That Seanad Éireann noting:
Ireland is currently positioning human trafficking within its immigration policy and practice and not within the sphere of organised crime;
the victims of sex trafficking are individuals who have experienced human rights abuses at the hands of criminal gangs;
the State has mandated an immigration law enforcement agency as the sole authority for granting the recovery and reflection period to victims;
gardaí who police immigration laws are also given the mandate to deal with victims of the crime of human trafficking, even though the two roles are not compatible because many victims will have broken immigration laws as a consequence of being a victim of human trafficking;
the accommodation and measures set out by the Government to provide assistance to suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period is neither conducive to reflection and recovery, nor does it give suspected victims an adequate standard of living;
in practice victims are not granted the six-month temporary residency permit at the appropriate time;
protection and assistance are not based on the human rights of the victims of the crime but are too conditional upon co-operation with the criminal investigation;
in practice the threshold is too high and too "evidence-based" in granting victims the recovery and reflection period and is therefore leaving it very difficult for victims to access this protection;
the process of gathering evidence is traumatising for victims;
it is traumatising for witnesses to testify in front of the accused and their associates in the court room;
there is a concern that the State is "ticking boxes" in its efforts to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings but not adequately addressing victims' needs;
calls on the Government to:
mandate the organised crime section of the Garda to police human trafficking and deal with victims of the crime;
act so that gardaí in the organised crime section receive specialised training to deal with this issue;
establish a joint investigation unit to police human trafficking on the island of Ireland more effectively, as human trafficking by its nature is a transnational organised crime and in Ireland it is exacerbated by our loosely monitored border;
include all of Article 14 of the Council of Europe Convention when it comes to granting victims residency in Ireland so that victims of human trafficking in Ireland will be given protection and assistance based on their human rights;
follow the advice of the EU Commission's expert group on trafficking in human beings;
extend the recovery and reflection period to three months and provide it immediately when someone is identified as a suspected victim;
ensure the identification of suspected victims of trafficking happens in collaboration with law enforcement and victim support agencies;
commit to granting the six-month temporary residency permit immediately to victims when they begin co-operating with the criminal investigation;
relieve victim trauma by ensuring victims have the option of giving evidence by video and testifying in court by video link;
include as part of policy the promotion of exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution and trafficking situations; and
follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex so as to target demand in the sex exploitation industry.
I welcome the Minister. This motion is intended to address in a holistic way issues affecting people who are victims of human trafficking. The stark reality of sex trafficking and prostitution was highlighted last December when a series of brothels throughout Ireland and the UK were raided, leading to the arrest of three alleged traffickers, two of them Irish and two female. They are currently in the custody of Welsh authorities awaiting trial, although all three pleaded not guilty to charges brought against them last Friday. The rationale behind the motion is straightforward. Prostitution and human trafficking are practically inseparable. Each depends on the other and each is a direct attack upon the dignity and welfare of the women involved.
The publication today of the national action plan to combat human trafficking has not, unfortunately, allayed concerns that Ireland is currently positioning the issue of human trafficking within its immigration policy and practice and not within the sphere of organised crime, which is where it should be. This is unfortunate and unnecessary and has practical consequences which places the victims of sex industry exploitation even further at a disadvantage. By mandating an immigration law enforcement agency as the sole authority for granting the recovery and reflection period to victims, in effect, a garda not below the rank of superintendent, the State has created an extra prejudice against the welfare of trafficked and prostituted women. Gardaí who police immigration are also given a mandate to deal with victims of the crime of human trafficking, even though the two roles are not compatible because many victims will have broken immigration laws as a consequence of being involved in human trafficking. This is a tragic catch-22 as these persons would not be breaking any immigration laws if they were not already victims of trafficking.
It is inevitable that immigration gardaí consider immigration laws more urgent than those relating to the crime of human trafficking. What often gets lost among the bureaucracy of immigration control is that the victims of sex trafficking are individuals who have experienced human rights abuses at the hands of criminal gangs. It follows from this glaring category error that victims do not receive support appropriate to their vulnerability which would maintain their dignity as persons. The accommodation and measures set out by the Government to provide assistance to suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period is not conducive to reflection and recovery, nor does it give suspected victims an adequate standard of living. For example, victims are given accommodation in hostels for asylum seekers. They share bedrooms with at least two other strangers and there is no privacy or space for the victims to recover. There are no facilities to cook their own food, a substantial problem considering the poor standard of food provided.
Victims are given an allowance of €19.10 per week, which is not enough for an adequate standard of living. The Ruhama organisation, which has done excellent work in supporting women in prostitution, many of them victims of human trafficking, and some of whose representatives are in the Visitors Gallery, has regularly supplemented the care of victims by buying them mobile phones and call credit. The phones are necessary for security reasons and to help victims stay in touch with the support services. The allowance of €19.10 a week barely allows victims to buy toiletries or clothing. Hence, Ruhama assists them in this regard. There is evidence that the accommodation provided by the State for suspected victims of trafficking during the recovery and reflection period can put victims at risk of being re-trafficked or found by their traffickers.
In practice, victims are not granted the six-month temporary residency permit at the appropriate time. Often, victims have spoken to the Garda and even given formal statements before they have been granted the permit. They are left with an insecure residency status for a long period, which adds further to their anxiety and trauma. The six-month permit should be granted immediately to victims when they start co-operating with the criminal investigation. We also need to apply the stipulation which allows for the six-month permit to be granted to victims who may need or want to give evidence before the recovery and reflection period expires.
