Most Irish men have never paid for sex and claim that they never will, but can still play a vital role in fighting the “enslavement” of women caught up in the sex trade, the launch of a male-focused campaign against prostitution and sex trafficking has heard.
The campaign, named Prostitution-We Don’t Buy It, is the first all-island project to ask Irish males to stand up against prostitution and sex trafficking.
A Red C poll commissioned as part of the campaign found that 88 per cent of Irish men have never bought sex. Eight per cent of respondents admitted that they had, although “not regularly”.
The poll also offers new information about perceptions of the sex trade. Three out of four Irish adults believe women who sell sex have experienced abuse from sex buyers, while more than seven out of ten said they believed most women are drawn into prostitution by difficult circumstances such as poverty or other vulnerabilities.
The online poll surveyed the views of 1,033 adults between March 13th and 18th.
Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, one of the main campaign partners, said there needed to be recognition "that most Irish men never have and never will purchase sex".
However, she said the campaign was asking them “to make a stand against a trade that exploits women and girls, and which results in profits for criminal gangs”.
Ms Benson said men who paid for sex never had any way of knowing if they were “buying from a coerced worker” and she said “the myth of the happy hooker is, sadly, just that”.
The launch also heard from sex trade survivor and activist Rachel Moran and Tom Meagher of the Men's Development Network.
Ms Moran said: “It is important that men say to each other in their private conversations that it is not okay.”
She also warned against legalising prostitution and said that in countries where it happened prostitution had “exploded”.
Mr Meagher, whose wife Jill was raped and murdered by serial rapist Adrian Bayley in the Australian city of Melbourne in 2012, said this campaign could be a turning point in male attitudes toward prostitution.
Mr Meagher spoke about the lies men tell themselves when paying for sex and the dehumanisation involved in the process.
“This dehumanisation comes from knowing that what they are doing is not right. If you pay for sex, the money is not buying consent, it is paying for the temporary suspension of the woman’s right not to consent.”
He said the lies of “consensual transactions” and the “pernicious lie of the male libido being beyond the control of the man who owns that libido. That feeds into a lie that we can’t help ourselves ”.
Mr Meagher also said there was a “need to end the lie that this is about sexual liberation. It isn’t, it is about sexual exploitation. The circumstances are usually coercive, but even if they are not, the buyer has no way of knowing .
“Ultimately, the only person making the choice is the buyer and the choices we make absolutely matter.”
The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Northern Ireland's justice minister David Ford also spoke at the launch of the campaign.
Ms Fitzgerald appealed to Irish men to start a public conversation on the wrongs of prostitution.
She said: “Public education and awareness play a vital role in reducing the demand for the services of victims of trafficking. We all have a role to play and that is the aim of this very striking campaign.”
Mr Ford described human trafficking as “a detestable crime, which dehumanises its victims and destroys lives. Those who traffic do not see their victims as fellow humans, rather as mere commodities, and over time they can succeed in removing a victim’s self-worth and identity completely”.