. Much like the consumption of pornography, the sale and supply of prostitutes over the web has rocketed. On 6 February 2012 there were 1,124 women and girls available for sale on the internet, 481 of whom were available in the Dublin region. I must admit that my image of a purchaser of sex was always a person who was socially awkward, a bit of an odd ball, a person who was physically or morally unattractive. I am very depressed after reading some research studies which indicate that the men who buy sex from women tend to be highly educated, have incomes in the middle range and are employed in professional occupations. The studies also indicate that 61% of purchasers are married or in a relationship. The most depressing fact of all is that one in 15 men in Ireland reported that they buy sex. Based on that finding, if this Chamber was full, there would be a potential 11 purchasers of sex among us. I would like to think better of men than that but the research indicates that I am being naive.
I am sure there are numerous studies explaining what leads men to purchase sex but I believe pornography has a lot to answer for, especially as it is so readily available now. Pornography regular pops up - no pun intended - during innocent Internet surfing. Degrading and unrealistic images are all pervasive and there is an enormous amount of violent pornography available. Pornography creates false notions about what people in healthy sexual relationships do. It creates false notions about what women, in particular, desire sexually.
Basically, it creates false expectations and when the expectation is not met, people look away from a partner. Often, the only way to meet this expectation is by purchasing sex, which is a sad reality. Make no mistake about it, Irish men are purchasing sex from vulnerable women. It is disgraceful, incomprehensible and scandalous that Irish men are involved with paedophilia. We need a two-tier approach in solving the problem that will tackle the availability and consumption of pornography. We must promote what it means to be in a healthy and loving sexual relationship.
I will not be supporting the Bill today but I sincerely thank Deputy Pringle for opening the debate in the Chamber. Nevertheless, the legislation is premature. I commend the work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign but the process of public deliberation has not yet been concluded. I want the opportunity to hear from the women who know this issue intimately, and I want to see the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Hundreds of submissions have been made by the public to the committee. I am no expert and my views today are based on very limited research. I want to hear formally the hundreds of submissions and the considered report of the Oireachtas committee before voting on the proposed Bill. The people of this country, and specifically the women, deserve better, so I will await the report from the joint committee, which is sensible.
I thank Deputy Pringle for bringing the issue to the Chamber. There is probably some merit in certain points but this is not a model with which we should move forward. I oppose the criminalisation of prostitution as it drives those in the industry into more unsafe places than they would occupy. Much has been made of the Swedish model, introduced in 1999, which is understood by many to be progressive as it purports not to punish the sex worker, who is usually but not always a women, but rather the purchaser of sex. The legislation was intended to address the demand side of sex by eliminating street-based prostitution and new sex workers from entering the industry. The legalisation was part of a general initiative to end all barriers to the equality of women in Sweden and was based on the conviction that prostitution involves structural violence against women and that no woman voluntarily decides to be a prostitute.
Information has come through that the process is not working in the way intended, and it has been very hard to ascertain how effective the model has been with regard to its main aims. A certain amount of research has been done indicating that a number of serious problems have arisen for the very people the law purports to protect. Women engaged in street-based prostitution, who have always been the most vulnerable group, have reported that their situations have become more difficult, as they are forced out of urban, brightly lit areas with CCTV and are forced to negotiate sex in more remote, industrial or rural locations, increasing the risk of violence and removing them from contact with support services. Women cannot work together and help each other as they would be in breach of the law. They are more likely to accept unsafe sex and to put their health at risk in other ways. The police look for condoms as evidence of sex, which gives sex workers a strong incentive not to carry condoms. In the first year, the police used video cameras to harass clients and to collect evidence, which meant that they had to film both the exchange of money and the sex. Many women felt the law was being used by the police to violate their integrity.
Several countries, including Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand, have all explicitly rejected the Swedish model for precisely these reasons. Using the law to engineer social and economic change is fraught with danger. We should be speaking to women who work in the industry, as very few voluntarily go into the sex trade. Their work normally arises from conditions of inequality, their background, drug problems or not being able to access services that would enable them to feed their children or pay their mortgage. We should consider such issues as we cannot believe that we can solve the problem if we take the client out of the scenario through criminalisation, with women moving to the work force. We know that will not be the case.
