Prostitution should be classified as gender based violence, commitee told

Personal cross-examination of complainant by accused risks ‘retraumatisation’

The classification of prostitution as gender based violence is fundamental to achieving an effective response to sexual violence, an Oireachtas committee was told today.

Ruhama chief executive Sarah Benson noted that the European Parliament today passed a resolution which recognises prostitution as a breach of women's fundamental human rights and called for states to implement the Nordic model (criminalising the client).

It was among several groups speaking to the Joint Committee on Justice about recommendations to deal with domestic and sexual violence.

Criminalisation of buyers has not worked in Sweden and makes women targets of those who want to beat up sex workers, Dr Theresa Whitaker of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland said.


Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said the justice committee had a report on the matter which recommended a change to the Irish law on prostitution to a Nordic approach.

An online safety scheme for sex workers, received reports of over 4,500 incidents against sex workers, over half of which were crimes such as robbery and assault, Lucy Smith of Ugly Mugs said. Stigma was the main cause of violence against sex workers and said many were fearful of being judged by gardaí , she said.

A call for investigations of sexual crimes to be carried out dedicated specialist gardaí and judges with access to information and education on sexual violence, was made by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (Rcni).

Legal director of the Rcni Caroline Counihan also recommended an increased strictness on bail conditions before sexual assault hearings.

Personal cross-examination of the complainant by the accused should not be allowed as there was a risk of “retraumatisation”, Ms Counihan said.

A memorandum of understanding which the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has with the Director of Public Prosecutions means disclosures of counselling records have to include informed consent, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop said. However this was not satisfactory as a long term solution, she said.

Traveller and Roma women were more vulnerable to violence because of high poverty, low education and poor accommodation, Laura Pohjolainen of Paveee Point said. Improvement in their socioeconomic station was “key” to protection from violence, she said.

The provision of interpreters for women seeking safety orders, not required at present, should be provided by courts as a “bare minimum”, Sarah Hurley legal officer of immigrant support centre Nasc told the committee.

Commitee chairman David Stanton said the hearings would help the committee to bring forward recommendations to Government.

*This article was amended on the 27th of February 2014 to correct an error

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery is Deputy Head of Audience at The Irish Times