Call for reform of prostitution laws

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The incoming government was today urged to reform vice laws to target people who pay for sex instead of women forced in to prostitution.

Leading trade unionists, social campaigners, business men and members of the arts demanded legislation in Ireland be updated to mirror laws in Sweden, where people who use prostitutes are penalised.

Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) chairman John Cunningham said current approaches to combat sex trafficking in Ireland are not working. “Women and children continue to be trafficked into prostitution in Ireland because it remains profitable,” he said.

“Tackling the demand for commercial sex that makes prostitution profitable for pimps and traffickers is the key to preventing exploitation.”

Trade unionists David Begg and Eamon Devoy joined forces with poet Theo Dorgan, writer Peter Sheridan and Fergus Finlay of Barnardos, to back the Turn Off the Red Light campaign.

More than 30 groups, including Ruhama which supports victims of trafficking and prostitution, are lobbying for Ireland’s prostitution laws to mirror legislation in Sweden.

It is understood the Department of Justice is considering reforming laws on prostitution to penalise those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.

Mr Sheridan said about one in 15 Irish men buy sex. “It is our hope that those who don’t buy sex but who might not have really thought about the consequences of the actions of those who do will now speak out and support this campaign,” said the writer.

Ruhama supported almost 200 women from the underground sex industry in 2009, of which 66 were victims of trafficking. Two were children when they were trafficked in to the country. The charity has warned the figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with many more women trapped in the sex trade.

Diarmaid Ó Corrbuí, chair of Ruhama, maintained the only argument for not criminalising the buyers of sex was to put men’s conscience at ease. “Women in prostitution tell Ruhama about the damaging effects of continual acts of violence, unwanted sex, high levels of anxiety and trauma, drug and alcohol addiction, the destruction of the sense of self, identity and sexuality,” he continued.

“People like to draw distinctions between women who have been trafficked and those who are described as freely choosing to become involved but the reality is that women become involved because of a lack of choice and the harm they experience is often the same.”

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