Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I know that many Deputies on all sides of this House have been following this Bill since its publication in September of last year and are anxious to see it progress, so it is good that the Bill is before the House today. I have also been determined to see this Bill progressed and I am determined to see it enacted.

Everything I have seen, experienced and encountered in my career to date convinces me that this Bill is essential. As a former social worker, an advocate and campaigner for the rights of women and as a former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am certain this Bill is urgent, necessary and contains the right laws for these times, laws that will protect victims of the most vicious and depraved crimes. Last week’s Central Statistics Office, CSO, crime figures show that sexual offences are up 13% on the same period last year. We cannot tolerate such crimes and I am determined to meet this challenge head on.

This is comprehensive and wide-ranging sexual offences legislation, probably the most comprehensive to be introduced in almost a decade. Earlier this week, I spoke at a seminar by the Children’s Rights Alliance on the theme of advancing children’s rights through this Bill. The support and welcome for this Bill was clear to everyone. It owes much to the contribution of many people and organisations across civil society. I would like to put on the record my appreciation to all of those who made representations or submissions to myself, to my Department or to the Oireachtas committee.

Those contributions are reflected in the provisions of the Bill, and further amendments will be brought forward on Committee Stage, which will reflect some of the other submissions we have got in more recent times. The Bill includes strengthening our existing laws to combat child pornography, new measures to combat the sexual grooming of children, the updating of our laws in relation to incest and indecent exposure as well as the amendments to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 which focus on the victims of sexual offences. Other measures to protect victims of sexual offences include the introduction of harassment orders prohibiting convicted offenders from contact with their victim.

The Bill also makes provision for the repeal and replacement of section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 in regard to the protection of "mentally impaired persons". The 1993 provision adopted an overly paternalistic attitude and status based approach to the protection persons with mental disabilities. The provision in this Bill adopts a very different approach and looks to the capacity of the person to consent. It does not presume that the existence of a disability implies a lack of capacity to consent.

Finally, the Bill criminalises the purchase of sexual services. I am convinced that these provisions are necessary to tackle the exploitation associated with prostitution.

As well as implementing the recommendations of a number of Oireachtas committees, the Bill brings Irish law into line with our international obligations. Provisions approved originally for inclusion, such as provisions to amend and update the Sex Offenders Act 2001, are absent from the Bill but I assure Deputies they have not been discarded. Legal issues arose during the drafting of the Bill and there was a need to update the provisions to reflect operational advancements, and that is the primary cause for this absence. However, most of these matters are now resolved and those provisions are to be brought forward as separate legislation amending the Sex Offenders Act 2001.

Turning to the Bill, given its wide-ranging nature, I do not propose to outline every aspect in detail but I would draw the attention of the House to the main proposals contained in it. In my view the provisions contained in Part 2, which address the sexual exploitation of children, are among the most important criminal law provisions being brought forward. We must take every step to combat those who engage in the sexual exploitation of children or in those activities which support and promote the sexual exploitation of children.

While we already have significant legislation in place to target those who prey on children, the provisions under Part 2 are a further step. Contained in this Part are measures which strengthen existing law in the area of child pornography as well as new offences targeting child sexual grooming which focus on those who use modern technologies to engage with children with the purpose ultimately of sexually exploiting those children.

I would like, at this stage, to acknowledge that matters addressed in Part 2 of this Bill were also the subject of a Private Members' Bill brought forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, in this House. That Bill and the provisions before the House today have the shared goal of removing any gap in the law which can be exploited by those who would prey on children for the purpose of sexually exploiting or corrupting a child.

Turning to Part 2, section 3 contains an offence of obtaining or providing a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This offence builds on the existing offence of sexual exploitation under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. In terms of paying a child or another person for the purpose of sexually exploiting a child, the provision is clear that such would include "any other form of remuneration or consideration" - so not just monetary remuneration. For example, the giving of a computer game or such to a child could fall under the provisions of this section. The section also criminalises offering a child or obtaining a child without reference to monetary or other forms of remuneration.

In order to target, at the earliest possible point, any intention to exploit a child, it is important that the law sets out in detail those initial acts or steps that we know a predator might take or could take to gain access to a child. What constitutes sexual exploitation is defined in section 2 and includes engaging a child in prostitution or child pornography, the commission of a sexual offence against the child or causing another person to commit such an offence. In line with the offence of sexual exploitation under the 1998 Act, and the requirements of an EU directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children, the offences targeting these pre-emptive steps to the exploitation of children apply to children up to the age of 18 years.

Section 4 closes a possible gap in existing law in relation to the sexual assault of children. Under the law as it stands, a child under the age of 15 years cannot consent to an act which would amount to sexual assault. While the intimate touching of a child would amount to sexual assault, this section clarifies that a person who invites a child to touch them or another person is committing an offence. The penalty of up to 14 years is the same as for sexual assault.

Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8, on which I will go into some detail, provide for offences connected with the sexual grooming of children. Sections 5 and 6 provide for offences relating to sexual activity in the presence of a child or causing a child to watch sexual activity. Familiarising children with such activity or material can take place during the early stages of the predatory process leading to more serious forms of child sexual exploitation.

Section 7 contains an offence which targets the point at which initial contact has been made with a child by a person intent on the sexual exploitation of that child. The offence arises where the person then meets with the child or makes arrangements to meet with the child. Again, this targets activity prior to actual exploitation of a child but we know that this is the process that predators will engage in.

Section 8 contains two new offences addressing the use of modern communication technologies in the grooming and exploitation of children. Modern communication technologies and social media generally are incredibly useful tools for everyone, as we know. However, children and young people in particular are and can be vulnerable to unwanted and seemingly innocuous contact by those who may prey on them. The offence under this section is an acknowledgement of that risk. It criminalises the initial stages of grooming where communication via, for instance, the Internet is the first step in facilitating the sexual exploitation of children. Section 8 offers further protection to children from unwanted advances by including an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child by mobile or Internet communication. The seriousness of these offences is reflected in the penalties which may be imposed of between ten and 14 years.

Sections 9 to 14 amend the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998.

As a violation of every aspect of a child's wellbeing and their rights, little compares with the manufacture, organisation, publication and dissemination of child pornography. While there are already significant offences under Irish law relating to child abuse material or child pornography as defined under the 1998 Act, we must remain open to examining and considering all possible steps which can be taken to strengthen those provisions. The Bill will introduce a number of new offences which will see recruiting or causing a child to participate in a pornographic performance becoming a specific offence. Child pornography is increasingly a technology-enabled crime and we must identify and combat new means of disseminating this form of child abuse material. To that end, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will introduce a specific offence of attending a pornographic performance involving a child. Very importantly, attendance is defined in the Bill as including viewing a live feed by means of information and communication technology.

I would also like to draw attention to the provisions in sections 16 and 17 which provide for offences of a sexual act with a child below the age of 15 and 17, respectively. These offences replace the existing defilement offences under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. There are two notable amendments to the existing offences. First, there is a change to the defence of mistake as to age. Under the 2006 Act, an accused could rely on a defence of honest belief as to the age of the complainant. This is a subjective test requiring the accused to prove that he or she honestly believed that the other party had not reached the specified age. Under this Bill, the defence will be one of reasonable mistake as to the age of the complainant. This is an objective test under which the court shall consider whether, in the circumstances of the case, a reasonable person would have concluded that the child had attained the required age.

