Payment for sex should be criminalised, committee proposes

Oireachtas report on prostitution would put pimps out of business, campaigners claim

A law criminalising payment for sex through prostitution has been recommended by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice.

The report on Review of the Legislation on Prostitution in Ireland also said it should be clarified that the prostitute selling sexual services would not be committing an offence.

It calls for a summary offence to be provided in law which would penalise buying sexual services.

The committee received over 800 submissions on the issue and held public and private hearings from 24 organisations and individuals.


The report was welcomed by two of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign founders, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama.

The recommendations give Ireland a “real opportunity to put human traffickers and pimps out of business”, they said in a joint statement.

They urged Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to act swiftly on the report's recommendations.

"This moment really belongs to the survivors of prostitution who volunteered to relive their ordeal by bearing witness to the horror of prostitution before the Committee," said Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

The report validated the need to "shift the focus of the law from those who are vulnerable and exploited in prostitution, who need support and not convictions, towards the sex buyers," according to Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama.

Among the other recommendations in the report are increased penalties for sexual trafficking, for organising or living of earnings of prostitution.

It also recommends the regulation and inspection of premises advertised as massage parlours, an offence of grooming a child or vulnerable person for prostitution, power be given to gardaí to disable phones used for prostitution and that accessing websites advertising prostitution be treated the same as sites advertising child sexual images.

It also says that the Criminal Assets Bureau should be asked to focus on the assets of the industry.

The committee heard "persuasive evidence" on reduction in demand for prostitution in Sweden, committee chairman and Fine Gael TD David Stanton said.

The reduction in demand would lessen the harms such as the “predominance of migrant women in prostitution”, he said.

The committee formed the view a ban on the purchase of sexual services could be “effectively and efficiently enforced by the gardaí”. The decriminalised status of prostitutes would “help reduce stigma and barriers to seeking support”, Mr Stanton said.

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery

Genevieve Carbery is Deputy Head of Audience at The Irish Times