Flaws found in proposed laws on prostitution


MEN WHO spend money on women during “one-night stands” might find themselves criminalised under proposed new laws that would criminalise men buying sex but grant immunity to the prostitutes who sell it, a new Government-backed review has found.

It also concluded criminalising so-called “punters” might divert Garda resources into investigating the “minor offence” of buying sex at the expense of pursuing human trafficking gangs.

New Swedish-style laws would grant immunity to women working in prostitution because they would effectively be regarded as “exploited” under law.

The review warned that this labelling would likely lead to objections from “sex worker alliances” and representative groups.

The review was based on a visit to Stockholm last year by the Dignity Project and a number of Department of Justice officials. They researched the Swedish laws introduced a decade ago that criminalise “punters” but grant legal immunity to women working as prostitutes.

The project’s report found enforcing the laws in Sweden had proven very labour-intensive for the police there, with relatively few prosecutions.

“It might . . . be argued that policing operations to target the purchase of sex – which would only be a minor offence – would divert law enforcement from . . . human trafficking,” according to the review.

The review found there may also be constitutional difficulties with criminalising one party in a “prostitution transaction” while granting immunity to another, because Irish citizens had a constitutional right to be treated equally under the law.

The Dignity Project report, which was published yesterday by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, also said legal definitions of “sexual service”, “casual” and “payment” in any new prostitution laws might be problematic.

“Any offence, for example, would have to distinguish prostitution from a ‘one night stand’ . . . where there was consensual sex after a casual meeting and one party has spent money on the other.”

The Dignity Project is an EU-funded research project aimed at examining services for victims of human trafficking and advocating best practice in that area.

It is led by the Dublin Employment Pact and Immigrant Council of Ireland. Its Irish partners include the group that works with women involved in prostitution, Ruhama, the Legal Aid Board and the HSE Women’s Health Project.

It has a number of partners with observer status including the Garda National Immigration Bureau and Department of Justice Anti-Human Trafficking Unit.

Mr Shatter said yesterday he now intended “to arrange a consultation process to help inform the future direction of legislation on prostitution”.

At present the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 makes it a criminal offence to solicit on the street or any other public place for the purposes of prostitution. A woman working as a prostitute can be prosecuted, as can a man trying to buy sex or a third party such as a pimp.

However, it is not a criminal offence to buy or sell sex in the Republic.

This anomaly makes it difficult for the Garda to prosecute women’s clients unless they are caught on the street.