I am familiar with the Review of the Criminalisation of Paying for Sexual Services in Northern Ireland carried out by Queen's University Belfast and published on 18th September. That review was commissioned under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act 2015 which introduced the offence of paying for sexual services.
In this jurisdiction, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 amended legislation relating to prostitution.
Part 4 of the 2017 Act provides for a new offence of paying for sexual activity with a prostitute. The Act also removes those who offer their services as a prostitute from the existing offences of soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. One purpose of this measure is to provide additional protection to persons involved in prostitution and to allow them to make reports to the Gardaí, for instance where they have been subjected to violence by clients, without fear or concern of being prosecuted for selling sexual services.
As with the legislation in Northern Ireland, there is provision under the 2017 Act to report on the operation of the legislation. This will include an assessment of the impact on the welfare of those who engage in sexual activity for payment, as well as information on prosecutions and convictions. The review will commence early next year.
While not pre-empting the outcome of this forthcoming review, I am conscious that there are many differing opinions on the approaches which should be adopted to address this issue. It is very important that any review should be underpinned by qualitative and quantitative data that includes the experience of those providing sexual services as well as those who provide support and advice and advocate on their behalf.
This is undoubtedly a complex issue - reflected in the debates around the introduction of the 2017 provisions. Measures to target the demand for commercial sex must continue to keep as a core principle the safety, health and well-being of all of those involved in prostitution.