Ireland has ‘highly organised, transnational’ sex trade

Ruhama report finds women more likely to report crimes to gardaí since 2017 laws banning purchase of sex

‘We have been informing women on the streets that they are no longer criminalised and this has been very positive’

‘We have been informing women on the streets that they are no longer criminalised and this has been very positive’

 

Globalisation and changes in migration patterns have resulted in a “highly organised, transnational” sex trade thriving across Ireland, according to Ruhama, the charity supporting those caught in the industry.

However, since the introduction of laws banning the purchase of sex in 2017 the charity has begun to see cases where women are more likely to report crimes against them to gardaí without fear.

On Tuesday, Ruhama published its annual report, which showed it supported 313 women last year, from 40 different countries and including 122 victims of trafficking from 29 countries.

Individually tailored support services were offered to 251 women, and the organisation had 2,793 face-to-face contacts and 9,970 phone contacts. There were a further 13,666 SMS messages.

Ruhama works with a relatively small number of men and transgender women, but most of those it supports, and those involved in the industry, are women. Its 2018 annual report marks its 30th anniversary.

“We have supported literally thousands of women in very difficult situations over thirty years,” said chief executive Sarah Benson ahead of the report’s publication.

“So many of them have had successful outcomes and been able to move past the trauma of sexual exploitation. The bad news is that some have not survived, and the sex trade is still alive and thriving in Ireland.”

The report also examines the shifting nature of modern day prostitution - while there are still some women working on the street, the majority of services are based indoors including a combination of apartments, hotels, brothels and massage parlours.

It also identified the effects of globalisation and changes in migration flows. “The sex trade is still predominantly controlled by organised criminals, and fuelled by the demand for paid sex that is driven by 8 per cent of Irish men,” the charity said.

“Ruhama’s frontline experience has shown over thirty years that prostitution is a violation of women’s bodily autonomy, and welcomes legislative and policy changes introduced in recent years to combat this.”

In 2017 the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act made it illegal to purchase sex and decriminalised those women caught up in the trade.

Ruhama has said it is confident the laws would make Ireland a “hostile” environment for traffickers.

“We have been informing women on the streets that they are no longer criminalised and this has been very positive,” Ms Benson said.

“We see cases where they are more likely now to report crimes against them to gardaí without fear. We have also seen some good examples of individuals reporting crimes committed in indoor settings through pro-active garda liaisons and this is to be encouraged. The Gardaí are given a strong signal by the law to ensure they take a victim centred approach towards individuals in prostitution rather than a punitive one.”

Among the supports offered by the charity are emergency response, education, housing and job-seeking help and counselling.