There must be a fundamental change in how we define economic and social problems in this country and across the world. There are laws for dealing with trafficking and they should be put to robust use. Nevertheless, there is trafficking in the labour force, particularly with older and younger women being used in a very brutal way. They may literally be locked up and used for the service of other people. That is absolutely wrong. I do not want to trivialise the subject but only the other day we attended a meeting of migrant workers who have been exploited, with au-pairs being brought over via the Internet to families in Ireland. They can be exploited, with passports taken from them, and locked into homes to perform all sorts of menial work for an absolute pittance. These workers have no means to extricate themselves.
People in Africa and Europe are desperate to get work and are forced to go on these sites, with families over here desperate in some ways to get help in their home for child minding etc. Everybody is being exploited in those cases, and it is a similar dynamic with people in the sex trade who wish to earn a living. It is absolutely outrageous that society allows this to happen. I want to listen to the men and women involved in the industry and try to regulate it. We should let them outline how they believe they can be made safer and healthier. New Zealand has a system in place where offices can be set up for workers, which takes the pimp out of the equation, as sex workers organise themselves and regulate the industry. They have access to health and other supports.
Before prostitution was legalised in New Zealand, a sex worker was intimidated by a member of the police force, who intimidated the woman into providing sex in return for him not arresting her. After prostitution was legalised, she was able to bring that man to court and make it clear that she was being exploited and manipulated. He was convicted because of that, so perhaps we should legalise the practice and allow rights for sex workers.
Last week I attended two committee meetings concerned with human rights abuses. One dealt with a group from Pakistan and bonded labour, which is a form of slavery, and the other considered the collapse of the Rana Plaza and the lack of rights for garment workers in that case. The groups before the committee illustrated how there is complete and utter disregard for human rights in those places. What we are discussing today is also an abuse of human rights, particularly the trafficking of young girls and women, with increasing numbers of young boys also being trafficked.
I have read the reports and submissions on the rights of sex workers and those who have a different view. They made for interesting reading. They make the point that consenting adults have the right to sell or purchase sexual services from other consenting adults and that all adult sex workers have the right to determine whether to remain involved in or leave sex work. They believe that reducing the harm to sex workers and their clients rather than abolishing or prohibiting sex workers is the way to go. They also support the legislation in regard to trafficking. Central to their thinking is that a distinction be made between sex bought or sold between two consenting adults, which is a different matter, and prostitution which arises from trafficking whereby people are forced into selling their bodies for sex. Their call is for the State to regulate, licence and control the sex industry which, they say, would reduce the role of the criminal gangs.
We have heard women in prostitution say that are content to work in this adult business because they believe they are in control. They are keen on the harm reduction model to protect them from violence and disease and for support for those who do want to leave prostitution. They believe the proposed legislation, which proposes to criminalise the purchaser of sex, will have a negative affect on the men and women involved, increase the risk of violence and prevent the already under-resourced Garda Síochána in the fight against trafficking which, in their view, is the bigger issue. They do not believe the Swedish model is as progressive as some would believe it is. They are the arguments of Sex Workers' Alliance, Turn Off The Red Light and Feminist Ire, who are entitled to their opinion. However, that is only one side of the argument.
The article in October 2011 by Dr. Eilis Ward of NUI Galway is interesting. Dr. Ward called in that article for a full, open and mature public debate on this challenging issue. She also made the point that policies must be informed by the reality on the ground and take into account all hidden or unintended consequences of any decision, such as the those we are discussing now. Dr. Ward expressed the concern that criminalising could make women even more vulnerable to harm, would make the industry riskier for them and would result in their being less likely to turn to the Garda for assistance. I have considered this. Far be from me to deny any woman the right to chose what to do with her life or to the right to her own opinion but I believe we must draw the line somewhere. The notion that selling or buying a body is not an abuse of human rights is where I draw the line. I believe it is an abuse. I can accept the difference of view where two consenting adults are involved but the trafficking business and buying and selling of bodies is an abuse of human rights.
It is a sad reflection on our society today that people buy sex. The increase in the number of young men who on a night out make contact with prostitutes via their mobile telephones or the Internet is alarming. I cannot help but wonder if this communication through social media, the Internet and chat rooms, and lack of emphasis on forming relationships and getting to know a person, is an indication of a lack of self esteem and confidence in young men. Another issue is instant gratification. The film "Pretty Woman" has a lot to answer for in terms of the impression it portrays of prostitution. The reality is different. Prostitution is exploitation. It certainly does not do anything for gender equality.
