Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan was in possession. She has indicated that she is sharing time with Deputy Pringle. There are 13 minutes remaining in the slot.
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
Last night, I was quoting from a survey of sex workers in Northern Ireland that was carried out approximately 18 months ago by Queens University in Belfast. There are two particular findings from that. A total of 85% of those working in the trade locally said that such legislation as in the Swedish model would not reduce trafficking. Only 8% of the clients surveyed said that it would make them stop paying for sex altogether. The PSNI also voiced concerns that there were likely to be significant difficulties with enforcement and it would be unlikely to be effective against exploitation. Therefore, a failure to amend the existing aspects of Part 4 will have adverse effects on sex workers. It will fuel trafficking business even further. It is not tackling the social and economic circumstances that bring people into sex work.
There are serious doubts about the human rights compatibility of what is being proposed in Part 4. Whether we agree with the work of sex workers or not, like it or not, or disapprove of it or not, sex workers have human rights like all workers. They have rights to dignity in the workplace, to self-determination, to work in safe conditions and to access to justice. I really do not want to take from so much of what is positive in the Bill and its potential to do good. However, Part 4 does need to be looked at again in light of the concerns. We must also look at how the Bill could be strengthened further on issues such as human trafficking, forced labour, the involvement of children in sexual activity, violence and the abuse of sex workers, because they are major human rights issues.
I welcome the publication of this Bill and its wide-ranging provisions that seek to strengthen our laws combating child pornography and the sexual grooming of children, to update our laws relating to incest and indecent exposure and to provide amendments which focus on the victims of sexual offences. The provision criminalising the purchase of sex included in Part 4 of this Bill is welcome.
According to the Immigrant Council of Ireland's statistics, between 800 and 1,000 women and children in Ireland are advertised online for sex on any given day. Of that number, between 87% and 98% of those are migrant women and many are from impoverished backgrounds. If sex work was a choice, surely that statistic would reflect the population of this country, but it definitely does not. Having informed myself of all views on the introduction of the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, I cannot help but think that if prostitution was a choice, why are the majority of those in prostitution coming from very vulnerable circumstances and from marginalised and targeted social groups? Isolation, cultural differences, language difficulties, debt bondage and the ease with which they can be controlled all contribute to the vulnerability of victims of sex trafficking.
In 2013, I introduced a Bill that also sought to criminalise the purchase of sex. Not surprisingly, it was voted down at the time by the Government and it took another three years to have the Bill before us debated. The year that the Bill I introduced was voted down, 83 people were trafficked into Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation. We can only imagine how many have experienced the same fate in total over the past three years. Yet, not one single trafficker or pimp has been convicted under the 2008 Act since the time I introduced my Bill back in 2013. While one purpose of that Bill was an attempt, as is the so-called Nordic model, to try to reduce the trafficking of women for sex work, the other purpose of it at the time was to effect a cultural change.
The other aspect of the Bill is that I hoped it would effect a cultural change even more so than to seek to convict people for the purchase of sex. I hoped it would feed into a process of change within society, whereby men would learn that it is not okay to purchase the body of a woman or man for sex. We should aim to change that culture as a society so that men do not feel it is their right to do so. That is, in part, what legislation should try to achieve, namely, to effect cultural change. The alcohol Bill is going through the Houses currently which is trying to effect change in the culture of alcohol abuse in society. It is reasonable to use legislation to try to effect such cultural change. I have a problem with Part 4 of the Bill in that the inclusion of the change in a very wide-ranging sexual offences Act minimises the potential for cultural change in society which we should work towards. One in 15 men in this country have purchased sex, which is approximately 6% of the male population. We should try to reduce the demand by way of legislative change. Such an approach would be worthwhile.
I also welcome the added provision including the criminal offence for the prostitution of a person who has been trafficked. Upholding human rights is the central tenet in this regard, ensuring that the rights of those trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation are vindicated in legislation. Legislation can effect change, but not as a stand-alone act. It must coincide with resources to fund the vital front-line services and organisations which help protect those in prostitution and those who wish to get out of prostitution. Legislation can effect cultural change but we must introduce other initiatives also to facilitate such change through education, for example. There is no doubt that for many women involved in the sex trade it is external societal issues that encourage them into it. Perhaps it is not really a choice but it is more due to their circumstances that they end up in the sex trade.
I urge the Minister, in addition to the implementation of the legislation to allocate the necessary resources and investments for front-line services and organisations that support exit strategies and the health and well-being of victims of sex exploitation. Service providers are working with very few resources and limited personnel. It is shocking that there are no dedicated services for those engaged in prostitution outside of Dublin. The sex trade is not exclusive to the capital city or even confined to larger cities, it is in smaller towns and villages around the country.
Concerns have been expressed about Part 4. While I support the proposal to criminalise the purchase of sex, I wish to see certain aspects strengthened via amendments as the Bill goes through all Stages in both Houses. First, I will address the issue relating to the brothel-keeping provisions in the Bill. We know that women choose to work together indoors for safety, yet they are liable to be prosecuted for operating a brothel. Other Members mentioned that last weekend four women were fined €200 each for brothel-keeping in Galway, even though the Garda suspected they were trafficked into this country for the purposes of sexual exploitation. It was said that the women denied that was the case, but it is likely they would do so because if they revealed that was the case they would only be allowed to stay in the State until the perpetrators were prosecuted and then they would be deported. There was no incentive for them to expose the trafficking that had taken place.
While that aspect of the Bill will possibly help to prosecute the criminal gangs who operate the vast majority of prostitution in this country, we must ensure it does not inadvertently affect victims. Concerns have been raised by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission about Part 4, which maintains - and increases the penalty for - the existing offence of brothel-keeping. I believe that could place persons engaged in prostitution, who are working together for safety, in greater danger, as they may have no choice but to opt to work alone despite the risks involved. Again, the Garda must respond appropriately to exploitation in such circumstances, but that requires adequate resourcing of front-line services, including the Garda.