Protection and assistance are not based on the human rights of the victim but are too conditional upon co-operation with the criminal investigation. I am talking about the de facto situation. In addition, the reference in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 to co-operating with the criminal process is unclear. There are concerns for the protection of victims who do not have much evidence to give to a criminal investigation or who are too traumatised to co-operate. In practice the threshold for granting victims a recovery and reflection period is too high and too evidence-based, which means it is difficult for victims to access this protection. In addition, the repetitive and laborious process of gathering hand-written statements is traumatic for victims. In other jurisdictions sophisticated and humane arrangements are made for gathering evidence, such as providing for a video link. I note the Government's proposed amendment to the motion mentions the possibility, provided for under legislation, of giving evidence by video link in court, but it is also important at the information-gathering stage that we step up to the plate and imitate good practice in other countries.
The failure of practice to match theory in the area of sex trafficking reinforces concerns that the State is simply ticking boxes in its efforts to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, while not adequately addressing victims' real-life needs away from the bureaucratic scorecards. We need a fresh approach to victims of the sex abuse industry. There is a compelling need to mandate the organised crime section of the Garda to police human trafficking and deal with victims of the crime. What has happened to Operation Quest? How many gardaí are working on this? Is it not the case that the only investigations of significance in the sex industry are being done by ordinary gardaí on the ground and that we do not have the specialists we should have? Even in its best days Operation Quest was only Dublin-based.
Gardaí in the organised crime section should be granted the capacity to identify victims of human trafficking in collaboration with other relevant parties, including victim support groups. When we consider how terrified some of the victims will be, this seems the only humane way to proceed. The gardaí in question should also receive specialised training to deal with this issue and be given a clear protocol on policing brothels. For instance, gardaí need to be aware of the vulnerability of victims and the fact that some may be undocumented owing to the mode of operation of human trafficking. Such people should not be arrested under immigration law. Accommodation needs to be victim-centred, allowing victims to be safe from the perpetrators and to receive the care necessary to recover.
Further efforts are needed, such as the establishment of a joint investigation unit to police human trafficking more effectively. Human trafficking by its nature is a transnational organised crime and in Ireland it is exacerbated by our loosely monitored Border. The traffickers regularly move victims around the island to keep the buyers happy with "new women". Our police forces need to emulate the strategy of the criminals by networking closely. The victims can also find it confusing, repetitive and stressful when they have to deal with multiple police forces who are investigating the same criminal gang.
In terms of our international obligations, we ought to include all of Article 14 of the Council of Europe Convention when it comes to granting victims residency in Ireland so that victims of human trafficking will be given protection and assistance based on their human rights. Currently, the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill 2008 only includes section (b) of Article 14 and not section (a). Section (a) of Article 14 states with regard to the residence permit that "each party shall issue a renewable residence permit to victims where the competent authority considers that their stay is necessary owing to their personal situation."
More than this, we must follow the advice of the European Commission's expert group on trafficking in human beings. The group, established by the European Commission in 2003, has advised that "trafficked persons who do not wish to testify as witnesses — or are not required as witnesses, because they possess no relevant information or because the perpetrators cannot be taken into custody in the destination country — require equally adequate protection and assistance as victim-witnesses."
With this in mind I call on the Government to implement a number of measures, including the extension of the recovery and reflection period to three months and to provide it immediately when someone is identified as a suspected victim; ensuring the identification of suspected victims of trafficking happens in collaboration with law enforcement and victim support agencies; committing to grant the six month temporary residency permit immediately to victims when they begin co-operating with the criminal investigation; relieving victim trauma by ensuring victims have the option of giving statements by video as is the case in the UK; and including as part of policy the promotion of exit routes to enable women to move out of prostitution and trafficking situations.
This brings me to the final part of the three-pronged holistic approach to aiding victims of the sex exploitation industry. As well as the protection of women caught up in sexual exploitation and the promotion of exit route strategies to aid these women to escape from the sex industry, there is a need to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway and Iceland by criminalising the purchase of sex to target the demand for the sex exploitation industry. Reports indicate that criminalisation has been effective and that there has been a reduction in the number of women in prostitution in Sweden and a relative reduction in human trafficking activity since criminalisation.
When I tabled amendments to the Human Trafficking Bill last year, glib responses were given to me. I was told that it was not clear that what had been done in 1999 in Sweden had worked. Since then Norway and Iceland have followed suit. Sweden has reported a massive reduction in prostitution. When trafficking has been on the rise elsewhere, they have managed to block it in that country.
We were also given the glib response that demand is never dispersed but only displaced, as if that would not be a significant achievement in itself, with a country reducing the incidence of prostitution and exploitation through trafficking. The jury, however, is no longer out.
There are many glib assertions that prostitution is the oldest profession when it is really the oldest oppression. Many crimes have existed since the time of Adam and there are some crimes we may never fully stamp out, but that does not mean we should not seek to deter them. By criminalising the purchase of sexual services, we would help make this country a cold house for traffickers by tackling the demand side of the market.
If the Government is serious in its approach to the sexual exploitation industry it will give legal effect to the above considerations. The dignity and welfare of those who, for whatever reason, are caught up in this web of exploitation demand no less than the most robust legal safeguards. Criminalising the purchase of sex makes Ireland a cold house for sex traffickers and makes it less likely that persons will fall into the clutches of the sex industry. When it comes to prostitution and sex trafficking we have to ensure that everything is done to reduce demand. We have to demand that women are given their own lives to live and not a nightmare substitute.