Senior members of the Swedish police force have stated that because the purchase there of sex is a criminal offence the level of women being trafficked into Sweden has reduced. On Garda resources, legislation means comprehensive surveillance and enforcement. There is no point in enacting legislation unless the resources required to enforce it are put in place. Those involved in trafficking, including for the purpose of prostitution, are using sophisticated measures to do so. I hope that the Garda Síochána has the resources to tackle it.
I acknowledge Deputy Pringle's work in bringing forward this Bill. We spend a great deal of time in this House discussing and debating this, that and the other report. In the meantime, the trafficking industry flourishes. It is a billion dollar industry, one based on ruthlessness, exploitation and the complete debasing of women, girls and boys. There are particular social and economic reasons for people getting involved in prostitution. We know, in spite of what people say to the contrary and all the attempts to play it down, that there is a link between prostitution and drug and alcohol addiction. This aspect may not be directly addressed in this legislation.
I acknowledge the work being done by the NGOs, particularly those in Dublin Central where there is a significant level of prostitution. I refer in this regard to Ruhama and Chrysalis and the work they do on projects funded through the North Inner City Drugs Task Force.
I thank Deputy Pringle for the large body of research work he has undertaken on this Bill. I also thank all Deputies for their contributions on the Bill, all of which I have listened to in the House. I salute that there are many Independent and Opposition Deputies in the House and I am a little embarrassed by the number of Government Members present. However, I believe the contribution of Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor captured the situation in which Ireland finds itself in this regard.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan touched on the situation in which people can find themselves when their defences and self-control is low. The Deputy also rightly described the crossover between this sad and tragic world where human rights and abuses take place and the industries of pornography and visualisation of behaviour, which makes this issue even more difficult to address.
Deputies Finian McGrath and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn also spoke passionately about the need for progress on address of this issue. I note that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children proposes to invite in organisations with first-hand experience of what goes on in this tragic world and how that affects not alone this generation but future generations. While we need to hear what they have to say, we should not allow reports, discussions and debates to delay us in doing something to address this problem. I commend the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and those involved. It has been a strong platform for interest groups wishing to channel their concerns on this issue.
Reference was made to the Swedish model as a comprehensive way with which to address the problem. It is instructive and telling and Sweden's neighbouring countries in the Northern region, including Norway, see the value in what it has done. It has been suggested that is the direction in which we should be going. I respect that. As stated by previous Deputies, while the Dutch have pushed out the borders and introduced liberalisation in various areas such as drug use and prostitution and related activities, it has not worked, even within legislative frameworks.
They are trying to pull back, for the sake of society, the well-being of their people and also for the well-being of the visitors to their country. Their country became attractive to unattractive visitors from abroad to spend so-called holidays or whatever adventures, and it only led to misery. It is wise to look at other jurisdictions and what they have experienced, and what they have done to counterbalance, correct and remove these stains in their societies.
I thank Deputy Pringle for the work he has done on this. I also thank everybody else on the Opposition benches for their contributions which have been well researched - they have done their homework. My colleague, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, made a valuable contribution too. She stated that it is important to move this along, that we do not merely stay stuck in committee work and reports, and that we should start moving it along at a faster pace, but ensuring that we cover the ground.
I wish to share time with Deputy Clare Daly.
In a 2010 report, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Graver, who I have quoted in this House before, made the following recommendation to states about sex work, calling upon them, "to repeal all laws criminalizing sex work and practices around it, and to establish appropriate regulatory frameworks within which sex workers can enjoy the safe working conditions to which they are entitled". He recommends that "states implement programmes and educational initiatives to allow sex workers access to appropriate, quality health services". In his report, Mr Graver stated:
Sex workers remain subject to stigma and marginalization, and are at significant risk of experiencing violence in the course of their work, often as a result of criminalization. As with other criminalized practices, the sex-work sector invariably restructures itself so that those involved may evade punishment. In doing so, access to health services is impeded and occupational risk increases. Basic rights afforded to other workers are also denied to sex workers because of criminalization, as illegal work does not afford the protections that legal work requires, such as occupational health and safety standards.In the context of the legislation we are currently debating and the widespread support for the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, this next point is particularly important. The report states:
The trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of any person is abhorrent, and undoubtedly merits criminal prohibition. However, the conflation of consensual sex work and sex trafficking in such legislation leads to, at best, the implementation of inappropriate responses that fail to assist either of these groups in realizing their rights and, at worst, to violence and oppression.The current legal position in Ireland, where the sale or purchase of sex is permissible but all associated activities are prohibited, puts sex workers at risk because it prevents women from working together, which would be safer for them. Advocates for sex worker rights in Ireland have called for a change in the law to exempt premises shared by sex workers where there is no third party involvement from the definition of "brothel".
The Bill is based on the approach to prostitution in Sweden, but the effectiveness of the Swedish model is questionable. The Swedish Government's ten-year evaluation of its law, the well-known Skarhed report, admits that it has no idea how many are involved in indoor prostitution. Its focus is on street prostitution which makes up a very small percentage of total prostitution.
A 2007 report by the Swedish Health and Welfare Board stated:
It is also difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question. At most, we can discern that street prostitution is slowly returning, after swiftly disappearing in the wake of the law against purchasing sexual services. But as said, that refers to street prostitution, which is the most obvious manifestation. With regard to increases and decreases in other areas of prostitution - the 'hidden prostitution' - we are even less able to make any statements.Importantly, the Report of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work, published in 2011, is very critical of methods such as the Swedish model, stating:
Stigma and discrimination within society results in repressive laws, policies and practices against sex work, and the economic disempowerment of sex workers. Policies and programmes to reduce the demand for sex work ... ignoring the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including increased HIV risk and vulnerability for sex workers and their clients, and diverting attention from protecting sex workers' rights. The frequent failure of policy-makers, religious leaders and society to distinguish sex work from human trafficking has sometimes led to involuntary displacement, harassment or detention of sex workers.Referring specifically to the Swedish model, the report notes:
In Sweden and Norway, the buying of sex is criminalised, an approach based on the idea that the client may merit punishment, but the sex worker is a 'victim'. There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work reduce demand for sex or the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations to avoid arrest of themselves or their clients. These laws can undermine sex workers' ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients and their capacity to demand condom use of clients. The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers who were unable to work indoors were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them.Instead of eliminating prostitution, the unintended consequences of adopting the Swedish model in Ireland will be to drive sex work further underground, increasing risks for the women and men who sell sex and making it more difficult for them to access health services.
For many, sex work is their only source of income and their means of providing for their families. Criminalising their clients will put these sex workers at increased risk of poverty, and lead to further stigmatisation and marginalisation. For these reasons, I would not be able supporting the Bill.
One would struggle to find anybody who would say that he or she is in favour of prostitution. It is something that I would not like to envisage for myself, my daughter, any member of my family or anybody who I know. There is no dispute whatsoever that prostitution is synonymous with exploitation. It is linked-in inevitably with brutality and, in many instances, with violence.
I will not repeat some of the examples that were given of the horrendous experience of women and men who were trafficked for sexual purposes. I do not believe that anybody in this House is in favour of that type of activity continuing or being endorsed but the idea that by raising issues about this Bill and by not supporting it, somehow one is in favour of this type of exploitation, as suggested by the frenzied contribution of Deputy Finian McGrath, is incredibly unhelpful in terms of advancing the type of debate we need on what are complex issues that need to be teased out as to what is the best way of dealing with exploitation. That said, it is a bit rich of the Government to be waffling on about concern for women and concern for exploitation in areas of sexual activity when it was involved recently in Manwin, the biggest pornography company in Europe, merging and purchasing RK Netmedia. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, failed to use powers in his control under the Competition Authority to stop that merger in order to facilitate the biggest pornography company in Europe operating and trading out of the IFSC.
I am not sure if it is making any films here - it may simply be benefiting from the tax haven just as other companies in the IFSC do. Of course, it was ably assisted by Arthur Cox in setting up there. It is a bit rich to be talking out of two sides of one's mouth.
Sex trafficking and violence against women are reprehensible and criminal activities. There is already legislation dealing with both these activities on the Statute Book. The issue is the Garda is unable to deal with it successfully. The Bill does not deal with sex trafficking and violence against women. It is simply based on the premise that by criminalising people who purchase sexual services and making it an offence, the demand will fall off and the problem will be solved. That is the basis of the proposition. That is what we need to consider. The Bill does not deal with organised crime, sex trafficking or violence against women. It simply proposes that demand can be restricted by criminalising the purchase of sex. I do not believe that is the case or that there is evidence to support that claim.