The decriminalisation aspect of the selling of sex must be fully realised. I know the act of prostitution is not criminalised at present, but there are issues around the solicitation offence and profiting from the proceeds of crime element. I understand the Tánaiste amended this Bill in the Seanad to decriminalise on-street solicitation explicitly. However, an amendment was then added under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act to criminalise loitering for the purposes of prostitution. The Government gave with one hand and took away with the other. I am concerned that the new public order offence could end up replacing the solicitation offence and, as a result, attract the focus of the Garda's attention. I urge the Tánaiste to reconsider this offence and remove it when the Bill is scrutinised in order that the selling of sex will be fully decriminalised. Organisations that deal with victims of sexual exploitation are of the understanding that women will not be targeted by the Criminal Assets Bureau under the offence of profiting from the proceeds of crime. We need an assurance from the Minister that this will be the case. Now that we are criminalising the purchase of sex, we may need to address this issue again to ensure women are not targeted by criminal gangs for further financial exploitation. This may be outside the remit of the Bill before the House, but it is worth looking at in the context of this legislation.
We must emulate the Swedish approach by monitoring and reviewing this legislation to measure its effectiveness and impact. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has recommended that the proposed reform should be kept under periodic review to monitor and evaluate the effects of the change in the law. The commission has also recommended that the proposed reforms should be accompanied by ongoing research on best practice, awareness-raising programmes, targeted information campaigns and educational programmes. Legislation in Northern Ireland compels the Department of Justice there to review the operation of the reform within three years of its coming into operation, including with regard to the number of arrests and convictions, an assessment of the impact on the safety and well-being of people providing for payment of sexual services and the Department’s assessment of the extent to which the reform has operated to reduce human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This is something we should consider here. I suggest this legislation should be reviewed within two years of coming into effect. We can learn from the Northern Ireland process.
According to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, there is a large amount of conclusive evidence that a stand-alone legislative approach does not have the definitive effect of reducing trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation. We must recognise that legislation alone cannot protect people in prostitution. Legislation must be enacted alongside research, strategies, monitoring and, most important, adequate resourcing for front-line services that reach out to people in prostitution by providing exit strategies and support services. Ireland’s implementation of the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings will be monitored later this year by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, GRETA, which will visit Ireland next month. GRETA has recommended that states which have adopted the Swedish model should keep their legislation under review to measure the impact on the provision of protection and assistance to victims of trafficking and the effective prosecution of traffickers. I hope the measures in this Bill that I have discussed, and which have been commented on by many Deputies, are taken on board by the Minister and the Government during the legislative process.
I would like to share time with the Ministers of State, Deputies Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Regina Doherty.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this legislation. Given that over 80% of teenagers have a social networking profile, the law needs to adapt to protect children from abuse. Over recent years, the Internet has become a significant player in the possible exposure of children to such abuse. There are now many ways to contact children for purposes of grooming. Many children are exposed to inappropriate material such as cyberbullying, adult pornography, websites that promote self-harm, suicide and eating disorders, online hate material and extreme forms of obscene, violent and offensive material. These are not distant threats. They are real and present and need to be addressed. Therefore, I am pleased that this legislation will strengthen existing provisions on online grooming, images of child abuse and child prostitution. It is good to see the criminalising of any communication with a child on the Internet, a mobile phone or social media for sexual exploitation through technology. As UNICEF has made clear, all girls and boys have the right to survive, grow and "be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse" in all settings, including offline and online environments.
On a related note, it is right and proper for the State to ensure its laws are up to standard in this area. There is a challenge for parents, guardians and people in roles of responsibility, including teachers. If we would not let a child or someone under our protection leave the house or school without knowing where the child was going, the same thought should be afforded to online activity. It is true that many children are streets ahead of their parents, or even some teachers, when it comes to modern technology. It provides a challenge. I would like to think that along with proper legislation and enforcement, the State might afford some level of support to people in positions of authority in order that they can best protect children. Members of this House have a duty to legislate according to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which protects children from all kinds of discrimination, abuse and neglect, including sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. It mandates this House to protect children from information and material that is injurious to their well-being as well as from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy. These provisions are reflected in the Bill before the House.
Online activity is an area that has provoked warranted calls for the protection of children, particularly with regard to social media. While that should always be the primary consideration, we should be careful not to limit the huge potential that technology offers our young people. Balanced but powerful legislation is required to allow children to enjoy all the benefits of online activity while prohibiting malicious activity and criminalising those who would abuse the natural inquisitiveness of a child’s mind. In my view, this Bill represents such a balance. While I acknowledge the concerns of some people regarding the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services, I emphasise that this legislation would have prevented what happened in Galway District Court earlier this week when two young women whose circumstances we do not know were convicted and fined for prostitution. Surely this legislation is a better alternative.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this long-awaited Bill. One of the most enlightening committees I worked on in the previous Dáil was the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which undertook significant research in examining whether this country's prostitution laws should be reformed. The committee was ably chaired by my colleague, the current Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. The joint committee also produced a rapporteur report on domestic and sexual violence. The experts and workers in this field from whom we heard at our hearings helped us to inform the development of this legislation. We need to listen to such people, who include nurses, doctors, advocates and individuals who are victims and survivors of prostitution. Some of the most affecting contributions to our hearings were made by Irish women who have survived prostitution in this country. I recognise that some of them are here with us this afternoon. I commend them on their bravery in coming forward to help us develop this legislation. I urge those who want to get a deep insight into the lives of people who as young people found themselves in prostitution in this country as a result of circumstances beyond their own control to read the committee's extensive report. We listened to everybody on both sides of the argument and we made some strong and significant recommendations.
