The new reality of prostitution has to be addressed by a change in the law
Scandanavian-type laws should be introduced here
In her insightful and harrowing book, Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution, Rachel Moran points out that the 1993 Sexual Offences Act criminalised street-walkers and drove prostitution indoors.
This was one major element in changing the manner in which prostitution takes place in Ireland. In comparing Moran’s detailed and poignant account of prostitution as it was carried out 20 years ago with the present reality one is struck by the quite astonishing changes which have taken place in the intervening years.
Moran’s account leaves one with the impression that most of the women in prostitution in Ireland in the early 1990s were Irish, mainly from poor backgrounds. The pimps seem to have been mainly local small-time criminals, generally from the same poor background as the girls.
Victims of trafficking
The situation today is radically different. Nowadays many of the women involved in prostitution in Ireland are from eastern Europe, Africa, or Asia, and are victims of trafficking. The usual pattern is that a young woman or girl from a poor family in a poor country is lured to leave home by the promise of respectable employment in Europe or America. The trafficker demands a huge amount be paid from the future earnings of the woman.
When the young woman arrives in Ireland her passport is taken and she finds herself in a foreign country where she knows nothing about the legal system and may not even know the language. She is totally at the mercy of the trafficker. Frequently she is raped and beaten to break her spirit and she is forced into prostitution.
The woman or girl is likely to be locked in the apartment where men come to have sex with her. She has no choice about who she has sex with. So her situation is far more dangerous than that of the women who worked on the street in Moran’s time.
Moran says the Act of 1993 “robbed us of our autonomy, the little we had to begin with. . . .Working on the streets . . . I’d had the opportunity to see each client before I got in his car”. “In indoor work you don’t know who or what you’re dealing with until the door has closed behind you, and by the time the door has closed behind you, it’s too late”.
The danger and difficulty for the trafficked woman is greatly increased by the fact that she is moved from one town or city to another every couple of weeks to ensure that she has no chance to develop a friendly relationship with somebody who might help her to escape from her slavery.
The other big differences in the way prostitution is carried out in Ireland are the widespread use of the mobile phone and the involvement of international criminal operators or gangs in the business of trafficking and prostitution of large numbers of women. Prostitution is now a money-making “business” as lucrative as the arms trade and the drugs trade.
In recent months a coalition of more than 60 organisations, including trade unions and women’s groups, have been campaigning under the title “Turn Off the Red Light”, to have our law changed.
The coalition, and Moran, propose the adoption of the type of legislation in force in Sweden for well over a decade, and more recently in Norway and Iceland. This criminalises the buying of sex rather than the selling of sex. The effect has been a great reduction in trafficking of women and girls into these countries.
A similar change in Ireland would be one important step towards making Ireland an unfavourable place for the criminal gangs engaged in trafficking. It would minimise the danger and degradation of so many women engaged in prostitution – especially those who have been trafficked and are now trapped in sexual slavery. Why is it that our Government has not proposed such an important and urgent change in our legislation?
Rev Dr Donal Dorr is a member of a group called “Act to Prevent Trafficking” (aptireland.org), part of the “Turn Off the Red Light” coalition