Garda operation aimed to raise awareness on sex purchasing laws

Garda has faced criticism over number of prosecutions initiated since Act came into force

Detectives stopped and spoke to 36 individuals, all men that they suspected of having paid for sex, as part of Operation Quest. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Detectives stopped and spoke to 36 individuals, all men that they suspected of having paid for sex, as part of Operation Quest. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

The Garda, under pressure to show it is enforcing a controversial 2017 law targeting the sex trade, questioned 36 people over the weekend for allegedly paying for sex.

The crackdown, which took place as part of Operation Quest, is aimed at raising awareness that purchasing sex is now illegal and gardaí are taking it seriously. The Garda has faced criticism over the low number of prosecutions initiated since the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act came into force just over two years ago.

Since then just one person has been convicted of paying for sex; a 65-year-old Meath man who was fined €200 in January. It is believed there are a handful of other prosecutions before the courts.

Starting last Friday, Detective units in six urban and rural districts, co-ordinated by National Protective Services Bureau, began surveillance operations on known locations where sex workers operated. Detectives stopped and spoke to 36 individuals, all men, they suspected of having paid for sex.

“A number of files will now be prepared for forwarding to the Director of Public Prosecutions, with a view to establishing if any criminal prosecution should be initiated,” a spokesman said.

Let them imagine it was their daughters or their sisters. The same way they feel for their sisters, they should feel for others

It is understood the so-called “Days of Action” was ordered by senior Garda managers who were unhappy with the level of enforcement of the new legislation.

“This operation reinforces An Garda Síochána’s commitment to target the demand for prostitution and to protect vulnerable persons, including victims of human trafficking involved in prostitution,” a Garda statement said.

The Nordic Model

The operation focused on three districts in Dublin, as well as Wexford, Louth and Kildare.

To re-enforce the message, Monday night’s RTÉ Crimecall, in co-operation with the Garda, featured a woman who said she was trafficked into Ireland where she was forced into prostitution, chained up and forced to have sex with strangers for a year.

The woman appealed to men who purchase sex: “Let them imagine it was their daughters or their sisters. The same way they feel for their sisters they should feel for others.’

The 2017 law, which is based on the Nordic Model, criminalises the purchase of sex and doubles the penalties for running a brothel. Supporters argue it protects sex workers while reducing the demand for their services by targeting the customers.

However critics, such as the Sex Worker’s Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) say it makes the work more dangerous as it forces women to work alone or on the street for fear of being caught in a brothel, which is defined as two or more sex workers in one location.

Uglymugs.ie, a service for sex workers which tracks violent clients, said it saw a 61 per cent increase in the number of sex workers reporting concerns about customers in the six months after the law was passed.

Ruhama, an anti-sex trade charity, said on Monday that last year it provided support to 122 victims of trafficking, from 29 countries, who were forced into sex work. “We are confident that effective implementation of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 can make Ireland a hostile market for pimps and those sex traffickers who are importing young migrant women solely to profit from their exploitation, while betraying their hopes for a better life,” said Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson.