Buyers of sex 'more likely to be middle class and married'

Sat, Aug 25, 2012, 01:00

PEOPLE WHO pay for sex in Ireland tend to be middle class, married and men of means, and making it illegal to buy sex will deter them, the head of women’s charity Ruhama has said.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, one of 56 organisations at Leinster House yesterday to promote the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, said criminalising the act of paying for sex would make it far more difficult for pimps and traffickers to continue exploiting women.

“Sex buyers on the whole tend to be individuals of means, they are more likely to be middle class, the majority will be married,” she said. “If demand drops, the size of the trade drops and the incentive to organised criminals who traffic women drops too.”

The 56 groups, which claim a combined membership of 1.6 million people, have called for the purchase of sex to be criminalised.

Yesterday, they sent a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice calling for the introduction of legislation to tackle the issue.

Those who have joined the campaign include organisations such as Barnardos, Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland and migrant women’s group AkiDwa as well as the Irish Girl Guides, Macra na Feirme, the Dominican Justice Office and the Irish Medical Organisation.

Their submission called for legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex along the lines of laws introduced in Sweden.

Some 1,000 women are offered for sex daily through the internet in Ireland and 90 per cent of women in prostitution want to exit but feel unable to do so, the submission said. It recommended the change in legislation be complemented by “enhanced and sustained support” services for people who wish to exit.

John Cunningham, chairman of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said if the country does not change its laws on prostitution “it could very easily become the red light centre of Europe”.

Mr Cunningham said women as young as 14 are being trafficked into Ireland. “We have some horrific stories of people arriving here under false pretences, being brought to the Irish Financial Services Centre, gang-raped and put in a brothel down the country.” He said research showed “a fully functioning prostitute” could generate €240,000 a year for criminal gangs, making it a “huge” industry.

“We need to shift those antiquated ideas about it being the oldest trade in history and it being an issue of choice,” he said. “We know it’s not about choice, it’s about abuse and inequality.”

The closing date for submissions to the justice committee is the end of this month.