I acknowledge the tremendous work that has been done by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the network of Rape Crisis Centres, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama as part of the overall Turn Off the Red Light campaign to enlighten and inform people about what is going on in our society. I was privileged to be encouraged, helped and supported by those groups when I produced the Criminal Law (Child Grooming) Bill 2014. I am pleased that most of the contents of that Bill are included in the Bill before the House. I welcome the severe penalties that are to be imposed on those involved in what will be considered as child grooming. Incredibly, we did not have a child grooming offence before now. Such offences were being prosecuted under other legislation. I am really happy that provision on the sexual grooming of children includes the familiarisation of children with explicit material.
Sections 3 to 8 makes provision for new offences, including paying for the purposes of sexually exploiting a child, inviting a child to sexual touching, sexual activity in the presence of a child, causing a child to watch sexual activity and making arrangements to meet a child for the purposes of sexually exploiting that child. Sexual exploitation is now defined as including a range of acts, among which are engaging a child in prostitution and for the purposes of child abuse material, as well as the commission of a sexual offence or some other indecent or obscene act. The seriousness of these crimes is reflected in the harshness of the penalties - something I very much welcome - with prison sentences ranging from between ten and 14 years. I am pleased that the Minister is addressing this crime with such seriousness and this is evident in the content of the Bill. The Bill has received across-the-board support in the House. The content also came about as a result of hearings. In the course of those hearings it was identified that this was an issue for us and one that needed to be dealt with.
I have listened carefully to much of the debate. There seems to be a rather libertarian tone to some of the contributions. One important comment came from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This was to the effect that the term "sex worker" is not something that congress recognises as a form of work. Most of the women who have exited prostitution as well as those in prostitution see the term as a method of regularising or normalising the experience as something that is authentic or normal. I have a question for those who are trying to create the impression that being a prostitute is something that a child would aspire to or something that is a requirement for certain men who have certain needs as well as those who believe there are certain types of women who should be available to provide some type of service to them. I call on such people to ask themselves whether they would like their sisters, mothers or children to aspire to this marvellous new term of "sex worker". Is that what they feel? Do they believe some social good is done by contributing to the needs of certain men who require this? We need to ask ourselves several questions. What is the appetite for the young body? Where is that coming from? This affects young men and young women alike. Do men need to have conversations with themselves about this? How is it that some men think this is okay?
This is a matter of serious concern internationally. I have talked to the European Union human trafficking co-ordinator Myria Vassiliadou on a number of her visits to Ireland. This is not only prevalent here; it is prevalent across the globe. Some people may think that people are operating independently. If that is the case, they are rare cases. The vast majority of what is happening in this country is actually happening as a result of organised crime gangs using women's bodies to create empires. As others have said, it is a multi-billion euro empire.
I have no wish to take up all the time of my colleague. How much time do I have left?
The Minister of State has a little over ten minutes remaining.
I would rather not leave the Chief Whip out of the debate.
I strongly believe that we need to be real about this. People should read the joint Oireachtas committee's report on this legislation. Joint Oireachtas committees undertake fantastic work in the area of pre-legislative scrutiny. Some of the most affecting people I have met in my time are the Irish woman who survived prostitution. They were so affecting when they came before our committee and revealed their stories to us. One has written a book that everyone should read, especially those who want an insight into what is happening in Ireland. Rachel Moran is in the Gallery today and I wish to acknowledge her presence. Rachel's book is called Paid For and is now internationally recognised, I hope, as a document that people can read to learn how a young person can find herself in a terrible situation through no fault of her own. It came about as a result of the fact that she came from circumstances where, perhaps, there was no adult supervision. Sometimes people are incapable of looking after themselves and their children and can wind up homeless and on the street in the wrong company. They can then be encouraged or duped into believing that prostitution is a way they can survive on the street. The testimony of these women on how they wound up becoming involved in alcohol or drug addiction to help cope with the horrors of the lives they were living is extraordinary. People need to read this testimony and they should not forget the media glamorisation arising from certain films, books or terminology. This is about the reality of the horrible lives these poor women have had to endure. It applies to young men also because there is an appetite for the young male body as well. It is usually men who require it. This is what we really need to be talking about. This is the reality of these people's lives.
I have listened to their testimonies and to the views of those in the Garda anti-human trafficking unit. People should read the reports of the unit and examine the cases with which it is dealing. One recent report referred to a man who was prosecuted for using a five-year-old child to create pornography. That is disgraceful, appalling and abhorrent, and it is happening in our country. The report of the Garda anti human trafficking unit sets out not only how children and young women are being used for sexual exploitation but also for the exploitation of domestic work. Exploitation is across the board and we need to be realistic. We need to be sensible about all of this.
This Bill attempts to help to regulate an industry that is rooted in criminality. Let us face it: we must call a spade a spade. That is the reality. I strongly believe this is the right thing to do. We need to listen to the people who have gone through such awful times in their lives. They have survived and have something to say about it. I commend them on their bravery. Guess what? They are speaking out. Certain people do not want them to be heard and efforts are made to discredit them. I am keen to acknowledge and compliment them. Furthermore, I wish to acknowledge that the last Government published this Bill and this Government is determined to see it through. This Bill is timely and is something we need to move on with haste.
I can only say "Bravo" to the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy. I was going to start by congratulating the Tánaiste on bringing this Bill before the House. Actually, real credit should be assigned to the two people sitting in front of me as well. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, who was chairman of the joint committee, and the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, have been outstanding advocates for the passage of this Bill. Every third public conversation with the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, in recent years has been on this topic. I wish to pay particular tribute to the two of them and to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, as well as the many groups who have been involved in bringing this reforming legislation to where it is today. The Bill represents a major and long overdue reform of the criminal law in Ireland on the issue of sexual offences.
