That Seanad Éireann
recognises that the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery and a form of human rights abuse;
notes that the Irish sex industry, which is worth €250 million a year (CAB, January 2011), is very damaging for the girls and women involved in prostitution;
notes that internet audits consistently show that more than 1,000 women are made available for paid sex on a daily basis all over Ireland and up to 97% of them are migrant women (Kelleher 2009);
notes that there is clear evidence of children who have been trafficked in Ireland specifically for the purpose of prostitution (Kelleher 2009; AHTU annual report 2010);
notes evidence from Sweden and Norway which shows that criminal sanctions for the purchase of sex are a proven deterrent to prostitution and consequently to trafficking (McLeodet al. 2008, Claude 2010);
further notes that International Conventions repeatedly call for efficient measures to deter demand for prostitution, which is recognised as an efficient approach to reduce sex trafficking (Article 6, Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005; Article 9(5), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children 2000), and
proposes that the Government develops effective and appropriate responses to deal with prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation and calls on the Government to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland in order to curb prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The Independent Senators move to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland in order to curb prostitution and trafficking. The seven of us, four women and three men, are standing shoulder to shoulder to propose that the Government develops effective and appropriate responses, inclusive of introducing legislation, to deal with prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. We do so with an acute awareness of the globalised nature of an industry, of which Ireland is a part, that exploits women and girls and some men and boys, and a conviction that the purchase of sex, mainly by men, should not be tolerated by an Irish society that is modern, fair, committed to gender equality and shows repugnance towards trafficking and organised crime.
We recognise that trafficking for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery and a form of human rights abuse. International and Irish research documents time and again acknowledge characteristics of slavery as they apply to sex trafficking and prostitution. Trafficking utilises a plethora of control strategies to ensure compliance by victims. These include deception in their recruitment — victims are often promised an education or good jobs — rape during their transport, issuing false papers which are then taken from them, placing them in clandestine captivity where they are under continuous surveillance, and a constant threat of physical violence to ensure they do not abscond, or that their travel debts will be paid.
I wish the House to consider two cases of human beings living in Ireland, as documented by Irish researchers. The first is that of Suzan from Sierra Leone, who at the age of 17 was raped by soldiers. At 19 she was offered work in Europe in the hotel sector by a family friend who arranged a false passport and other documents for her. The friend accompanied Suzan to Ireland and when she arrived in this country, she was taken to a house, raped by his friends and forced into prostitution. The second case if that of Kiky from Nigeria who arrived in Ireland as a 16 year old girl. I pause to note that research indicates that 11% of women trafficked into Ireland were children at the time they were so trafficked. Kiky's story started when she was offered a job as a domestic worker in London by a family friend whom her parents trusted. He and another woman travelled with Kiky who was told to call the woman "Madam". She was brought to a house where there were eight other girls and was forced to have sex with men without using condoms if that was what they asked for.
Prostitution in Ireland is a sophisticated and lucrative industry with more than 1,000 women made available for paid sex every day throughout the country. While it is difficult to estimate the numbers involved, as the Government amendment to our motion notes, the figure we note in our motion — a minimum of 1,000 — can withstand rigorous methodological standards. It is based on an Internet audit of women and those advertised as escorts, interviews with specialist front-line services and with those involved in prostitution.
Women and girls are moved from town to town and city to city in a carefully managed logistical operation. The Criminal Assets Bureau has valued the Irish sex industry at €250 million a year. Our current laws on prostitution are ambiguous and insufficient. The Garda Síochána policing plan for 2011 set out its commitment to proactively target groups and individuals involved in organised crime, including prostitution. There is also a commitment in the programme for Government to strengthen the powers of the CAB in regard to the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime. Legislation criminalising the purchase of sex would provide our law enforcement agencies with the tools to stem a large source of income for organised crime. The previous successes of the CAB in seizing assets of the drug trade could be replicated with regard to prostitution and trafficking.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland, in its 2009 report, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution, states that trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution are inextricably linked. All of the 91 women and 11 children who accessed front-line services in the period 2007-2008 were trafficked into Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The supply and demand relationship between trafficking and prostitution has been confirmed by Swedish police sources who have stated that the Swedish ban on the purchase of sexual services acts as a barrier to human trafficking and procurers considering establishing themselves in Sweden. The Nordic Gender Institute has identified a halving of the number of sex buyers in ten years since the purchase of sex has been criminalised in Sweden and has indicated a reduction in organised crime in general. Surveys of men conducted by various researchers have also established that the greatest deterrent to the buyer of sex is a criminal sanction and/or the risk of exposure. I was present when Swedish and Norwegian police officers came to Ireland recently to provide a briefing on this matter. At that briefing, Detective Superintendent Jonas Trolle, the operational head of crime and narcotics surveillance with Stockholm police department, stated that it is now impossible to run a brothel in Sweden.
With this country's human rights record under the spotlight at the UN in Geneva last week, we must, as law-makers, be cognisant of Ireland's obligations under international conventions on this issue. The Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children recognise that measures to deter demand for prostitution represent an efficient approach to reducing sex trafficking. These international human rights standards provide the backdrop to our call for Ireland to introduce measures to deter demand for prostitution as a means of curbing human trafficking. It is correct that in 2008 — the Government's amendment to the motion refers to this — it became illegal to buy sex from someone who had been trafficked as a result of the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Human Trafficking Act). To date, however, no one has been identified as a victim of trafficking under this law because no convictions for trafficking offences have been secured under its provisions. Furthermore, the Act does not provide for strict liability. This means that the purchaser of sex can use the defence that he did not know that the person from whom he was purchasing sex had been trafficked.
We have received representations from organisations such as Sex Workers Alliance Ireland and individuals who express concerns regarding the safety and welfare of and access to health care for people in prostitution that a change in the law might bring. I share such concerns and feel that it is important to ensure that, with the introduction of this type of legislation, appropriate supports will made available for people and that additional measures will be developed to facilitate their exit from prostitution. It is important too that women and men who come forward seeking assistance are not criminalised.
The motion calls on the Government to introduce legislation. The Independent Senators are dismayed by the tone and apparent direction of the Government's amendment. The Government indicates that there should be a considered public debate on this issue prior to the Government taking a decision. On an initial reading, this appears to be either a statement which, at best, delays indefinitely a decision regarding the introduction of legislation or, at worst attempts to claim that thestatus quo is working. This is coupled with some of the other notations in the amendment but I will await what the Minister of State has to say in respect of these. We want to publicly highlight the fact that there has already been significant public debate on this issue. That debate has intensified since the Immigrant Council of Ireland and its partners published the Irish research on this matter two years ago and since the establishment of a coalition of reputable organisations which is advocating for the type of change we suggest. I welcome the representatives from these organisations who are present in the Visitors Gallery. The debate on this matter has been inclusive, with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, his Department and the Garda Síochána all contributing. We understand from debates in the Dáil that the Attorney General has issued a legal opinion on criminalising the purchase of sex and that this is being considered by the Minister for Justice and Equality.
I should have welcomed the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch to the House at the outset and apologise for not doing so. I ask her to provide a timeframe for the public debate to which the Government's amendment refers. The debate is already under way. I also ask the Minister of State to indicate when the Government expects to make a decision on this matter, outline the further specific actions the Government will take to facilitate the public debate and provide an update on the Attorney General's opinion. Either she or the Minister for Justice and Equality should come before the House at a later date to deliver a judgment on this matter. Ultimately, this matter, which is informed by research, international standards and public debate, is one of legal and ethical judgment.