Criminalising the purchase of sex

 

Sir, – Brian Dineen (Letters, August 31st) takes issue with Mia de Faoite’s article supporting the 2017 Irish law criminalising the purchase of sex (“Law criminalising purchase of sex is in women’s best interests”, Opinion & Analysis, August 28th).

However, he has missed her crucial point about decriminalisation of the (mostly women) sellers of sex.

It is true that the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 did not repeal some ancillary offences that can criminalise those engaged in organised prostitution or in pimping, such as the offences of brothel-keeping or of living off the earnings of a prostitute.

Most rational people would agree that these clearly exploitative behaviours should remain criminal offences.

But the 2017 Act did repeal the critical provision in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 under which many individual women had been prosecuted for the offence of offering their services as a prostitute in a street or public place.

This change has effectively decriminalised the practice of selling sex in public, as we suggested on the Oireachtas Justice Committee which recommended the introduction of the 2017 law.

Mr Dineen also suggests that the criminalisation of the (almost invariably) men who buy sex has led to increased violence against women engaged in prostitution.

However, there is no evidence for this assertion. Indeed, on the Oireachtas Justice Committee we heard strong evidence from Sweden that criminalising buyers can have a significant effect on reducing demand for prostitution and thereby reducing the harms caused to women through prostitution.

Mia de Faoite and others have spoken powerfully from their own personal experience about these harms, and about the grim reality of selling sex; it is inherently dangerous. That is why, as legislators, we sought to tackle harm through reducing demand.

Our law, like the 1999 Swedish law, is also premised upon the core principle of equality.

Laws that facilitate the purchase of sex undermine women’s equality by enabling men to buy sexual consent. But if consent is bought, it is not freely chosen. Those who take issue with our 2017 law tend to overlook that reality. – Yours, etc,

Senator IVANA BACIK,

Seanad Éireann,

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.