The second issue I would like to highlight is the recognition in the Bill of under age, consensual, peer relationships through the introduction of a proximity of age defence. Under this provision, a person charged with an offence of engaging in a sexual act with a person between the ages of 15 and 17 years can rely on a defence where the act is consensual, non-exploitative and the age difference is no more than two years. All of the provisions in Part 2 have been carefully developed. A lot of time and attention has been given to the detailed work in this Bill and I thank my officials and everyone else who has been involved. My officials have taken a huge amount of time to work very carefully on the Bill which will give the most extensive and fullest protection possible to children.

Part 3 contains the offence which will replace section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 that I mentioned earlier. Under that section it is an offence to engage in an act consisting of sexual intercourse or buggery with "a person incapable of living an independent life or of guarding against serious exploitation" regardless of whether the person consents. The offence facilitates prosecution in that there is no need to prove lack of consent. However, it does not make allowance for the fact that a person who may need assistance on a day-to-day basis may nonetheless be capable of giving consent to a sexual act and, in this respect, it fails to respect the autonomy of individuals based solely on their status rather than capacity. The new offence under section 21 moves away from the status-based approach of the 1993 Act. To identify those who require protection, a functional test as to the capacity of a person with a mental or intellectual disability or a mental illness has been adopted. Under the provision, an offence will arise where someone engages in a sexual act with a person they know lacks the capacity to consent to the sexual act by reasons of a mental or intellectual disability or mental health illness. This provision seeks to attain the necessary balance and to ensure that appropriate protection is available to those who need it while respecting full participation in society of persons with disabilities.

Part 4 deals with the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services. Members are aware that this is a matter which has already been the subject of considerable debate both inside and outside these Houses and beyond the State. The two offences contained in the Bill - the first, a general offence of paying to engage in sexual activity with a prostitute, and the second, and more serious offence, of paying to engage in sexual activity with a trafficked person - are the result of considerable and extensive public consultation by my Department and by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which made similar proposals in 2013. In making that recommendation, the justice committee heard presentations from 26 organisations and individuals and received more than 800 written submissions. In deciding to put forward these provisions, I assure the members of the House that I have considered all sides of the debate. I have spoken, as have my officials, with representatives of both sides of the debate. I have considered the experience of states that have introduced similar measures and those that have addressed prostitution in a different way.

Let me be clear as to what these provisions will do. It will be an offence for a person to pay, offer or promise to pay a person for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity with a prostitute. The person providing the sexual service, the prostitute, will not be subject to an offence. The purpose of introducing these provisions is primarily to target the trafficking and sexual exploitation of persons through prostitution. In 2014, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which states that "demand reduction should form part of an integrated strategy against trafficking in the Member States". The Council of Europe has also studied this and has recognised the effectiveness of the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services in the fight against human trafficking. However, even to leave aside this unquestionable objective, there is undoubtedly evidence of wider exploitation of persons involved in prostitution outside of those trafficked, such as those coerced or otherwise forced through circumstances to engage in the activity. The most direct way of combatting this form of exploitation is to send the message to those who pay for these services and who ignore the exploitation of the women and men involved that their behaviour is unacceptable and contributes to the exploitation of other people. It has been argued that women and men can freely and voluntarily provide these services without experiencing the exploitation widely and normally associated with prostitution. I have listened to all sides of the debate and I am convinced that to target the exploitation associated with prostitution requires targeting those who demand those services.

Part 5 modernises and restates the law on incest. It corrects a gender anomaly with regard to the penalties for an offence of incest by a male and incest by a female. Under this Part, both offences will be subject to penalties of up to life imprisonment.

Part 6 provides for a number of amendments to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 designed to support and protect victims of sexual offences during the criminal trial process. Measures to further protect child victims of sexual offences from any additional trauma during the giving of evidence include giving evidence from behind a screen. Giving evidence and the whole trial process can be very traumatic for victims of sexual offences. It is traumatic for any victim but obviously very particularly for victims of sexual offences and we want to try to protect those victims as far as possible.

A provision is also included to prevent a person accused of a sexual offence from personally cross-examining a person under the age of 14 years of age unless the interests of justice require such cross-examination. A court may also direct that an accused may not personally cross-examine a child between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Safeguards to protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial are included such as directing the jury that no inferences may be drawn from the fact that an accused has been prevented from conducting such a cross-examination. Following calls during the earlier debates on the Bill, I am looking at extending some of these provisions to adult victims and appropriate amendments will be brought forward.

Section 38 provides for the disclosure of third party records in certain trials. The appropriateness of the disclosure of such records will be the subject of a pre-trial hearing and any disclosure will, while respecting the rights of an accused to a fair trial, take account of the right of a victim of a sexual offence to privacy. Only records, or parts thereof, necessary for the accused to defend the charges against him or her should be disclosed.

Again, during the debates in the Seanad, there were calls for amendments to this section which are also being examined.

Part 7 amends existing jurisdiction legislation to ensure the provisions which allow the prosecution of offences committed outside the State by citizens of the State or by persons ordinarily resident in the State will be extended to a number of the offences introduced under Parts 2 and 3.

I draw attention to two provisions in Part 8. Section 44 contains an offence of exposure and offensive conduct of a sexual nature. The existing offence of public indecency has been struck down by the courts on the grounds of vagueness. The new offences contained in section 44 clarify the acts and activities which give rise to an offence. Section 45 introduces harassment orders whereby a court can impose an order prohibiting a convicted sex offender from contacting or approaching his victim for a specified period. The order can be imposed at the time of sentence or at any time prior to the offender's release. The order may be imposed where the court is satisfied the offender has behaved in such a way as to give rise to a well-founded fear that the victim may be subject to harassment or unwanted contact by the offender such as would give rise to fear, distress or alarm or amount to intimidation.

The House will agree the Bill's provisions are a significant step forward in targeting those who would abuse children as well as offering some further protections to victims of sexual offences. I look forward to hearing and discussing all these issues with Members. I thank the Members, many of whom have contributed to the Bill's content, be it through a Private Members' Bill, work on the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality or through representations and submissions. This Bill is also a reflection of advances in technology, research, experience and debate. Regardless of the focus of the debate, either inside this House or outside it, we should not forget the Bill's primary purpose. It is built on the guiding principle of putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. We will shortly be introducing victims legislation, following on from the EU victims directive. It will mark a sea change in how the criminal justice system and the whole of society treats victims.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will substantially strengthen our law to target those who target our most vulnerable, namely, our children. It will also send a message to all victims of sexual offences. In many instances before, their pain and suffering was kept hidden. It is only in recent times that we have been able to acknowledge openly the experience of so many who suffered so much, so often in silence. This Bill sends the message to all victims of sexual offences that we recognise the unimaginable harm and trauma inflicted upon them and that we support them. It will ensure the criminal justice system will offer more support to victims of these offences in the future.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Fiona O'Loughlin and Mary Butler.

