Dispute on legal aspect of buying sex
Support groups for abused women and sex workers have disagreed over the effectiveness of criminalising the buyers of sex while not criminalising the sellers.
Margaret Martin director of Women’s Aid said her organisation supported the Swedish system which makes it a crime to buy sex, but treats the seller as a witness. She compared the situation to the prosecution of people for the crime of physical abuse of women, where she said women felt they could give evidence as they were not in fear of prosecution themselves.
Ms Martin said in areas where prostitution was legalised, a situation known as “lover boys” had arisen where men groomed younger women for prostitution while pretending to be their boyfriends.
She told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality there was some evidence that similar "lover boy" situations were happening in Ireland. Criminalising the buyer gave the impression to all that women were not commodities, she said.
However, Dr Teresa Whitaker, secretary of Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland, said any change in the law along the lines of the Swedish example would be a mistake. She said Sweden had not been successful in eliminating prostitution or trafficking, but she said there was ample evidence from around the world that prohibition just drove the industry underground.
Dr Whitaker said her association’s contact with sex workers had raised concerns that should prostitution be driven more underground than it currently was, it would be very difficult for those involved - and their customers ‑ to access health services and education. Simple prohibition had never worked, she said.
Senator Mary White said she had compassion for those who had no access to “legitimate sexual relationships”. She told the committee people had an obvious psychological and physical need for sex and she asked whether selling of sex should not be legitimised to protect the buyer and the seller.
Dr Whitaker said there was a difference between trafficking, child abuse, coercion and those who chose to be sex workers. In response to Senator White she said she was aware of an Australian parliamentarian who suffered from physical disability and had become an advocate for the availability of safe, paid sex.