Before looking at the big picture, I want to touch briefly on some of the details of the Bill. It is designed to be a deterrent and put people off purchasing sex, but it contains certain very dodgy provisions. I believe a four-week jail sentence is not realistic. We are moving away from short-term prison sentences and it is not something to be encouraged, as it does not fit in with overall policies.
I have a real problem with a fixed-payment notice for obvious reasons, given the recent controversy over the power of gardaí in issuing fixed-charge notices for speeding offences and the allegations about those charges being written off because of political interference or whatever. The Bill proposes that if a garda has reasonable grounds to believe that somebody purchased a sexual favour, he or she can slap a fixed-charge notice on a person, who can either pay €500 or go to court to clear his name. Who will go to court to clear his name when he is putting himself in the spotlight? It gives gardaí enormous powers and in the context of questions that have been raised over the accountability of An Garda Síochána, I would have grave concerns about that provision.
I do not want to dwell on the specifics and will, as other Deputies did, deal with the overall issue of how we, as a society, can best deal with exploitation and prostitution. Those who support the method proposed by Deputy Pringle claim that because it has worked in Sweden it is the only and best way to address it. I do not agree for the reasons articulated by other Deputies. There is no evidence to support that view. It has been revealed that there are substantial problems with the quality of the evidence produced there. The Swedish Government has admitted it had no statistics in the first place. It is not possible to claim the activity has been halved if it did not know its starting point. Sweden is incredibly different from Ireland. It has a wealth of social supports, health care, welfare, education and gender equality.
There is considerable talk about concentrating resources on the exit programmes to allow women to leave prostitution and so on. However, that is not included in our Bill either. The debate is very much pitched in a men-versus-women context when obviously prostitution also involves the exploitation of many men. I do not believe the assertion that it will not be driven underground because for prostitution to survive the client has to be able to find the prostitute; therefore if the client can find them so can the police; so if the client thinks he is going to be criminalised he will not go because the police will catch him. That does not make any logical sense. The conclusion is that people would not bother going. The same situation applies to the criminalisation of drugs. In order to sell drugs, people need to find a seller. It is a criminal activity, but people can still find someone from whom to purchase drugs. Criminalising the activity does not stop it taking place and all evidence backs that view.
It is important to look at the bigger picture. A major aspect of prostitution is linked to the economic position of women in society and exploitation in that regard. In many ways I have a similar view to that of George Bernard Shaw, the great socialist and writer, whose play Mrs. Warren's Professionabout a prostitute is running in a Dublin theatre at the moment. That play was written in 1894 to draw attention to the truth that "prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together." He had a wish to improve the position of women in society. He wrote about the sexual oppression of married women and was in favour of unmarried women having sexual experiences, having children, being supported in going to work etc. We need to consider the issue holistically. We need to consider the circumstances that drive people into prostitution.
I do not believe most people would like to be prostitutes. If they had a viable alternative they would go with that alternative. I accept that and they are the conditions because all labour is exploitation under capitalism in my opinion.
There are examples where it is not a non-voluntary activity. I can give a few examples. There was a recent film about sex surrogates where women were paid to have sex with people who had disabilities. There are many instances where people are grappling with their own sexuality - perhaps men who are afraid to come out. They may engage in a co-operative physical act for which they pay another male. There is no violence in that and it is a way for them to release a physical need in a co-operative basis for which the person gets paid. I know of people who are in heterosexual marriages where the sexual activity has finished and the male has gone to prostitutes because there is a physical need. Moneys are paid, but there is no violence or degradation involved.
This is a complex issue involving interconnected social relationships and we need to look at it in a much more holistic way than is proposed in the Bill. It is good that we are discussing it. I want to discuss these issues. I believe the industry should be regulated and controlled to reduce harm. Critically people should be given the economic sovereignty to prevent them going down that road. The Garda is adequately resourced to deal with the issue where it occurs.
In the end I will disagree with the central proposal of Deputy Pringle's Bill. However, I commend him on raising the issue and allowing for discussion on it because it is the most serious of issues and needs to be debated. We need to do everything we can to reduce the pressure on young women and young men to go into prostitution where they are forced to sell their bodies and sexuality for money. It is abhorrent that people might be forced - in most cases are forced - into that situation. Obviously, given that this happens we need to do our utmost to ensure that people who are forced into that position have the safest possible conditions available to them and have as much protection as possible given the nature of what they are doing and the association with violence, criminality and the horrors of trafficking.