I welcome the reintroduction of this important legislation. It was sought and encouraged by many groups and people with direct knowledge of the circumstances surrounding sexual offences. I note with particular interest that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality referred to her own experience as a social worker and a former campaigner for women's rights when she said from that capacity she believes it is necessary. It is important we listen to people at the front line of interacting, defending and protecting those individuals subjected to sexual abuse. The categories of people who are subjected to sexual abuse are, to a large extent, children and women. This needs to be recognised in the legislation. Fianna Fáil will be supporting this Bill. However, we may table some amendments on Committee Stage which we believe may strengthen the Bill.

The character of sexual offences has changed in recent times, primarily because of two developments, one new and the other which has been around for generations, namely, technology and migration. The Internet is a great service which provides people with access to knowledge around the world. However, the Internet can also be subjected to legitimate and serious criticism. Its biggest failure is that it has promoted and increased sexual abuse of children. The engine which drives the Internet when it comes to the sexual abuse of children is not sharing knowledge but money and making profit. The Internet provides a forum for criminals who are prepared to abuse children to generate profits.

We have always known that there are depraved people in the world who are prepared to seek to abuse children. One of the downsides of the Internet is that it provides access and opportunity to those individuals to engage in such abuse. There should be no doubt that witnessing or watching child pornography on the Internet is abuse of those children subjected to such sexual abuse. The Internet affords that opportunity to depraved people to engage in that.

People who access child pornography are criminalised. I welcome that this Bill goes further and introduces specific offences in respect of modern technology. In particular, section 8 criminalises the use of information and communications technology to facilitate sexual exploitation of a child, section 11 criminalises the organisation of child prostitution or the production of child pornography, section 12 covers the production and distribution of child pornography, section 13 concerns the participation of a child in pornographic performance, and section 14 relates to the possession of child pornography. Section 13, which criminalises an adult for allowing or getting a child to participate in a pornographic performance, provides for a maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment, which I believe is too lenient.

The second reason sexual offences have changed in recent years is because of migration. For centuries, we have seen mass migration of people from different parts of the world to other parts. That which has taken place in recent years from Africa and Asia into Europe will go down as one of the great migrations of history. Unfortunately, that migration has also provided opportunities to criminals who wish to abuse women for the purpose of selling them for sexual services. Many vulnerable, young migrant women are arriving in Ireland and Europe. They find themselves in a hopeless economic situation. They are destitute and extremely vulnerable to criminals who sense that vulnerability and who manipulate it for their own financial advantage. Those migrant women are, to a large extent, those who are forced into prostitution.

I have met representatives of organisations in favour of the legalisation of prostitution and who are opposed to the criminalisation of men who buy sexual services from women. They argue from a libertarian point of view that they should be permitted to sell their bodies to men in an ordinary commercial sense. I disagree with their analysis. The women who make that argument, whom I have met for the purposes of this Bill, come from a small minority of the women involved in prostitution. They are not women who are forced into it because of economic circumstances. The majority of women involved in prostitution in this country come from migrant backgrounds, are vulnerable and do not want to be involved in prostitution.

They are being abused by criminals for the purpose of getting money. Those women would be considerably better off if they were protected from the scourge of prostitution by the criminalisation of men who purchase that sex act. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the legislation is the fact that it will now criminalise the purchase of sex. I think that will protect individuals. Looking at the activity that has been criminalised to date, I also think it is unfair that the prostitute is criminalised. Given where the power lies in that relationship between a prostitute and purchaser, it is clear that the power lies with the latter. The balance of power lies with the person who is purchasing sex and, for that reason, it is only right that the purchaser of sex should be criminalised.

We also need to recognise that we live in a society that places huge emphasis and pressures on young people and sexualises young people at a very young age. Again, the reason young people are being sexualised is because of commercialism, commercialisation and the desire by certain individuals to make money. I do not think we should allow a message to go out to our young people, particularly young men, that it is acceptable for them to purchase another person for sexual purposes in the same way they can go out and purchase a drink, dinner or some new product. It is especially bad for young men to grow up in an environment where they believe it is perfectly acceptable to purchase women for their own sexual gratification. Young men need to be brought up with a view of women that highlights the respect they should have for women. They do not need to be brought up with a view of women that places them as sexual objects. I believe that by permitting young men to purchase sex, we are allowing the presentation of women as sexual objects to continue.

I am not naive. I know that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Everyone in this House knows that prostitution will continue after this legislation is passed. That is not a reason not to enact this legislation. It will send out a message that we are prepared to protect very vulnerable women who, because of economic circumstances, are driven into selling their bodies.

Another part of the legislation that I support is Part 3. Section 20 repeals the current blanket ban created by section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, which prevents a person having a sexual relationship with a person who has a mental health difficulty or an intellectual disability simply because they have a disability. Instead, section 20 recognises the differences in ability that exist among people with intellectual disabilities. It creates a category of protected person, which is defined as someone who lacks capacity to consent because a mental or intellectual disability or a mental illness makes them incapable of understanding the nature of the sexual act, of evaluating relevant information to make a decision about taking part in sexual activity or of communicating his or her consent by speech, sign language or otherwise. This part is important because we must recognise that people with intellectual disabilities have a sexuality and their sexuality needs to be recognised. It cannot simply be regarded under our legal system as being redundant.

As I said at the outset, I welcome this legislation. Fianna Fáil will support it. We may table amendments when it comes to Committee Stage.

My esteemed colleague has outlined very clearly and concisely the position of our party but I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill which I know reflects years of research and investigation. It is great to see the 2012 recommendations of the justice committee being progressed at this point and I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality on her work and that of the Department in respect of this issue.

It is a very welcoming strengthening of the law in a number of areas. My party particularly welcomes the new protections for children. However, it is possible that the measures in the Bill do not go far enough and we will call on the Minister to address a number of concerns that have been expressed by groups working with women and children. Some of those include issues around stalking and victim shaming.

I have spoken to and liaised with a number of interested groups about this Bill since my election and I appreciate fully the research that has been carried out in mostly unpleasant, difficult and emotive surroundings. During the summer recess, I had the opportunity to go and see a piece of theatre in the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge called "The Game". This was more than theatre. It was social commentary on sexual favours and selling sex. It was devised by women who are current and former sex workers. The work, which lasted 60 minutes, was shocking and harrowing and gave the perspective of six different women on their experiences in this world. As men went in, five men were asked to be volunteers and had to respond or react to different situations. I could see how difficult it was for these people. When we went into the theatre, we were handed a piece of paper and told that we could leave at any time if it became too difficult to watch. Many walked out because they found it too difficult to watch. After the 60 minutes, we had the privilege of walking away and we knew and could reflect on the fact that we had that privilege. So many of the women who have been caught up in this trap could never walk away from it. It is hugely important that the House does good service to these women and their children during this Bill.

I am especially pleased to note that this Bill aims to decriminalise fully the most vulnerable in the sex trade, and I welcome that the Tánaiste has been open to discussions around removing the offence of loitering for the purposes of prostitution as it may compromise the strong victim-centred tone of the legislation as a whole. I understand that targeting demand will have the required impact. The legislation will certainly help to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland by criminalising the purchase of sex and decriminalising the sale of sex. Following on from a point made by Deputy O'Callaghan, 89% of those in prostitution want to exit so only 11% feel they are giving a service and are happy to continue doing that.

The legislation will impose stronger penalties on the perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse. We must point out that 63% of those in prostitution have experienced rape. Along with my colleague, I am glad that the Bill also recognises the special situation of particularly vulnerable people, namely, people with a mental or intellectual disability or a mental illness.

I was given this extract by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which together with Ruhama, has done incredible work in this area. It is of particular note because it is devastating to think of women who have fled very difficult situations in their own countries and who think they are coming to a safe country. They arrive at the airport and their passports might be taken from them. They are brought into a situation where they are in a house in an estate or an urban apartment in one of our towns or city centres. They find themselves in awful situations - what is really sexual slavery - where they are kept by men who are making huge money and brought from town to town. It is incumbent on the public to keep a watchful eye and to report anything they may see as suspicious.

In the past two weeks, somebody contacted me about having witnessed a particular situation in my town, Newbridge. It is happening in every area and town.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland gave me an extract which gives the perspectives of a mother and a daughter in this situation. The mother, a survivor of prostitution, said:

In six years I had three separate rapes and a gang rape. In six years I don’t know another profession that would tolerate that level of violence. At the end of it, at the end of the year, do we calculate, add up the rapes? This law is about the vast majority. This law is about the protection of human dignity and freedom. It is about a set of values. It’s about ending the violence.

Her daughter said:

My mum got trapped in prostitution for over six years. She only ever left my side to go to the street. I knew my mum was hurting. I could see it in her eyes and I could feel it in my stomach. All I ever wanted to do was keep her beside me. My mum was lucky enough to get out of prostitution as many do not survive it. I do understand my mother's reasons as to why she stood on that street. But I do not, nor will I ever, understand the reasons of the men that bought her. I couldn’t stop those men from buying her. But I can now, and so can you. This is why the sexual offences Bill has to be enacted now.

The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, has stated how it is crucial that the law be passed urgently because, even in its current state without amendments, it will do much to support and advance children's rights. It addresses the role that technology plays in our lives with provisions relating to online child grooming. It strengthens laws around child pornography and child prostitution. The importance of targeting demand must be highlighted.

There is no doubt that this victim-centred approach and the confidentiality of counselling records are very important. The legislation will help protect our most vulnerable children and adults from sexual exploitation and will tackle child sexual exploitation by strengthening the laws combatting child pornography and online grooming. Again, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I look forward to the continued work that will happen on Committee Stage and the opportunity to support my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, on the amendments we will propose.

As both my colleagues said, Fianna Fáil will support the Bill, which is a welcome strengthening of the law in a number of areas. I especially welcome the new protections for children. The Bill gives effect to recommendations made by two Oireachtas committees, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Child Protection and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. It also implements the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children also welcomed the Bill, which aims to implement wide-ranging reform in the area of sexual offences and offer greater protection to children from sexual exploitation.

In today's world, access to the Internet and pornography is all too easy. Very few children or teenagers have no access to a laptop, iPad or tablet. Grooming of children in chat rooms online is all too easy. Children are too vulnerable and are easy targets. However, the ISPCC expressed concern about the apparent omission of risk assessment guidelines and the provision of post-release supervision of sexual offenders. This is one of the key components to ensure children are better protected from offenders who seek to prey on them. As the ISPCC said, we need to ensure the legislation is robust and ensures improved conviction rates and appropriate risk-assessment mechanisms, enhanced post-release monitoring and supervision of sexual offenders, and that sentencing reflects the depravity of the crime committed.

Last year, Fianna Fáil met with Mary Flaherty of CARI, the leading voluntary organisation with a proven track record in providing child centred specialised therapy and support to children, families and groups affected by child sexual abuse. She, too, had issues to raise on the disclosure of therapy notes of children who have experienced child sexual abuse, while she welcomed the move towards establishing a clear statutory framework for the duty of disclosure in criminal cases. She made the point that:

For therapy to be effective and child-centred, a private space is required for a child to explore sensitive issues without fear of the information being used for any other purpose. If confidentiality cannot be assured, the core undertaking of therapy is undermined at a very fundamental level. The disclosure of such records can also lead to further psychological distress and potential re-traumatisation for the child, particularly as the person who has sexually abused them can have access to their sensitive, most private information.

She went on to say:

Furthermore, the request for therapy records can put children and their parents in an invidious position should therapy records be requested for criminal trial. They are often informed that in the event of consent not being provided for the release of therapy records, the trial will most likely not proceed, due to the lack of disclosure. This often leads to a situation whereby "consent" is provided for fear of this repercussion. The matter, therefore, has public health and societal implications as it has been argued that the effect of disclosure of such records is a powerful disincentive to report sexual offences and to seek therapy and, as such, this prejudices the public interest.

I welcome that the Bill prohibits the cross-examination of a person under 18 years by the accused person in a criminal trial. However, many feel that this exclusion should be extended to all victims of sexual crime, as it is in England and Wales. One in Four, a charity which provides support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence asserts:

It is horrifying to think that a victim of sexual violence should be subjected to a verbal assault in court by the person who violated them in the first place. This must be changed.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has also been in contact with us about this and it would welcome the inclusion of the necessity for an accused person to have legal representation for the purposes of cross-examining a vulnerable witness in cases of sexual offences and domestic violence cases. When a victim realises an accused person can cross-examine him or her in person, if they do not want to have legal representation, it is one of the reasons for the high attrition rates in sexual violence crimes, and a very understandable one. The issue is addressed in the EU directive on victims’ rights and, in this Bill, for children under 18. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre would like to see it extended to include all vulnerable witnesses and Fianna Fáil agrees.

A final issue Fianna Fáil would like to raise is not covered in the legislation but is connected to the issue, namely, the need to commission another report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, SAVI. The original SAVI report was published in 2002 and was the foundation on which the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports were delivered. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and others are keen to have a second SAVI research report conducted. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality also strongly recommends that a second SAVI report be commissioned. The last report was commissioned in 2002 by the Department of Health and Children, and the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was also involved. Although the Rape Crisis Centre has lobbied the Minister for Health, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Education and Skills regarding the need for a new report, none of them sees it as their responsibility. The 2002 SAVI report told us that over the lifetime of Irish women and men, 200,000 women and 60,000 men are victims of rape.

Surely these figures are alarming and would indicate that it is a national crisis.

In the 13 years since the SAVI report was published, national policy has been informed by the results and a number of SAVI's recommendations have been implemented. For example, there are now six sexual assault treatment units in the country, two more than pre-SAVI. There has also been a significant increase in the number of victims availing of the rape crisis centres around the country, which are underfunded, something else of which we should be conscious. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, DRCC, manages a 24-hour national helpline and in 2014 it dealt with 12,000 calls. In the weeks after the launch of various high-profile reports, such as Ferns, Cloyne, and Murphy, the number of calls to rape crisis centres increased significantly. This is an important issue. Until the detailed research for a second SAVI is done, we will not know if these increases are due to a rise in the prevalence of the crime or to the victims coming forward feeling that their concerns will be listened to and their stories taken into account and acted upon. Until we have that detailed research, we are in the dark concerning what is happening in broader Irish society. It is an alarming statistic that, during their lifetimes, 200,000 women and 60,000 men are raped. Behind these statistics are harrowing stories. We have all heard them.

We need a second SAVI report that can properly inform policy development. As the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality pointed out, a new SAVI research report could review the implementation of the recommendations contained in the original report because, while some have been acted on, many may not have been. We are discussing a cost of approximately €1 million. With the prevalence of violence against women and men in the form of rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse, we cannot pretend that it is not an issue. Having a report commissioned and published would at least put us on a platform towards further policy development and implementing the recommendations of a new report.

I welcome the Bill and the protections that it will bring, in particular for children and women, and Fianna Fáil supports the proposed criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. As other Deputies have stated, it is long-awaited legislation and has spent many months or years in committee. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is beside the Tánaiste, on the great deal of work that he did on this legislation as the former Chairman of the justice committee.

Our party will support the Bill. We are on record as supporting the criminalisation of the purchase and purchaser of sex and lending our support to the Turn Off the Red Light campaign. In particular, I note the work of the former Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Senator Mac Lochlainn, on this issue. He was instrumental in ensuring that the party took this position, which was debated in the party. Not all people were of this view, but the party has come to the decision that we support the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and, as a result, we will support the legislation.

It is good to see that the Government has taken the initiative in this Bill to remove sex workers from being criminalised under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act for offences such as loitering and solicitation. That said, it is clear from the Bill that the Government has failed to address sufficiently the need not to criminalise sex workers who work outdoors, given its inclusion in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 of the offence of loitering for the purpose of selling sexual services. That offence includes a penalty of a fine and-or six months for failing to leave an area. It is unacceptable that vulnerable women working outdoors should be criminalised in this manner. Even the original offence contained in the 1993 Act was not as heavy, with a penalty of a fine on the first offence and a prison term on the third offence.

The Tánaiste has stated numerous times that the goal of the Bill is to end prostitution. However, one of the main barriers to people exiting sex work is a criminal conviction. The changes proposed in the Bill must be accompanied by a holistic and comprehensive support and awareness strategy, a view supported by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC. Clearly, there must be a well-resourced exit plan for those whom the Tánaiste is going to force out of the sex industry. In the North, Departments were required to develop such a strategy within ten months of the legislation there coming into operation that would introduce a programme of assistance and support for those seeking to leave sex work in recognition of the barriers faced by people who wanted to exit prostitution. The same should apply in this jurisdiction.

Under section 24(b), a person found guilty of paying for sexual services may face a fine whereas a sex worker who works indoors with another or who returns to a public place may face a fine and a prison sentence. This is unacceptable and should be amended on later Stages.

Concerns have been raised to the effect that increasing the penalty for the existing offence of brothel keeping could place persons engaged in prostitution who are working together for the sole purpose of safety in greater danger, as they may opt to work alone despite the risks involved. Deputy O'Loughlin referred to a woman who had been raped, abused and assaulted. Therefore, it would be unacceptable that, by enacting this legislation, we could create the unforeseen or unintended consequence of forcing sex workers to place themselves in the vulnerable position of working alone. We need to be aware that, in some situations, women will work together indoors for the sole purpose of safety.

Further to this, I call on the Tánaiste and the Garda as a matter of urgency following this legislation's enactment to commit to ensuring the safety and well being of sex workers by introducing regular and robust monitoring and evaluation of the legislation once the provisions concerning sex work are enacted. There are genuine fears among many sex workers that this legislation will result in them being further endangered and criminalised. It is unreasonable to allow for the Bill to be introduced without some scheme to monitor its outcome. We will table a number of amendments to try to address these concerns.

I spoke to a sex worker recently. She pointed out what she believed was a contradiction in the Bill when other legislation on the Statute Book was taken into account. For instance, it will be illegal to buy sex, but it will not be illegal to sell sex. She posed me a question that I will now, on her behalf, pose to the Tánaiste. Is it true to say that, as a sex worker who will receive money from an individual buying sex, which will be illegal, she can be charged under the Proceeds of Crime Act, given the new legislation that we have introduced and the decreased limits in respect of money on one's person that, being found to be the result of the proceeds of crime, can be confiscated? If a sex worker could be liable to prosecution under that Act, we should examine this contradiction. Perhaps we might debate this matter further on Committee Stage.

There is a wide range of other provisions in the legislation that we welcome. The 1993 Act has long been recognised as inadequate when dealing with persons with disabilities. We particularly note the broad welcome of the repeal of section 5 and part of section 6 of the 1993 Act by organisations who work with people with disabilities. Their view has always been that the legislation needed to be changed, as it was inadequate from a protective perspective. The broad and vague nature of the 1993 Act has led to people with intellectual disabilities having their rights restricted as adults, as they were unable to have intimate relationships. Supporters and advocates felt the effects of this too, often feeling compelled to prevent relationships developing between persons with intellectual disabilities. Clearly, the State must have a more modern and rights affirming approach to individuals' capacity to consent and a recognition that an intellectual disability in itself does not mean that an individual cannot participate in an adult relationship.

We have in the past pointed to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the need to eliminate discrimination when it comes to relationships, marriage, parenthood and so on. The 1993 Act was deficient in this regard of adhering to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requirements. Although there must always be protection for vulnerable persons against exploitation - that goes without saying - there must not be undue influence on the right to have a relationship. Unfortunately, the proposed Bill still presents people with disabilities with a questionable capacity to consent, unlike the general presumption of capacity afforded to those without intellectual disabilities. In order for there to be no discrimination, we must have a rebuttal presumption of capacity to consent for all persons; otherwise the new law will continue to discriminate. It may be appropriate to insert a new section 21A that presumes consent.

I further object to the use of some terminology in the Bill. One piece of terminology refers to the "protected person" and I urge the Minister to refer to the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission in its report on sexual offences and capacity to consent. It argues that the term "relevant person" should be used rather than "protected person". In the assisted decision-making Act, "relevant" person is used. I am hopeful the Minister would agree on the merit of being consistent in the approach taken across all legislation. There are further points to be made on the functional approach to decision-making in the assisted decision-making Act that I do not have time to discuss today but I will raise them on Committee Stage.

Aside from this, it is noteworthy that the Law Reform Commission made recommendations in the aforementioned report that changes must be made with respect to the Criminal Evidence Act 1992 and the 1993 Act that would allow for persons aside from the accused during a trial to give evidence with the support of an intermediary and allow for the legal use of non-verbal communications where necessary. This is of utmost importance if we are to have a non-discriminatory approach to persons with disabilities. It may be that an amendment needs to be proposed on Committee Stage in this regard. I understand if the Opposition proposes an amendment, it may be very difficult to accept it because of legal ramifications arising from wording. We do not have access to the Attorney General like the Government. I will raise the matter in more detail with the Minister on Committee Stage and I hope that on Report Stage, she may be able to bring forward an amendment, having consulted with the Attorney General, to protect people with disabilities and give effect to what I am referencing.

