Seanad debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Motion


6:00 pm

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)

I acknowledge how well this issue has been highlighted and the telephone calls to Senators' offices to remind them. I congratulate all concerned on their excellent work.

This motion sets out the context of human trafficking for sexual purposes, implying it is one of the most violent and horrific crimes against humanity. The trafficking of women and young girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a form of 21st-century slavery and a total violation of their human rights. Trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes is a multi-million euro industry. Research from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime unmasks the extent of the problem of sex trafficking. Sexual exploitation usually forcing a person into prostitution is the most widespread form of human trafficking, constituting 79% of all recorded human trafficking cases. Up to one out of every seven sex workers in Europe is thought to be enslaved into prostitution through trafficking, and one in five victims is a child. This is an horrific statistic. Two thirds of victims are women.

Behind each of the statistics lies a real human being whose life has been blighted by violence, imprisonment and degradation, and whose family has suffered loss and bereavement as it can only imagine the fate of its loved one. Several of my colleagues have given excellent examples in this regard.

Women trafficked into Ireland are brought in by criminal gangs on the promise of a better life. On finding themselves in a world of prostitution and abuse, they are unable to approach the authorities as they fear they could be subject to deportation. The recent exhibition Not Natasha, hosted by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, with its harrowing images of women trafficked into the sex industry, offered a poignant illustration of the human tragedy of the women concerned. The trafficking of women and young girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation across the globe knows no geographical borders. Organisations such as Ruhama and the Immigrant Council of Ireland have demonstrated that Ireland is now a major destination for sex traffickers and they report that there are more than 1,000 women and girls for sale for sex in Ireland every day, 97% of whom are migrant women.

We need an enlightened and resolute response from the Minister of State to demonstrate that our society cannot and will not tolerate such cruel and violent acts against vulnerable women and children. Ireland has been slow to introduce legislation to criminalise human trafficking but, thanks to concerted campaigns by organisations such as Ruhama, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and women's and children's rights organisations in recent years, the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act was passed in 2008 and Ireland was eventually able to ratify the Council of Europe's protocol on human trafficking. However, it is now clear that we cannot tackle the issue of human trafficking without dealing with the wider issue of prostitution. The trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes is lucrative because there is a buoyant market. We need a complete review of legislation in this area. While legislation prohibits purchasing sex on the kerbside, it is not illegal to purchase sex in private. The vast majority of women who find themselves working in the so-called sex industry are not willing participants; rather, they are victims who, for various reasons, including a history of abuse through drug addiction, homelessness or debt, find themselves surrendering their human dignity and forced to undertake demeaning and degrading acts.

GardaĆ­ in areas frequented by street prostitutes say they are struck by the increase in the number on the streets at certain times of the year. This is absolutely harrowing. September, which coincides with children going back to school, Christmas and the first Holy Communion season are cases in point. There is no glamour in this career for the women involved. Some 80% of women in prostitution have reported physical abuse and more than 60% have been raped or sexually assaulted. Moreover, there is significant evidence that the sex industry is associated with criminality, money-laundering and trafficking.

There are those who say the sale of sex between two consenting adults is perfectly legitimate and that it may be better to legalise prostitution. However, when such people are asked whether they would be proud to say their mother or sister was a prostitute, or whether they would encourage their daughters to take up prostitution as a career, they soon change their minds. Ruhama states the vast majority of women it comes across want to get out of prostitution, and independent research validates this assertion.

The sex industry is thriving because there is demand and those who create the market are not subjected to the rigour of the law. While activities such as kerb-crawling, brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings are illegal in Ireland, the buying and selling of sex is not. It is clear the legislation needs a radical overhaul to deal with the 21st-century realities of the sex industry, which operates on the Internet, with so-called brothels being more transient.

There is really a need for legislative reform in respect of prostitution and sex trafficking. I fully support the call to introduce legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex and curb prostitution and trafficking. I will do my best to introduce it.


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