Ministers and Governments are often criticised from day-to-day for the challenges that emerge. They are seldom praised for the legislation they introduce. However, this should be praised absolutely today. I hope this will become an Act soon. It is reforming legislation that will have long-lasting impacts not only on the law in this area but on how sexual offences are seen and viewed by the public at large as well. It will strengthen the law in a number of areas and tackle a number of weaknesses in the current law that are being exploited. It will enhance child protection online and in real life.
The Bill achieves a number of things. It makes provision for sexual offences against protected persons. It creates a new offence to protect children from grooming. It will protect children from online predators, who exist in their thousands. It will combat child pornography, which is often described as child sexual abuse material. It will tackle the issue of purchases of sexual services. It will reform the laws on incest and clarify issues of criminal evidence and jurisdiction. It is a legislative legacy of which the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality can be proud and an achievement for many who have worked for years to reform the law. It is fair to say that all too often sexual crimes have not been seen in the past as real or serious crimes by too many people. I have often wondered whether this is because the victims are in the main women, although not always. I do not believe, however, that the issues are only of interest to women. People across society from both genders and all backgrounds are calling for the reform of this law.
In recent decades Irish society has been rocked completely by repeated revelations of how prevalent sexual abuse, incest, sexual exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable people for sex have been in Ireland. We have a shameful history in this area and it is only in the past decade or so that we have started to face up to it. The statement by the Taoiseach in the House some years ago on the issue of sexual abuse of children was particularly powerful. This partnership Government and, as the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, said, the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, as well as many on the Opposition benches, committed to the reforms in this Bill.
Prostitution has in the past been seen as a transaction by consenting adults. I am sad to say it is still seen in this way by some. We should listen to those words. My brain does not even understand how someone can think it is a consenting transaction. Rather, it is the exploitation of one vulnerable person - often not an adult - by an adult who is not vulnerable.
That is not a consenting transaction. There is no equality of power between the two parties involved. It is not a service industry. It is a criminal enterprise selling the flesh of a human being, most often a woman, a child and sometimes a young man. It harks back to the days when slavery as a commercial transaction was acceptable. Any politician or person who thinks prostitution is a victimless crime needs to get out of their bubble and meet some of the victims. Young women trafficked across borders, young children whose innocence is exploited and vulnerable men and women in our society are the victims of prostitution. The people who make the profits on these transactions are rarely the people whose flesh is being traded. It is usually people removed from the crime, such as people traffickers and criminal organisations.
This Bill will finally criminalise the purchase of sexual services and focus the minds of those people who consider the purchase of sex before they proceed to break the law and commit a crime for which they will be prosecuted. The Bill has been called by the Children’s Rights Alliance a landmark Bill for the protection of children and young people. It recognises that the law in this area is out of step with reality in our time. The Bill includes new offences to protect children against grooming and online predators and to tackle child pornography.
Irish children are an online generation. They live in a digital world. They are not just more tech savvy than we are, they absolutely could buy and sell any adult in this area. The Children’s Rights Alliance has said that 86% of nine year olds have a computer. That is incredibly scary. A total of 82% of teenagers and 35% of nine year olds and 12 year olds have social media accounts and profiles. Irish children live a tremendous amount of their lives, probably more than any parent will ever admit to, online in a virtual reality. Their innocence must be protected. We need the laws of this land to make sure that will happen.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 is designed to protect a range of vulnerable people from sexual exploitation and to take on in particular the predators, both online and those in the real world, who seek to take advantage of these honourable people either by exploiting them sexually to make money and or by selling their bodies. The Bill has completed all Stages in the Seanad and will now proceed to Committee Stage where I am sure we will hear more comments from people who agree with the many we have heard today.
The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, could not have said what she said more passionately than she did. For anybody who thinks that it is okay for a man to purchase sex from a woman because there is a need in society, I say please sit down and read some of the women's stories. This is not a voluntary profession. It is not even a profession. These women, children and young men are being exploited for money. Let us be very real about this because it is all about exploiting vulnerable people to make money and it is a crime.
I recall attending a meeting of women in the Labour Party with the then leader of the party, Pat Rabbitte, sometime in the mid-2000s to discuss this at a time when organisations such as Ruhama, the Vincentian partnership, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others were waging a fairly lonely battle first of all to educate people about the reality of life for people involved in prostitution and sex work. Notwithstanding the arguments around personal autonomy and the sale of sexual services, I have yet to see any convincing information that indicates that for any small significant number of people it is somehow or other a life-enhancing experience. We hear the arguments and we are all aware of the fears that something which is not really a monetary transaction could possibly be portrayed in that way. Prostitution is about the kind of money that people can make out of having women, children and men, particularly young men, in prostitution. Very few of them have the autonomy that some people like to indicate when they see this as a transaction where a service is exchanged for money voluntarily between people.
Dublin as a city and Ireland as a country have a long history of prostitution. There were certain areas in Dublin which were notorious for prostitution right up to and after the time of the Rising. Much of that part of the city is now gone but when James Connolly was writing about Dublin and when Sean O'Casey wrote his plays it was, in a city of soldiers, a very significant trade.
In recent decades much of that has moved indoors by arrangement and is transacted on the Internet. We do not know the full extent of it but we have seen from the Turn Off the Red Light campaign the suggested figure of between 800 and 1,000 women involved every day in prostitution in Ireland. Think of the accumulation of misery that represents for those women, their families, their children and their wider circle of friends, and of the desperation that can drive people into prostitution, including those with addiction problems and other issues and their desperate attempts to try to ensure their children and families are looked after and that they do not lose their children. I cannot agree with people who see it as somehow life-enhancing and life-affirming. Like many others, I have seen Belle de Jour with its notion of people being able to go out and make it.
This issue has been discussed in the Oireachtas for a long time. I particularly thank many of my colleagues in the Labour Party, such as Senator Ivana Bacik who has been a thought leader on this over a long time. We need to see this legislation brought into force. I also strongly welcome the details in the legislation which address issues such as grooming of children and the use of the Internet. I am sure many here have seen interviews with Christina Noble about child prostitution, child trafficking and child grooming that she particularly has worked to combat in Asia through her charity and her development work. This involves men, in particular, going on holidays to certain countries in the Far East and using child prostitutes as well as using older prostitutes of both sexes. It has to be a horrific experience for children. I welcome anything developed by our Legislature that makes for a stronger position in combating this and enhances the powers of the Garda.
I see the Garda vans and vehicles in areas where people are still walking the streets and it happens regularly in different parts of Dublin and other cities. Notwithstanding all the difficulties arising for people in respect of the strike, gardaí need to be commended on the work they have put in to developing a response. While as guardians of the law they seek to uphold the law, they have also shown, along with people from many different agencies in the health and caring areas, a huge amount of concern for the vulnerable people caught up in prostitution.
It is important to note that in the context of the likelihood of a Garda strike, which even at this late time we hope can be averted.
With regard to this legislation, the question arises as to whether it is perfect legislation. A great deal of work has been done to examine the response in Sweden, Norway and other Scandinavian countries in terms of the approach to criminalising the purchase of the sexual service as opposed to the provider of the service. Is the legislation perfect? This is an incredibly difficult issue for any society to address. I am open to reasoned arguments that seek to improve the legislation.
I welcome the criminalisation of the purchase of sex because that means, in effect, that the proceeds are the proceeds of a criminal act and therefore are open to the actions of the Criminal Assets Bureau. In its history the Criminal Assets Bureau has shown that it is well capable of targeting in particular those who are making significant amounts of money from this most cruel trade in terms of the people who are exploited by it.
The principle in regard to Al Capone was that the normal arm of the law could not reach him but following the money trail the authorities were able to affect his activities. With regard to gangs and individuals who are engaged in largescale trafficking, largescale prostitution, escort and sale of sex services, it will be appropriate for the CAB to go after those people who have accumulated large amounts of money.
We are all aware that prostitution and the sale of sexual services is heavily linked to criminal activity by gangs in terms of the trafficking of people, the drugs trade and the trade in weapons. If this measure gives the law in Ireland a stronger and greater reach in terms of dealing with these kinds of criminal activities, it will make a contribution to seeking to address this issue in Ireland.
In the context of some of the arguments put forward on the modern transactional approach and that because it is a transaction, somehow or other it is a freedom which must be recognised, there was an article in the American publication Vanity Fair recently on escort services, sugar daddies, sugar babies and what is called in America the girlfriend experience. Some of the women described were extremely well educated women who are seeking to pay off debts or, in some cases, amass a sum of money for different purposes. The chilling part of it is that, notwithstanding that people may want to go into this either through desperation or because they see it as a limited action for a very limited period of time, the overwhelming evidence is that, ultimately, it is extremely degrading and there is very little evidence that it is producing good outcomes for the people involved. It is important that we should give some consideration to those new forms of prostitution and sale of sexual services that are emerging and that, in many cases, are enhanced by the availability of and ease of access to social media.
With regard to children, for all of us who are involved with children, either as parents, relatives or friends, strengthening our laws against children being groomed and our laws in regard to children generally is to be highly commended. When the Labour Party was in government, in conjunction with Fine Gael, we pursued this legislation. It has not been the easiest legislation to draft and then to seek to enact. There will be opportunities on Committee Stage to address some issues, particularly enhanced protection for some of the people involved in prostitution and the sale of sexual services who need additional protection. All of the organisations that have been involved and have given expert help and advice on this issue will be listened to carefully in terms of amendments but I hope that after a very long debate, which has gone on now for many years, we will see this legislation enacted by the Oireachtas.
I recall in the 1980s being involved with Attic Press and Irish Feminist Information when a groundbreaking book by June Levine on prostitution in Dublin entitled Lyn: A Story of Prostitution was published. It was the story of an individual who was caught up in prostitution and in horrific life situations. For many people at that time the book was an eye opener, but that is a long time ago. We have been having this debate for more than 30 years. It is time we enacted the legislation and sought both to deter prostitution but also to find ways of making life better for those who, for one reason or another, end up getting caught in its very cruel grip.
I welcome the legislation which I will come back to but I want to make a number of preliminary points in view of what was said earlier in the Chamber. Unfortunately, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton has left but I want to correct what she said with regard to Galway. There was no charge, and the women she referred to were not convicted of being prostitutes. They pleaded guilty straight away and they were subsequently convicted of operating a brothel. That will continue under this new legislation, with even more severe penalties. However, the gardaí reckon that they were trafficked and under the control of Dublin or Belfast based pimps, but they were nonetheless fined €200. The gardaí were extremely humane in their response. They said they were four little girls. Four little girls in prostitution in Galway were being used and abused by many people. Their ages were 21, 22, 23 and 30. That is the first correction.
In terms of the second correction, I have not heard a single TD in this Dáil talk about a life enhancing experience as a sex worker. What they have done is raised serious concerns about the criminalisation of the purchase of sex because of the effect it will have on sex workers in driving them underground. The speakers in this Dáil, including myself, have not come up with those concerns. We have read reports and listened to Amnesty International. We have listened to the health organisations. We have listened to HIV Ireland, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and so on.
I have read the Houses of the Oireachtas report the Minister referred to. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for his work. The report was a huge amount of work involving four public hearings and 800 submissions. It was specifically on the topic of prostitution. Unfortunately, since that report was produced, the evidence has moved on. The evidence today does not substantiate the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.
