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A law criminalising people who pay for sex through prostitution should be introduced in Ireland, according to a new report from the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality published last week.

In its Report on the Review of the Legislation on Prostitution in Ireland, the Committee recommends that provision should be made in law for a summary offence penalising the purchase of sexual services of another person by means of prostitution, or any request, agreement or attempt to do so. It should at the same time be clarified that no offence is committed by the person whose sexual services are sold, the Committee says.

Committee Chairman, and Cork East Fine Gael TD, David Stanton said: “The Committee finds persuasive the evidence it has heard on the reduction of demand for prostitution in Sweden since the introduction of the ban on buying sex in 1999. It concludes that such a reduction in demand will lessen the incidence of harms associated with prostitution and – particularly in view of the predominance of migrant women in prostitution in Ireland – the economic basis for human trafficking into this State for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

“The Committee is of the view that a ban on the purchase of sexual service can be effectively and efficiently enforced by the Gardaí. The decriminalised status of those who sell sexual services is likely to help reduce stigma and barriers to seeking support from the Gardaí and support services.”

Other legal reforms recommended by the Committee are:
• increased penalties for trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation;
• increased penalties for organising or living off the earnings of prostitution;
• an offence of permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution;
• the regulation and inspection of premises advertised as massage parlours so as to eliminate those used for prostitution;
• witnesses in cases dealing with sexual exploitation through prostitution and/or trafficking to give evidence anonymously;
• offence of grooming a child or vulnerable person for the purpose of sexual exploitation;
• power for An Garda Síochána to have disabled or vested in them any telephone number in use in the State that is suspected on reasonable grounds of being used for the purposes of prostitution;
• that the accessing of web sites – whether located in the State or abroad – that advertise prostitution in the State should be treated in the same way as accessing sites that advertise or distribute child pornography.

In terms of policy initiatives, the State should, in consultation with appropriate agencies, support services, NGOs, and in particular with men and women in prostitution, formulate and implement properly resourced policies relating to health, education, training, housing and immigration status of men and women who work in prostitution so as to minimise harms risked or suffered by them and to support the exit from prostitution of those who wish to do so, according to the Committee.

The Criminal Assets Bureau should be specifically tasked to focus on the finances of the prostitution industry in Ireland and the flow of money to criminal organisations in the State and abroad, it says.

An Garda Síochána should, as far as practicable, consult with men and women in prostitution on how their health and well-being can be protected in the context of a ban on the purchase of sexual services, according to the Committee.

It also recommends that the Government should formulate with the European Union and its counterparts in other states policies and measures to reduce the economic and social factors that drive and sustain human trafficking and the prostitution of migrant men and women.

Deputy Stanton concluded: “The Committee received more than 800 submissions for consideration on this issue. These submissions were wide ranging and included various suggested changes for consideration by the Committee. On foot of these submissions, the Committee took evidence by way of written submissions, public hearings and some private hearings from 24 organisations and individuals. This ensured that all viewpoints were taken into account by the Committee so it was fully informed when considering its report to the Minister. As part of the process, Members of the Committee also travelled to Sweden to examine first-hand how the ‘Swedish Model’ operates and if we can learn from the experiences in Sweden.

“From the outset, it was clear that this would be a complex and delicate matter and that the Committee must ensure that the human element on which the evidence was based was not lost. I feel that this approach ensured a balanced and fair debate on this issue. I would like to express my thanks to all those who took part in this process, for their invaluable contributions. I was particularly impressed that all evidence was presented in a frank, honest and at times very emotional manner. I look forward to further progress and engagement with the Minister on this important issue.”

The Full report (in three parts) can be viewed or downloaded at: