I thank the Deputy for raising this important question.
The principal aim of the changes made by Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, was to provide additional protection to those involved in prostitution, especially for those that are particularly vulnerable and are victims of human trafficking. Among the changes made was to remove those who offer their services as a prostitute from the existing offences of soliciting. This allows people working in prostitution to provide information to the Garda on, for example, violence towards them by clients, without risking prosecution for selling sexual services. The Act also introduced two new offences - paying for sexual activity with a prostitute and paying for sexual activity with a trafficked person - and it increased the existing penalty for brothel keeping.
Regarding a review of the effects of the 2017 legislation, the Act provides for a review three years after its commencement. In July, I commissioned an independent expert, Ms Maura Butler, to undertake the review. Deputy Connolly asked for a timeline. I do not have a timeline, but Ms Butler is working on it and will have it concluded as soon as possible. The review will examine whether the changes made are, in practice, operating as intended and are offering additional protection to those that are most vulnerable. It will assess the impact of Part 4 on the safety and well-being of persons engaged in sexual activity for payment and it will consider if further measures are needed to strengthen these protections. In addition, it will quantify the number of arrests and convictions in respect of offences under Part 4. The review is well under way and an online public consultation was open up to mid-September, which is very welcome. I understand that contributions were received from a broad range of organisations with different perspectives.
Regarding the second part of the Deputy’s question, I am informed by An Garda Síochána that since the commencement of the relevant legislative provisions on 27 March 2017 there have been 60 reported incidents of brothel keeping up to 15 October 2020. Of the 37 suspects associated with these incidents, 31 were female and six were male. To date, 20 have been charged or summoned in respect of these offences, 17 of whom are female and three are male. The work of my Department in this area will continue to be guided by our primary aim of protecting the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable women here.
The following deferred reply was received under Standing Order 51.
I am informed by An Garda Síochána that there have been 63 incidents since the commencement of the relevant legislative provisions on 27 March 2017 that had either a charge or summons where the wording of the charge-summons indicated an offence contrary to section 7 A of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, as inserted by section 25 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017. This information was collated following a word search of the narrative text on the charge-summons information contained on the PULSE system.
The charges-summons identified relate to 64 persons, 63 of which are unique with one person receiving charges for two separate incidents.