I appeal to the Minister to look at this section and go back to it, notwithstanding the tremendous amount of work the Minister has done. I acknowledge that the overwhelming number of submissions wanted to criminalise the purchase of sex. However, there were other submissions that asked the Minister to look at this because what will happen here is that the Bill will make it less safe for sex workers. The Minister based the report on the Swedish model. Indeed, the Minister took the work very seriously and went to Sweden. I commend the Minister for all of that work. However, according to a number of very reputable organisations, the Swedish model, and Norway's, do not stand up to scrutiny.
As I said, I very much welcome this Bill with the exception of two areas which I have serious concerns about. More importantly, those are concerns that have been raised by a number of organisations and institutions, such as Amnesty, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Centre for Disability Law and Equality at NUI Galway, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, more particularly, concerns in relation to Part 3 of the Bill, which few have mentioned, relating to a sexual act with a protected person - I have serious difficulties in relation to that part of it, notwithstanding the Minister's good intentions - and under Part 4, which seeks to criminalise the purchase of sex. Furthermore, the lack of definition of consent has been raised by many Deputies on both sides of the House. Also, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has raised the continuous use of language such as "child pornography" rather than more specific language, such as "child abuse materials" and "images". I will return to these points before I finish, if I have enough time.
First, on a more general level, this is a Bill which, unfortunately, has had a very long gestation period, notwithstanding the urgent necessity to protect children, particularly given our obligations to do so under the Constitution and our international obligations under various legal instruments, legislation and conventions, and given the current lacunae in our current legislation - gaps which were highlighted as far back as 2007 in a special report by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon. That report highlighted the need for reform of the law in a number of very specific areas, which has taken nine years. This Bill is finally addressing those areas and I very much welcome those changes without hesitation.
In addition, as far back as June 2012, the Department of Justice and Equality opened a review of the law in relation to prostitution and then followed the Oireachtas committee hearings. In addition, many organisations, including Barnardos, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Children's Rights Alliance, have called for this legislation to go through the Oireachtas with speed and I can see why given the wide-ranging provisions contained therein to enhance the protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation, including protection against online grooming - more comprehensive definitions and the inclusion of new offences, including the provisions for a harassment order. The Bill includes a reform of the law on incest, with the gender imbalance addressed. It includes enhanced protection for child victims of sexual assault in the criminal process. The absolute prohibition on the cross-examination of a person under 14 years by an accused person in a criminal trial is a major step forward and with the judge's discretion remaining in relation to prohibiting cross-examination by the accused of a victim between the ages of 14 and 18 years. Indeed, this prohibition on cross-examination by an accused of a victim should be extended to vulnerable persons. It has been acknowledged by the Government that it will look at that. There is also welcome regulation of disclosure of third-party records, although concern has been raised in relation to how extensive such disclosure will be but, more importantly, whether it will serve to inhibit children and adults coming forward for therapy.
Thankfully, the Bill, in section 173(8) also addresses consensual peer relationships through the introduction of a proximity-of-age defence of two years. 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. This is a most welcome new provision which more accurately and honestly reflects the real lives of young adults and teenagers and ends the criminalisation of young males.
The ISPCC, while welcoming the Bill, highlights a number of concerns, for example, the absence of a definition of "consent". They raise concerns in relation to the disclosure of therapy notes and I hope that is looked at and their concerns taken on board at the next Stage of the Bill. I have already mentioned that they have asked that the word "pornography" not be used and the Bill use more specific language that clearly shows what is going on and the abuse of children.
The Bill completely omits any reference to or provisions for the risk-assessment, treatment, monitoring or management of sex offenders. I understand the Minister has stated that this issue would be dealt with in further legislation in early 2017 and this should be progressed as swiftly as possible as this proposed legislation is also essential in ensuring that the public, especially children, are better protected from offenders who seek to prey on them. Finally, the Bill does not deal with other offences, such as stalking and victim-shaming, and additional legislation is needed to address this.
More specifically, let me deal with two serious concerns that I have. I refer to Part 3 of the Bill, Sexual Act with Protected Persons, in particular, sections 20 and 21. The Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway, together with the Disability Federation of Ireland, Inclusion Ireland and the Irish Mental Health Lawyers Association amongst others, is concerned that Part 3 of the Bill does not respect the human rights of those with cognitive disabilities. I say that knowing that the Government has come forward in a bona fide manner to try and protect the vulnerable. If the Centre for Disability Law and Policy, together with all the other institutions that I have mentioned and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, is raising concerns, we must listen to them given its expertise in this area. Section 21 of the Bill creates a new sexual offence which only applies to complainants with mental or intellectual disability or mental illness. Those with disabilities in Ireland have campaigned for many years to have disability-neutral sexual offences legislation and they do not want to see introduced a new offence which further stigmatises and marginalises those with disabilities.
More specifically, they identify three key problems from a human rights perspective with Part 3 of the Bill. While fully aware that the Bill is one of the final pieces of legislation the Government has committed to introduce in order to enable Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, they are seriously concerned that the Bill as it currently stands is not consistent with the human rights principles set out in the Convention. They identify three key problematic areas and they go further and offer three positive solutions or amendments. Section 21, which creates a specific provision which applies only to survivors of sexual violence who are persons with disabilities which the provision labels as "protected persons", is problematic because it implies that those with disabilities should be treated differently than others when it comes to their consent to sex and sexual activity. The consequences of this provision is that it creates or constitutes a disability-based discrimination in the legislation. Whether the Government likes it or not, it is building in discrimination which is prohibited under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Their solution is that a more human rights-compliant approach would be to introduce a disability-neutral offence of abuse of a position of authority or trust.