We welcome the provisions in Part 2 of the Bill dealing primarily with the sexual exploitation of children, including offences to protect children against grooming from online predators and strengthening offences relating to child abuse images. With respect to the use of "child abuse images", we support calls from the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to use that term instead of the current term of "child pornography", as the former is used in international law for each image or video made or disseminated depicting incidents of abuse.

The Bill also addresses consensual peer relationships through the introduction of a proximity of age defence, whereby a person charged with an offence of engaging in a sexual act with a person between the age of 15 and 17 can put forward a defence of consensual non-exploitative activity, provided the parties are no more than two years apart. This legal provision has been long overdue and it was a matter discussed at length by the previous Oireachtas committee, chaired by Deputy Stanton, on the constitutional amendment relating to children. This two-year age gap defence was exactly what we proposed during those committee deliberations. We understand that whereas age of consent offences and sexual assault, rape and other child abuse are sometimes connected, it is not always the case. That is why these crimes are distinct.

Clearly, sexual assault is a very serious crime that should carry one of the highest penalties. It should always be investigated, charged, prosecuted and penalised as such. However, there is no merit to criminalising or applying criminal sanction against young people of similar age who engage in what would otherwise be consensual sexual activity if it occurred between two adults. This presumes the activity is non-abusive and non-exploitative. That said, there is scope for further overhaul of our sexual offences legislation beyond the scope provided in this Bill. There is a glaring omission in that no attempt has been made to define what constitutes consent. It would perhaps be useful for the Oireachtas committee to consider that in due course.

I welcome the Bill and Sinn Féin will support it. We will address the various reservations I outlined during the course of my contribution and I look forward to working with the Minister to resolve these on Committee Stage.

I will not use the entire 30-minute slot. I welcome the Bill and the Labour Party will support it, as we did in the Seanad. I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, has just gone but I commend her because there has been a great deal of work done and commitment shown in this very detailed legislation, which addresses a number of areas around criminal law and sexual offences. I commend many of the organisations, some of which have been mentioned here, that have contributed to and helped to shape the Bill. The Turn Off the Red Light campaign was particularly strong, vocal and effective. Other groups involved include the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Ruhama, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Rape Crisis Network, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and others I could name. There has been a great deal of interest in the importance of having this comprehensive legislation put on the Statute Book. It is welcome that we are having the opportunity to debate it in the Dáil, having seen it go through the Seanad.

It is a genuinely reforming Bill that makes substantive and significant changes to the law on sexual offences. The Minister, in presenting the Bill, spoke about how other sides were put on some of these issues, particularly with regard to sex workers and an emphasis on the purchaser of sex rather than the sex worker.

We have all heard the other side of the argument but it is interesting to note that the Deputies from all political parties who have spoken so far are in favour of the approach taken in the Bill. I agree with that and believe it is a really effective way of protecting vulnerable women and ensuring that the focus is put on the crime of purchasing sex rather than on the often exploited sex worker. That is a very important part of this legislation. It is also probably the part that has received the most attention but, having said that, there are many other elements of the Bill that are also very important, to which I now wish to turn.

I am particularly happy with the provisions in Part 2 of the Bill which deal with the sexual exploitation of children. There is a series of measures here relating to obtaining or providing a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation, grooming, sexual activity in the presence of a child, causing a child to watch sexual activity and meeting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation. On the last point, we are all aware of grooming online and the Bill also refers to the use of information and communications technology to facilitate the sexual exploitation of children. This is an area that will require constant monitoring to find effective ways of policing online grooming and exploitation. As we know, this is an area that is moving so quickly. Whenever we close off some avenue or loophole, another one is opened up. There is an enormous amount of online exploitation now that is very difficult to control. I was discussing a case today and while I am not going to go into the specifics here, it was clear to me that even if one tries to close down information that is on Facebook or elsewhere or to prevent people from uploading pornography, people seem to be able to find ways around it. Actually closing down or getting rid of that information seems to be virtually impossible. This is an area which we must monitor all the time. That said, at least the measures in the Bill address these activities but they are difficult to actually stop.

The Bill also deals with the production of child pornography and the participation of a child in pornographic performance. Again, this is something that is really worrying and quite widespread. It is important that these are made offences, along with the possession of child pornography. The Bill also deals with sexual acts with a child under the age of 15. All of these measures are particularly important in relation to children because of their extraordinary vulnerability and I welcome them very much.

The Minister and Deputy Jonathan O'Brien both mentioned some of the sensible changes that are proposed in the Bill, particularly concerning the defence of an honest mistake as to the age of a child and in respect of consensual, under age peer relationships. Again, these have been areas of contention in the past but the measures in this Bill are sensible and are to be welcomed.

The Bill also proposes changes to the law on criminal evidence dealing with the disclosure of third-party records, including counselling records, which have been carefully drafted following input from many concerned bodies and individuals. There are new provisions to grant protection against personal cross-examination by the accused in sex offence trials where a witness is under age. I will deal with that in more detail later.

I also welcome Part 3 of the Bill, which amends the 1993 Act in relation to a person who lacks capacity to consent, described as a protected person. I noted Deputy Jonathan O'Brien's point that the language used is not really in line with other descriptions. Perhaps that issue can be debated further on Committee Stage. That said, it is really important to protect people with an intellectual disability and I welcome this measure.

Part 4 deals with the purchase of sexual services and I support the provisions therein. This is one of the areas in which there has been a huge amount of interest. The Turn Off the Red Light campaign, in particular, highlighted this issue. I remember attending various briefings by that campaign at the earlier stages of the consideration of this legislation. I want to quote from one of the many e-mails I have received on this matter:

Prostitution is a violent, vicious, exploitative, criminal enterprise which has to be disrupted at the point of sale. Ireland now has a chance to join the growing list of countries putting the organised crime behind this exploitation out of business.

That really is the purpose of the measures in this part of the Bill. I know that there was considerable discussion on this at earlier stages in committee hearings and so on, where a variety of organisations spoke on the issue. The Labour Party welcomes the measures contained in the Bill in this regard. That said, I want to signal one concern about an aspect of the Bill on which we will table an amendment on Committee Stage and to which the Minister alluded earlier.

Our concern relates to the fact that although these new provisions are generally welcome, making it an offence to pay for sex and favouring instead vulnerable female sex workers, the Bill not only preserves intact the current law prohibiting soliciting and importuning it, but by creating the new offence of paying a prostitute for sex, it makes the payment the proceeds of crime. While we absolutely support the idea that traffickers, controllers and pimps should be subject to the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, we do not believe that the vulnerable sex worker should be so subject. The law at present does not criminalise either the purchase or the sale of sex, although it prohibits soliciting and importuning in a public place by either party. However, by prohibiting the purchase of sex, even though its sale is not banned, the purchase money will become the proceeds of crime in the hands or the bank account of the sex worker. Even though the sex worker will herself have committed no offence, these new provisions, if left unchanged, far from improving her situation have the potential to make a vulnerable and possibly exploited sex worker even more exposed to both the processes of law and to improper threats and menaces.