These are issues we must address as best we can. Ultimately, I disagree with the idea that criminalising the problem is a solution in any shape or form, whether the user or the sex workers themselves. I know Deputy Pringle does not suggest this. Criminalisation does not resolve the problem. Unfortunately, there are some things to which there is no easy solution because they are deeply complicated problems and if we look at prostitution, is this not obvious?
We have had prostitution not since the beginning of human society, but what is called modern civilisation, when it began in the great city states of Babylon and Egypt. What is clear is that where there is inequality, injustice and imbalances in power and social relations, and where there is exploitation and poverty, there is prostitution. It has always been this way. Overwhelmingly, the people who have been pushed into prostitution since it began are the poor, and not exclusively poor women as it is also affected poor men. The purchasers are almost always the wealthy, the powerful and the privileged. It may seem unachievable that we must do something in the short term to address the problem as it manifests itself, and it is a bit too pie in the sky to talk about addressing these deeper inequalities, but I must be honest and say history tells us unless we deal with the gross inequalities in wealth and power in society, we will not rid a society of prostitution, the buying and selling of sex, poor women and men being forced to sell themselves sexually or of the wealthy in society treating human bodies and sexuality as something they can buy.
If this has been a problem since the beginning of what is called modern civilised society, it has become an even bigger problem under capitalism. It is not very fashionable to speak about capitalism, but we must speak about it with regard to this issue. Prostitution, particularly the way it has expanded dramatically over the past 100 to 150 years, is one of the most obnoxious manifestations of the logic of the market because it is about buying and selling human sexuality for profit. It is the market. It is the dark underbelly of how a market works, because market economics are based on the principle that the way to allocate resources and organise an economy is on the basis of turning these things into commodities and buying and selling them for profit. Prostitution is the ultimate extension of this logic into the area of human bodies and human sexuality. At its most extreme form, which is street prostitution and human trafficking, it is horrendous, but there is a connection with the big multinationals, advertisers and corporations which sell products using sexuality as the means to package a product, an activity which is apparently respectable and which we see filling our television screens and so-called respectable magazines. Some people would argue we should ban this, but I do not believe banning this is the way forward either. It is a manifestation of how the market works. It has turned sex into a commodity, and turned women's bodies particularly into a commodity to be bought and sold and to be used to buy and sell things. This has deeply affected and alienated human sexuality in modern society because people from the youngest age and at every level in society are encouraged to see sexuality as a commodity to be bought and sold. Unless we address these issues, we will not deal with how human sexuality becomes distorted.
Unless we deal with the issues of poverty, unemployment and human misery which force people into prostitution, we simply will not touch the problem. While we can and should debate and dispute whether criminalisation is the way forward, it seems obvious that the bottom line is that people are driven overwhelmingly into prostitution because of poverty. There are, of course, exceptions, but if we look at the growth of prostitution in the country at present it is obvious the vast majority of prostitutes we are speaking out, who are advertised in the media and on the Internet, are immigrants from poor European and non-European countries. There is a direct connection. This is also true of human trafficking, and the horror of families selling their children into prostitution. It is horrendous that any family would consider doing this, but think about the economic circumstances which twist people's situation and thinking to the point they would consider selling their children into prostitution. This can only arise from the most extreme circumstances of desperation and social and economic dysfunction. We must address this problem of poverty and inequality for women, who are the primary victims, but, as I stated, it is not only women because young men are also affected.
I do not want to be too political about this and take political potshots, but frankly any government which introduces or passes measures which contribute to poverty has little credibility when speaking about prostitution. One of the shocking aspects of prostitution as it manifests now is the number of third level students who are driven into prostitution. They are not necessarily from terribly poor backgrounds, but because they are away from home in university where grants are insufficient, work is unavailable and they have registration fees and all the rest of it, many young third level students are dabbling in prostitution out of economic desperation. They are not willing to go back to their parents and state they have no money, or their parents simply do not have the money. Governments which make life more difficult for students by cutting their grants, introducing registration fees or by halving social welfare payments for young people between the ages of 18 and 24, are, I am afraid, contributing to the growth of prostitution and forcing more young people into it or into emigration. I hope many of primarily young people forced to leave this country find decent employment elsewhere, but there can be little doubt, because we know it is true historically, that with this level of emigration a proportion of the people driven to London, New York and elsewhere will be forced into something as horrendous as prostitution.
We must deal with those issues.
Some points have been made about the Swedish model but I will not elaborate on them further. However, there is no clear evidence for the claims that the criminalisation of the user, i.e. the Swedish model which is being proposed in this Bill, has halved prostitution. As Deputy Clare Daly has already said, the 2010 Skarhed report claimed that prostitution had been halved. However, the report's authors went on to admit that they never had statistics on prostitution levels before the introduction of criminalisation, nor did they have accurate figures afterwards, so there is no statistical data to back up the claim.
There is a widespread view, particularly among sex workers themselves in Sweden, that it has simply driven the issue underground. It has forced prostitutes out of areas where they might be safer, into more dangerous situations such as back lanes and other places without CCTV or public lighting. In addition, they are not carrying contraceptives in case the police stop them and use the possession of contraceptives as evidence of their being engaged in prostitution. We have gone through those points earlier.
The evidence is far from clear but, logically, it seems obvious to me that criminalisation cannot deal with the problem. We will have to examine the root causes. Some people think that regulating the sex industry to bring it into the formal economy is a panacea. While I would not argue that it is a panacea, the least worst of the available options is to have the industry properly regulated. In that way, sex workers can organise themselves in trade unions and minimise the dangers that prostitutes risk by having their profession regulated. It should be done in such as way as to minimise the risk, including threats, to those who are forced into that situation. Ultimately, we must deal with the root causes if we are to tackle this social evil. That is the way to go, rather than believing that criminalisation can solve the problem.
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I wish to thank Deputy Pringle and other speakers for the opportunity to address these issues in the House. As the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, indicated earlier, we are looking forward to a further debate in the House on this issue when the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality becomes available in due course.
The Minister, Deputy Shatter, has entrusted the committee with a difficult task, and a process of public deliberation is ongoing. In those circumstances, Deputies will appreciate that, at the request of the Minister for Justice and Equality, it is not open to me to comment in any great detail on the content of Deputy Pringle's Bill, or any alternative legislative proposals that would pre-empt the consultation process and the joint committee's report.
However, this is a very important subject that merits the type of scrutiny that is advocated. We will therefore await the report. For as long as the review and the public consultation are ongoing, the Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that he is prepared to have an open mind. Given the level of public interest in this issue and even though there are differing views, the Minister wants to provide an opportunity for all the views involved to be heard.
I thank Deputies for their contributions to this debate.
I wish to thank everybody who contributed to the debate, including the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Deputies who expressed their support for the Bill, and individual Deputies who also expressed their support. In addition, I acknowledge the contributions of Deputies who have concerns about the Bill and who are opposed to it.
The debate has been interesting and it is important to discuss this matter in the House. Deputy Mathews is correct in saying that we can talk for long enough about the issue in committees and also have consultations, but there comes a time when we have to take action.
I am somewhat concerned that, as the Government is awaiting the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, there will be a further debate here. It seems to me that decisions will be long-fingered and pushed down the road. In recent years, we have heard so much of the famous term "kicking the can down the road".
The purpose of this legislation is that the law should be used as a deterrent and a tool to change cultural and behavioural attitudes in society. The legislation had to be simple and basic in terms of the criminal law. It would not have been possible to include the social measures required to help people out of the sex trade and give them economic alternatives so they could have a reasonable standard of living without being forced to sell themselves on the streets, in brothels or on the Internet.
In my opening contribution, I tried to emphasise that point and have continued to do so at all times. Deputy Clare Daly said the legislation was simplistic, but it had to be so. Unfortunately, she may have missed the purpose and the wider overall context of the Bill.
I wish to address a couple of points the Minister of State made in his contribution, particular concerning the report of the UNAIDS advisory group on HIV and sex work. That report was published in December 2011 and expressed concerns about the conflation of sex work and trafficking, and the impact that failing to distinguish clearly between the two has on sex workers. However, there is a clear disclaimer at the start of the report, stating that not all members of the UNAIDS advisory group were in agreement with the position adopted in the report. In addition, the report was clearly set in the context of examining developing countries with a high level of AIDS and protecting people in those societies. It is therefore important to put that report in context.
Another aspect is that sex work or prostitution does not distinguish between trafficking and people who are forced into it through economic circumstances. When a man goes into a brothel in this country, or cruises the streets looking for a sex worker, he is not interested whether they were trafficked or not. He will not distinguish between them. Prostitutes working in brothels may have been trafficked, while others are natives of the country.
