‘Garda training needed’ to end purchase of sex

Many are unaware that purchase of sex in Ireland is illegal under new law, says Ruhama

(L-R) Sarah Benson of  Ruhama and Denise Charlton of the Sexual Exploitation Research Project, UCD, outside Leinster House today. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

(L-R) Sarah Benson of Ruhama and Denise Charlton of the Sexual Exploitation Research Project, UCD, outside Leinster House today. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

A co-ordinated effort between the State and An Garda Síochána is needed to ensure sex buyers, pimps and traffickers are effectively targeted and held to account, support groups have said.

Organisations supporting victims of sexual exploitation marked the first anniversary of the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 - which criminalises the purchase of sex but not the sale of sex - by calling for greater resources and training for gardaí across Ireland.

Sarah Benson from Ruhama underlined the need for an awareness campaign around the law, saying it was vital the public fully understood the purchase of sex for money was now illegal.

“We know there’s a minority of men buying sex in this country, but it still fuels organised crime, misery and exploitation. We also know the number one deterrent for buyers [is] being caught.

“Part of the purpose of this law is about reducing the size of the sex trade by reducing demand. We want to see a public awareness campaign to make people aware, particularly those who are considering buying sex, that it’s no longer legal to do so,” Ms Benson said.

Ruhama’s outreach service, which works with women in street prostitution, has noted a sense of relief among women that they will not be convicted for selling sex.

“While still very early days since the passage of the law, there is also some emerging evidence that women in prostitutions seem more willing to report violent crimes committed against them.”

Ms Benson worries that many people working indoors remain oblivious to the change in law. Ruhama is not aware of any convictions under the act since its introduction in March 2017.

Denise Charlton from UCD’s Sexual Exploitation Research Project said solid data was needed to ensure the law was working and called for greater Government commitment in training gardaí. Ms Charlton says she expects Swedish police to be brought over in the coming months as part of Garda training.

“Every piece of legislation is only as good as its application and enforcement. We’re a year in, but we’d like to see more activity around implantation. Anecdotally we’re hearing that women feel safer because they’re not being criminalised, but that’s not concrete evidence. We need to put structures in place so we have the evidence.”

Brian Killoran from the Immigrant Council of Ireland warned that progress in implementing the law had been very slow to date and raised concerns around accommodation for victims of trafficking who, he said, often end up living in direct provision centres.

“It’s about sending out the message, especially to younger men, that the environment has changed. We need to push back on this behaviour.”