Under these new provisions, it will be possible, without criminal prosecutions or convictions, for CAB to proceed against reputed sex workers. CAB will be authorised to move in court to have their money and property assets confiscated on the basis of the civil burden of proof. We will be proposing one amendment to this Bill to prevent this situation from occurring. We will be proposing that money or any other form of remuneration or consideration that is paid or given to a sex worker in return for sexual services shall not, by reason only of the creation of this new offence, be deemed to be the proceeds of crime for the purposes of the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 to 2016. We believe that an amendment along these lines is necessary to protect sex workers from what would otherwise be an impossible situation. Otherwise, this Bill which has been signalled as improving their situation could, if the amendment is not accepted, plunge them into far greater insecurity, where they are hounded for everything they own beyond €5,000. I do not think any of us wants to see that happening. I understand that the Minister recognises that this is an issue but she does not necessarily see our proposal as the solution. She may well come up with a solution of her own and, if so, we will be happy to accept it. This issue must be examined and one way or another, we must find a solution. We cannot accept a law reform measure which instead of improving the lot of a vulnerable and exploited group, as we all intend, has the potential to make their lot a great deal worse. That is just one area in the section about which we are concerned. As I said, we will be supporting the Bill but will be proposing that particular amendment.

I wish to touch on some of the other sections of the Bill now, particularly that section dealing with the protection of victims of sexual offences during the criminal trial process, which I welcome.

I particularly welcome the protection of child victims of sexual offences from any additional trauma. For example, it will be possible for a child victim to give evidence from behind a screen and for a person accused of a sexual offence to be prevented from personally cross-examining a person under the age of 18. That is important. I can imagine that it would be extremely difficult for a person under the age of 14 to be cross-examined directly by a person who is accused of committing a sexual offence against him or her. I welcome the provision in the Bill that a court may direct that an accused person may not personally cross-examine a child between the ages of 14 and 18. It is obvious that there has to be a fair trial, but there are issues of protection here as well. A Deputy asked about the provision of protection for adult victims. The Minister has indicated she might be able to address that issue as well.

The further measures in relation to exposure are also welcome. Under section 45 of the Bill, which relates to harassment, a court can impose an order prohibiting a convicted sex offender from contacting or approaching his victim for a specified period of time. People often feel very threatened by somebody who has been convicted of such an offence and it is important that they are protected. I recently had a discussion about somebody who felt very fearful in a post-trial situation. Those measures are important as well.

We very much welcome this Bill, which has been in gestation for quite some time. Many people have made contributions to it. There have been discussions with non-governmental organisations and other bodies and with experts like Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. I would also like to mention the contribution of the committee, of which I was not a member. I know the committee has done excellent work as well. I am happy to say that the Labour Party will be supporting the Bill.

I will be opposing this Bill. I disagree very strongly with criminalising the purchase of consensual sex. If this Bill is successful, I believe it will signify the reinvolvement of the State in the private sexual lives of adult citizens for the first time since homosexuality was decriminalised over 20 years ago. It seems that the Turn Off the Red Light campaign has turned many heads. Many people seem to be impressed with it, but I am certainly not. Its logic is being applied at the expense of the testimony and first-hand experience of individual sex workers and international experience. I find it incredible that the voices of sex workers are not being listened to. I have listened to a number of women from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland on a number of occasions. I find their arguments impressive, articulate and rational. I wish everybody would listen to them for a while before they make up their minds. The logic of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign has been questioned and criticised by a large number of organisations, many of which recommend the decriminalisation model, including Human Rights Watch, UN Women, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Amnesty and the International Labour Organization. When I attended a round-table discussion organised by Sex Workers Alliance Ireland a couple of days ago, it was pointed out that the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, Pavee Point, the Union of Students in Ireland and some trade unions are against the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. In contrast to the rescue ethos of many religious-funded organisations, including Turn Off the Red Light, the migrant rights centre is organised along community development principles and has a strong track record on all forms of trafficking and exploitation of migrants.

According to a report published in 2010 by the former UN special rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover:

The trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of any person is abhorrent, and undoubtedly merits criminal prohibition. However, the conflation of consensual sex work and sex trafficking in such legislation leads to, at best, the implementation of inappropriate responses that fail to assist either of these groups in realizing their rights, and, at worst, to violence and oppression.

This confusion between prostitution and sex trafficking is a difficult starting point from which to develop a coherent policy framework or to draft responsible legislation. The logic of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign applies an economic supply-demand theory, which is used for price determination, to the elimination of prostitution and to the purchase of consensual adult sex, which the campaign openly aims to eradicate on unspecified grounds which appear to relate to sexual morality. The campaign is based on an assumption that criminalising the purchase of sex will result in a reduction in demand and thereby lessen the incidence of prostitution, taking it as a given that this is a legitimate policy objective. This shaky demand argument relating to prostitution is then stretched to apply to sex trafficking. Thankfully, this abhorrent crime is already illegal under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. The purchase of sex from a person who has been trafficked is also illegal under section 5 of that Act. I ask those who are making the case for this legislation to stop using these excuses.

Last year's use of emotive images of children by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign was particularly misleading, given that the proposed change will not make sex with a child any more illegal than it already is. A child does not have the mental capacity to consent to sex. Any adult who has sex with a child after this Bill is passed will be charged with statutory rape and not with the purchase of consensual sex from a prostitute. The law that this campaign proposes would have no effect on the fictional child characters used by Turn Off the Red Light as part of its promotional campaign. The supporters of this campaign appear to consider women in the same category as children in terms of their mental capacity to consent. They dismiss the insistence of some sex workers that they freely enter these arrangements with the sweeping generalisation that no woman would ever choose to engage in sex work. That is not a fair argument. The apparent success of the Swedish model, which is often trotted out as justification for the demand hypothesis, has long since been diminished and more recently has been disproved by various studies. The 2011 report of the UN AIDS advisory group strongly criticises the Swedish demand model as "ignoring the voices of sex workers". The rejection of the laws advocated by the Turn Off the Red Light campaign by Scotland, Denmark, Finland and the French Senate seems to have gone unnoticed.

Last year, the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice commissioned independent research from Queen's University, which dismissed the Swedish model and found agreement among sex workers and the PSNI that criminalising the purchase of sex would drive prostitution underground, endanger the lives and health of sex workers, including a significant male transgender minority, increase the involvement of organised crime, increase the social stigma of sex workers and divert police resources away from sex-trafficking investigations.

Only 7% of clients said they would be permanently deterred by the proposed criminalisation. Unfortunately, neither the justice committee nor the Minister see fit to follow this approach based on evidence-led policy development and no similar research has been commissioned in Ireland. Why not commission such research? Would it not be interesting to see what we might learn? The PSNI expressed serious concerns about the operation and enforcement of that legislation. The same concerns are also relevant here, since the covert surveillance methods used by Swedish police are unlikely to be available to An Garda Síochána. This leaves gardaí with the prospect of hiding in the bushes and wardrobes, as they did when tasked with the enforcement of the criminal offence of homosexuality.

