Just three convictions since law targeting those who used prostitutes introduced

A further 13 people were awaiting prosecution as of July of last year, review finds

There have been just three convictions since a new law targeting those who used prostitutes was introduced in 2017, a review of the new law has revealed. In one other case the probation act was applied.

A further 13 people were awaiting prosecution as of July of last year, according to the Interim Report of the High-Level Working Group, set up to review the new law.

Part IV of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act created two new offences of paying for sexual activity with a prostitute and paying for sexual activity with a trafficked person.

The law decriminalised working as a prostitute while increasing the penalties for those who were convicted of brothel-keeping.

In a report published on Wednesday, the group said that the steps taken to date by the state to assist women, including trafficked women, who are working as prostitutes, were “insignificant”.

The group called for the establishment of an Independent National Rapporteur on Gender-based Violence and Exploitation, who would have access to data held by state and non-state agencies, and would produce an annual report.

The “overwhelming majority of the women involved in prostitution are migrant women and many are undocumented,” the report noted.

The gardaí are currently developing information to be given directly to women involved in prostitution during brothel raids, which will highlight the new law, the role of the gardaí, and the supports that are available, according to the report.

The information is to be made available in English, Portuguese, Romanian, and French, as well as other languages to be identified by frontline support services.

Criminal sanctions

During a number of “days of action” in April of last year, gardaí questioned 36 people suspected of having paid for sex, and in total last year 97 people were questioned. The report does not say how many files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The group recommends that work continue on ensuring that those involved in exploitation are the target of criminal sanctions while those who are being exploited are protected.

Written by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, it said it was vital that there were laws against brothel-keeping.

However there was a concern that women who were not organising or profiting from prostitution may have, on occasion, been targeted by the law.

“The highest profile incidence of this happening was the conviction and sentencing of two young Romanian women for brothel-keeping, one of whom was pregnant.”

The women have appealed their nine-month sentences and to date have not served time in prison.

“We need to continue to work with those enacting and implementing the legislation, to ensure the exploiters are the target of criminal sanctions, and the exploited are protected,” the report said.

Noeline Blackwell, of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which is involved with the working group, said the prosecution figures for buyers are very low, but that it took time to build an expertise in prosecuting an offence that is so hidden.