Concern over lack of prosecutions under new sex trade law

Gardaí need to be properly resources to enforce Sexual Offences Act, Ruhama says

There is  a cohort in Ireland ‘helping criminal gangs to make millions upon millions through the exploitation of vulnerable women’, says Ruhama. Photograph: Anoek de Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

There is a cohort in Ireland ‘helping criminal gangs to make millions upon millions through the exploitation of vulnerable women’, says Ruhama. Photograph: Anoek de Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The Government needs to ensure An Garda Síochána is properly resourced to enforce a new law criminalising the purchase of sex, a charity which works with women affected by prostitution has said.

Ruhama said the Government should also introduce a public information campaign on the 2017 Sexual Offences Act “to send a strong message that it is not considered okay to buy access to another person for sex”.

The charity said it was not aware of any prosecutions yet under the Act, which became law in March.

Ruhama was commenting as it launched its annual report showing 92 victims of sex trafficking were supported by the agency last year.

In total it helped 304 women of 37 nationalities including 92 women trafficked from four continents.

Ruhama said the experiences the women disclosed included rape, assault and other forms of psychological, physical and sexual violence.

A total of 222 women required intensive support from Ruhama’s casework service in 2016. Most had been sexually exploited in brothels, massage parlours, hotel rooms and apartments across the country, the agency said.

A further 63 women in street prostitution accessed support via Ruhama’s mobile outreach van, which takes to the streets of Dublin’s “red-light” areas three to four times a week. Last year Ruhama saw 99 new victims of Ireland’s sex trade.

The agency deals with women who may have excepted from their traffickers, or who may have escaped to Ireland but have been forced back into prostitution to survive.

Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson called on the Government to ensure the new legislation enacted in March, was implemented and that gardaí were properly resourced in the new regional protective services units to target organisations involved in trafficking and prostitution.

She said it was “incumbent on gardaí to ensure they do not target vulnerable people in prostitution for criminal sanction”. The vast majority of those in prostitution are women but there are also a small number of transwomen and men, the agency said.

New legislation

The 2017 Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalises prostitution by decriminalising the sale of sex but not the purchase of sex.

Ms Benson said “the bulk of prostitution in Ireland is run by organised crime gangs who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and girls, particularly in off-street locations.

“These unscrupulous individuals make money from human misery - moving often vulnerable migrant women in a coordinated fashion from brothel to brothel across Ireland, with a view to satisfying local sex buyers’ demands.”

She said it was really important that the “spirit” of the legislation was adhered to by ensuring a sympathetic view of the victim, the woman who is forced either by traffickers or by economics to sell sex.

She also called for the Government to create an awareness campaign about the legislation, stressing it should be a positive message because in Ireland “we have a very low number of men buying sex compared other jurisdictions”.

When activity was illegal “a large cohort of the population won’t engage in that activity”. Ms Benson said of prostitution that “most men don’t do this and never will”.But in Ireland there was still a cohort “helping criminal gangs to make millions upon millions through the exploitation of vulnerable women”.

The legislation increases the penalties for organising and profiting from prostitution. The Act also decriminalises the selling of sex outdoors. It was already permissible indoors and “now there is a recognition enshrined in law that no one should be criminalised for their own exploitation in Ireland”, Ms Benson said.