Former US president urges Ireland to criminalise sex buyers

Jimmy Carter says law would ‘target pimps and buyers of sex instead of the prostitutes’

Former US president Jimmy Carter has written to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other members of the Oireachtas urging them to adopt a recommendation to criminalise the buyers of sex.

Mr Carter backed a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice last year to criminalise those who purchase sex through prostitution.

In an open letter to members of the Oireachtas he encouraged legislators “to act on the recommendations of your justice committee and adopt this transformative approach to ending the exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls”.

Mr Carter said Ireland had made significant progress towards legislation which, if implemented, would target “the pimps and buyers of sex for prosecution instead of the prostitutes”.


“There is little doubt that public exposure in a trial and the imposition of a fine or jail time for a few men who are prominent citizens or police officers who were buying or profiting from the sex trade would prove to be an extremely effective deterrent,” the letter states.

Mr Carter added that proposed measures would also provide long-term funding for exit programmes “to assist prostituted women in escaping exploitation and developing national awareness campaigns to promote the equality of women and reveal the violence, inequality and coercion in prostitution”.

He said the recommendations of the committee, which published its report on Review of the Legislation on Prostitution in June last year, "offer an opportunity for Ireland to take a lead in this important issue and inspire others to follow".

“I hope that you will lead your nation towards the protection of prostituted women and girls with a sense of urgency,” he concluded.

Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which briefed Mr Carter on the issue, welcomed his intervention.

“This contribution by a global figure who enjoys international respect again shows the importance of the debate which has taken place here in Ireland and the need for urgent political leadership to bring this issue to a conclusion,” she said.

The Immigrant Council is one of 70 organisations which form the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign, advocating for the partial criminalisation of the industry, as adopted in Sweden in 1999, whereby the sale of sex is not unlawful but its purchase is.

Opponents of this model argue it would worsen conditions for sex workers by driving prostitution underground and leaving prostitutes more dependent on pimps and dangerous clients. They have also questioned the evidence cited in support the effectiveness of the model.