The Turn Off the Red Light campaign reduces complex issues to a single soundbite solution which, we are told, will end trafficking. A more considered approach might include tackling the wider structural inequalities in society and providing a real alternative to those seeking to leave prostitution. Many want to leave. It would suit the State better if we made it possible for them to leave the industry. We create so many problems for marginalised people in society and we do little to address these problems in many cases. We could do far more for people who may be caught in prostitution and who wish to get out if we took a more holistic view and started looking at where the problems are for these people. The right to work could be provided to asylum seekers, given that migrant women are identified as vulnerable. It is crucial that the validity of the voices of the many sex workers who insist they have freely chosen sex work be recognised. It would also be positive if consideration was given to the New Zealand model of decriminalisation. Whether the subject is abortion or prostitution, symbolic legislation on grounds of either religious or sexual morality amounts to a folly and the State should not indulge in it, especially when the cost is the safety and health of the women involved. Any proposed legislation must respect a woman's rights to bodily integrity and autonomy.

A citizen's right to a private life, including a private sexual life, must also be protected, as recognised by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A challenge initiated by Senator David Norris in 1988 succeeded on Article 8 grounds when the European Court of Human Rights held that the mere existence of legislation criminalising homosexuality amounted to an unacceptable interference by the State into his private life. The current proposals to criminalise the purchase of consensual adult sex would appear to be vulnerable on similar grounds.

I went to a round-table discussion recently and noted some points made by some of the people from the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. These simple points were made in the course of trying to make an argument and have their voices heard. These women are flabbergasted that they are not being given a voice. I will set out some of the points they made. I have numerous points and I have marked off and picked out some of them. Sex workers are seriously at risk of human rights abuses. They are at risk of rape and violence as well as bribery at the hands of police. The start and end point is that the human rights of sex workers must be respected. The State has a role to ensure those who do not want to enter sex work should be protected from same. That should be the primary role of the State in this regard.

Education and employment opportunities should be considered. The State is obliged to provide a safety net in order that those who do not want to be engaged in prostitution do not have to be. Criminalisation of the purchase of sex will compromise sex workers with police. Human rights abuses are compounded by the legislative framework. Criminalising the purchase of sex is more focused on the nuisance element rather than the rights of the individual. There is no distinction between those doing the exploiting and the sex worker. One thing is for sure, if this law comes in, it is going to make life far tougher for the sex worker than the exploiter.

Norway brought in legislation in this area and research has been undertaken into how it is working out. There has been some comment on the research. Evicting sex workers from premises makes them homeless. Landlords who knowingly rent apartments to sex workers are accused of being promoters. The legislation in question has led to increased enforcement against all aspects of sex work. No other group in society is subject to the same level of scrutiny and high-level surveillance as sex workers.

How do the police find buyers of sex? They monitor the sex workers, further infringing the rights and liberties of the sex worker. Sex workers only go to the police as a last resort, making it almost impossible to report violence. A sex worker can lose her home if she goes to the police. She can be deported. She can be targeted, discriminated against or abused. Sex workers are forced to go to the homes of buyers as police monitor the workers to find the buyers. There is a greater likelihood of violence as a result. If the sex worker has to go to the home of the buyer, she is more likely to be at risk of violence. Police are using immigration laws against sex workers. Prosecutions against traffickers have not increased in Norway through the process. The impact on sex workers is not taken into consideration. The impact on sex workers is seen as collateral damage, a little like the 2 million people killed by the US bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to the present day. Those 2 million people were not carrying guns. They were deemed to be collateral damage.

The sex workers say it is a choice for many. They say they are not helped by criminalisation. A realisation of their rights is what will help them. They know their own minds. For politicians to suggest to them because of the career they might have chosen that they do not know their own minds is insulting, dishonest and irrational. If all sex work involves rape and violence, why is there only a monetary fine to penalise it? A person can be thrown in jail for stealing a pair of shoes but is fined for purchasing the services of a sex worker. It is impossible for sex workers to retain a home when landlords are obliged to evict them. When sex work is criminalised, the marginalised suffer most. People who are more affluent can navigate the laws much better. If a sex worker goes into a hotel to meet a client and she is dressed to the nines and is white, she will probably get past the reception desk. If she is Nigerian and black, however, she might not find that quite so easy. That is the truth. How do the people in the hotel determine whether someone is or is not a sex worker? They profile; that is human nature.

In Norway today, sex workers carry fewer condoms as police use the presence of condoms to build a case against a sex worker. Is that not mad? In Ireland, the presence of condoms is being, and has been, used to build a case and women are starting to hide condoms in their bras where they are likely to get sweaty and less effective. The United Nations, UN, has slammed Ireland for lack of sex education in schools - I think that was last January. In introducing legislation to ban the purchase of sex, the Government seems to think that its primary aim is to vindicate the human rights of trafficked persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation. According to Amnesty International, decriminalisation, not criminalisation, would help reduce trafficking as it would allow sex workers to work together and demand their rights, leading to better working conditions and greater oversight of commercial sex and the potential trafficking within it.

The Nordic model, which this Government is wholeheartedly embracing, aims to stop prostitution by reducing demand through the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. However, research carried out by the New York Urban Justice Centre working group on sex work and human rights finds it is not the number of customers but economic trends and social conditions, such as unemployment and a shortage of living wage opportunities, that determine the number of sex workers at any given time. Research carried out by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, which I touched on earlier, into prostitution in Northern Ireland in 2014 found that only 7% of clients said they would stop paying for sex if it was criminalised. A total of 36% of clients surveyed thought the purchase of sex was already illegal. Although the Nordic model is often trotted out as an example of best practice, the reality for sex workers is that it led to an increase in street work, left many sex workers under greater threat of eviction as their landlords can be prosecuted if they collect money earned from the sale of sex and the stigma created by this new law has even been used to strip sex workers of parental rights. One sex worker told Amnesty International that if a customer is bad, she needs to manage it herself to the end. A sex worker only calls the police if she thinks she is going to die. If she calls the police, she loses everything.

Data published by EUROSTAT found that, between 2010 and 2012, the German per capita rate of trafficking was lower than that of Sweden and prostitution is legal in Germany. The Northern Ireland study found that members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, admitted that a sex purchase ban would be difficult to enforce and largely ineffective in reducing levels of trafficking in sexual exploitation. I would have thought that the Department of Justice and Equality might think that our gardaí have enough work to do. They are probably under-resourced and do not have enough numbers and could do without this extra work.

This Bill is being introduced without taking into account what sex workers or their representative organisations say. The 2014 study of prostitution in Northern Ireland found that 98% of the 171 sex workers surveyed did not support the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. When the Egyptians rigged the election in their military takeover in 2013, when they threw out the Muslim Brotherhood guy, they did not even rig it for 98%; they had 96%. The fact that the sex workers were ignored by the Northern Ireland Assembly and that groups such as Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, are being ignored in this legislation shows that the moralistic patronising attitude which has shaped much of Ireland’s response to so-called moral issues is alive and well. Instead of moral judgment, we should be taking the most effective harm-reduction approach. Criminalisation will only exacerbate any possible problems. Sex worker organisations around the globe are calling for a decriminalisation model along the lines of the one introduced in New Zealand in 2003. Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women recognise decriminalisation as being more in the interests of sex workers than the legislation model adopted in Germany and the Netherlands.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 12 noon on Thursday, 6 October 2016.