Apparently, this was proposed by the then Senator but now Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, on the previous Committee Stage of this Bill in the Seanad. This would ensure that people who might be targeted for sexual exploitation based on perceived vulnerability, including disability, would be adequately protected by the law. Further, a sentencing uplift or enhancement for crimes motivated by bias against persons with disabilities could also be introduced if we seriously want to protect vulnerable people.
The second problem identified by these various groups is that the definition of the vulnerable person relies on a functional test of mental capacity. This definition is inconsistent with existing legislation. It is inconsistent with the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) 2015, which is a very welcome Act. It recognises that anyone at any stage might lack mental capacity to make a particular decision, regardless of whether the person has a diagnosis or label of mental or intellectual disability or mental illness. The use of a diagnostic criteria in this definition is both discriminatory towards people with disabilities and, equally important, it is under-inclusive of people who might be vulnerable for other reasons to sexual exploitation. People who have no diagnosis of disability may nevertheless be shown to be unable to consent to sex. Those groups' solution is to define consent to sex in legislation. Again, it comes back to the absence of that definition. A more human rights compliant solution would be to ensure a comprehensive definition of consent to engage in sexual acts is provided in legislation.
The third problem identified by these various groups and to which they provide a solution is the reversal of the burden of proof on defendants. This is a fundamental change in our law. The Bill provides that it shall be presumed, unless the contrary is shown, that the defendant knew that the victim was a protected person. This reverses the normal burden of proof on the defendant in criminal cases by starting with the presumption that the defendant knew that the victim lacked the capacity to consent to sex and required the defendant to prove otherwise. In addition to this approach seriously restricting the rights of defendants, it will clearly reinforce the stigma and stereotypes about people with disabilities and that they lack the capacity to give consent to a consensual sexual relationship. The solution, these groups suggest, is to remove this reversal of proof from the offences. If the Minister of State's goal is to ensure anyone engaging in sexual acts with people with disabilities takes steps to ensure the person is truly consenting, this can be better achieved through a comprehensive legislative definition - we cannot get away from its absence - of consent to sex which applies in all rape and sexual offences cases.
Additionally, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has reiterated that clear guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the circumstances in which a prosecution will be taken under the Bill, if it becomes law, will assist in mitigating against the real danger of persons not entering into sexual relationships for fear of exposing themselves to a risk of prosecution. Accessible information on how the law will be applied should accompany guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Those are the three gaps and problems highlighted in regard to Part 3. Part 4 consists of three sections. It is the Part that has drawn the most debate in the Dáil, yet there are 50 sections in the Bill, which is very well drafted and extremely important. There is a page and a half covering the criminalisation of sex providers, amounting to three sections. Leaving aside Part 3, which it is hoped can be remedied, I propose the simplest way to proceed is to leave out these three sections, that page and a half covering them. I have no idea why they are included in a Bill seeking to protect children in the first place. It has been said already that the Government is attempting to cover too much in the Bill. The most sensible way to proceed would be to leave out those three of the 50 sections and to consider that subject in separate legislation, particularly in view of the fact that what the Minister of State is proposing is to criminalise the purchase of sex.
I am not justifying or making a judgment in regard to prostitution. My main concern is whether the legislation will serve to protect sex workers, which is the Minister of State's intention. Unfortunately, after reading all the research, my conclusion is that it will not. I draw the Minister of State's attention to the up-to-date research in Northern Ireland, Norway and Sweden and to the senior counsel's opinion. We sometimes lambaste the legal profession in the Dáil, often rightly, and we lambaste the Judiciary. The senior counsel's opinion was provided on a pro bono basis and he outlines at the start of it that those who commissioned him to prepare it probably would not like what he was going to say because he was absolutely of the belief that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex was the way forward, but after looking at all the research, he came to a different conclusion. He said there are serious concerns that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex will lead to health and safety issues in regard to sex workers. This has been backed up by HIV Ireland. I implore to Minister of State to look at that detail and the health implications of this.
Speakers have conflated human trafficking with sex workers. Human trafficking is abhorrent. It seems it is the third most profitable trade after the arms trade. I forget what the first one is but it will come back to me.
With respect to the conflation of trafficking with the purchase of sex, they are two entirely different issues. I absolutely abhor it. The Government should come back to us to outline how it has enforced the existing legislation.
The Oireachtas report indicates that 90% of women who are sex workers want to leave prostitution, but there are no exit strategies for them in this legislation. No positive steps have been taken to help them to exit. A total of 90% of sex workers come from exceptionally vulnerable backgrounds, whereas 90% plus clients come from middle to upper class backgrounds and most of them are married.
On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and on my own behalf, I thank the Members for their contributions to the debate on this legislation. Dealing with such a range of issues in a single Bill is challenging, as Deputies have pointed out, but I believe the debate demonstrates the determination of this House to ensure the necessary measures are in place to combat child sexual exploitation, including introducing measures to address new and emerging threats as well as ensuring support for victims, the updating of existing law and the reform of prostitution laws.
As pointed out, there will be an opportunity to address the issues raised when the Bill is debated in more detail in committee, but I would like to reflect briefly on some of these matters. As the previous speaker said, there has been considerable comment on the provisions contained in Part 4 which criminalises the purchase of sexual services. These provisions have been developed following a wide and public consultation. More than 800 written submissions were received by the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when it conducted a review of the legislation. Presentations were made by 26 organisations and individuals directly to the committee. Since this Bill has been published, there has been a substantial amount of research, reviews and documentation produced which supports a range of approaches to prostitution. I am sure they will all be referred to in greater detail on Committee Stage.
That documentation has been kept under constant review by the Tánaiste and her Department and the provisions contained in this Bill continue to be the preferred approach, and I will explain why that is the case. These provisions target the demand for sexual services. Even some of those in this House who have expressed their concerns regarding the provisions in Part 4 acknowledge the exploitative nature of prostitution. I do not believe that anybody doubts that prostitution causes significant physical, psychological and social harm.
This may not be true for all persons involved in providing sexual services but it is true for the vast majority and, as the last speaker said, for those who are most vulnerable. Reducing the demand for prostitution and sending the message that it is not okay to pay another person for sexual services - another person who but for their particular circumstances would not choose to offer themselves in such a manner - is key to addressing the harm and exploitation associated with prostitution. We want to convey the message, especially to young men, that it is not okay to purchase sexual services. If we do not do that, we are sending out the opposite message that it is okay. Unfortunately, our media and, in many instances, online and social media is sending out in spades that message that it is okay. There are some parts of the world where women are bought and sold now, especially in war zones. It was reflected earlier that it harks back to the years of slavery with women being bought, sold and raped in war zones.
There has also been criticism that these provisions conflate trafficking of persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation with prostitution. I agree with Deputy Shortall when she said there is no clear line between where the elements of trafficking end and consent to become involved in the sex industry begins. In 2015, 48 victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation were reported to or detected by An Garda Síochána. There is a link and targeting the demand for prostitution impacts on the market for human trafficking. Evidence from Sweden and Norway indicates that both countries have become a less attractive destination for prostitution-based trafficking.
In 2009, the Norwegian Government criminalised the purchase of sex. In August 2014, it published the findings of its evaluation of the law. The main findings included that there was no evidence of an increase in violence against persons providing sexual services through prostitution, the extent of prostitution was reduced, there was a reduction in the market size and there was evidence that Norway had become a less attractive place for human traffickers. On 6 April 2016, the French National Assembly voted to punish customers of prostitutes with a fine of €1,500. France very recently passed this law and they had extensive consultation and research into it. On 6 December 2014, Canada, which is another very progressive country, made the purchase of sexual services illegal. Iceland, Sweden, Norway and, most recently, Northern Ireland have done the same. Many of these countries have had serious debate on these issues and have gone down this route. They have not done it lightly. They have done it for a reason. Perhaps Deputies will look at what those countries - France, Canada and Northern Ireland - have said and the research they have done.
It is also important to stress, and it was raised by a number of Deputies, that the approach to prostitution is not just about introducing laws. We must ensure the necessary services are in place to offer the appropriate supports to those involved in prostitution. The Department of Justice and Equality, through its anti-human trafficking unit, provides funding, along with the HSE and the south inner city local drugs task force, to Ruhama which provides assistance and support, including outreach, education and development programmes and assistance in accessing housing and social welfare. The funding to assist this work has increased substantially, and a total figure of a little under €295,000 will be provided this year, which is an increase of approximately 60% on 2014. There will be plenty of opportunity during the Committee Stage debate on this Bill to debate these matters fully.
A number of Deputies raised the issue of introducing a definition of consent to a sexual act. The Tánaiste is committed to reviewing this issue and strongly supports the Ask Consent campaign. However, as Deputies may be aware, the Supreme Court is considering a number of questions relating to consent and it is prudent to await that judgment before finalising any proposals.
When this Bill was first brought before the House, Deputy Butler and others raised the issue of the prohibition on an accused conducting a cross-examination and extending this to all trials involving sexual offences. As the Tánaiste indicated in her opening remarks, proposals for amendments to make such provision are being prepared.
Deputy Mattie McGrath and Deputy Lisa Chambers questioned the lack of provisions in the Bill to enhance the monitoring of sex offenders following release from prison. Provisions are to be brought forward in a sex offenders (amendment) Bill which will significantly strengthen such monitoring. These will include electronic monitoring of certain sex offenders on release and also the disclosure, where necessary, of information concerning sex offenders where there is a risk posed to the public or particular persons.
Before finishing, I would also like to acknowledge the wide support for the provisions in Part 2 to strengthen the existing child sexual exploitation laws. The Bill provides for a more effective response to the changing nature of sexual offences, such as grooming, and is a response to new and emerging threats such as predatory activity which targets children via the Internet and social media. The sexual grooming of children can include familiarising them with sexually explicit material with a view to developing an ultimately exploitative relationship with that child. Sections 3 to 8, inclusive, introduce a range of offences targeting the sexual exploitation and grooming of children. These offences are a significant step in combating the risks posed to children. These new offences include, for example, paying for the purpose of sexually exploiting a child, invitation to sexual touching, sexual activity in the presence of a child, causing a child to watch sexual activity, and making arrangements to meet a child for the purpose of sexually exploiting that child.
I particularly highlight section 8 as a number of Deputies raised the risk posed to children by online predators. This section provides for two separate and distinct offences which are intended to address grooming-style behaviour through information and communications technology. The first offence is where a person communicates with another person or with a child, for example, either through social media or various messaging tools, for the purpose of sexually exploiting the child. The second is where a person sends sexually explicit material to a child. Both of these are indicative of grooming-style behaviour. This offence is targeted at the initial stages of grooming and does not require physical contact or meeting between the adult and child in question. The offence does not necessarily require that the communication contains a sexual advance or include sexual material as these are not generally features of sophisticated grooming, but it requires that the communication is to facilitate the sexual exploitation of the child.
On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and myself, I acknowledge and thank all Members of the House who contributed to the debate on this Bill. What is contained in here will add substantially to the protection of our children against sexual abuse by targeting those who would abuse or attempt to do so. Every step necessary must be taken to achieve that goal.
When this Bill was being debated in the committee and since it has come into the House again today, I and others have been subject to some rather distasteful abusive online commentary which indicates that some people out there are quite upset by what we are doing. They are upset because their pockets are being hit. The profits they are making are being hit. I reported some of it to the Garda. When people in here are supporting prostitution in some way and are opposed to criminalisation, they might think again because there are people who are profiting from what is going on at the moment. By not supporting the Bill, they are helping these people to increase their profits.