Sex work encourages and leads into trafficking. The Department's own figures show that between 2008 and 2011, 134 people were trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. Some 32 of those were children. Those are only the figures we know about, but we do not know the true extent of it. It is true that we just do not know the full extent of all aspects of the sex industry. As some Deputies said earlier, in Sweden the authorities did not know the full extent of prostitution before the law was implemented there. We do not know the full extent here either. All we have is the best guesstimate of the gardaí and NGOs who are dealing with prostitutes.
The Minister of State also said that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is unacceptable and in this jurisdiction the criminal law does not tolerate that. However, even though we know that 134 people were trafficked here for sexual exploitation from 2008 to 2011, not one person has been charged or convicted of using a trafficked person for sexual exploitation. That clearly shows that the system has not worked and is still not working. That is what my Bill is attempting to address.
Even if this legislation was accepted and passed by the Government, it would not be regarded in isolation or seen as a solution.
It must be seen within the overall context and resources must be put in place to assist women out of the sex trade and out of prostitution, if they so wish. They should be given training, economic means and resources in order that they can provide for themselves and their families with an alternative.
Although I would love to see it, unfortunately I do not believe Members can wait for the revolution to bring economic justice across society in such a way that there was no economic exploitation of women, who then would not be forced into the sex trade. While I would love to see it and agree it would be great were that to happen because it would solve a great number of problems, it is not going to happen now. Consequently, Members must do something now and must act. I do not suggest this Bill would eradicate prostitution completely. However, I believe it would contribute to changing the circumstances and culture that obtains in Irish society at present. Moreover, there are examples of how such legislative measures have worked. Culturally, drink driving is now completely unacceptable in Irish society. It has not been eradicated and still happens as people are still being prosecuted. However, it is culturally unacceptable and is becoming increasingly so. Similarly, the smoking ban has changed the culture in society and it has become culturally unacceptable for people to smoke, except out in the open air. This is vital and is the context in which this Bill and this campaign are operating as they also are trying to change the culture.
There has been some comment on how women in the sex trade in Sweden have been marginalised and how their position has been made more dangerous and less safe on foot of the introduction of the criminalisation of buyers of sex there. However, it is interesting that according to a March 2013 report in The Independent, in 2012, 40 women, mostly Romanians who probably had been trafficked into Sweden for the sex trade, were sufficiently confident to be able to go into court to give evidence against the men who had exploited them because of the decriminalisation that has taken place there. This is an important factor.
I will conclude by reading a quote from an Internet blog by a former sex worker, which I believe is important and which contributes to the debate:
Rape [has] become part of the job, so much so that we don't really use the term rape, we don't have permission to, we might allude to it but then it's ignored and the subject is changed. Many become desensitised to the pain of others, because if you [ac]knowledge someone else's pain, you may just have to acknowledge your own, and we don't have anywhere to place or deal with that pain, so some bury it, some use substances to forget it, some disconnect from it and unfortunately some accept it as routine.She goes on to say:
The sex industry is both a cruel and disturbing place, run by criminals and all efforts must be made to bring it to its knees and the only way to do that is to cut off what makes it exist in the first place, ... men who believe they have a right to buy other human beings.It is important to consider this and in the context of a regularised industry, I note the example of Amsterdam demonstrates it does not work. It does not prevent trafficking but in fact encourages it. Similarly, it does not prevent under-age children from being forced into prostitution. There was so much concern in Amsterdam about this problem that the authorities were obliged to set an age limit of 21 years for prostitutes to try to curb it. Similarly, the New Zealand model has been mentioned but there is evidence from that country that children as young as 12 are being put into prostitution because the industry has been deregulated.
The plight of au pairs has been cited here in the context of their exploitation within Irish society. Ireland has well-developed labour laws. It has laws against exploitation, about payment of wages and about entitlements for workers. Nevertheless, au pairs still are being exploited in this society. Workers are being exploited across this society and it can be seen that when prostitution and the sex trade are regularised, the sector is moved away from enforcement because there is no way that enforcement will deal with the issues women must face in this society.
For this reason, Members must go down the road proposed in this Bill. In addition, it will be necessary to put in place services and resources to ensure that women have an economic alternative to prostitution. While doing this, Members can then work towards the revolution for which Deputy Boyd Barrett hopes, in which there can be complete economic freedom for everyone.