By Susan Gately - 09 February, 2017
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill passed through the Dáil on Tuesday night (7 February 2017) and will be considered by the Seanad next week before becoming law.
The Bill includes a wide range of measures including: new criminal offences to protect children against grooming and from online predators; new and strengthened offences to tackle child pornography; harassment orders to protect victims of convicted sex offenders; new provisions to be introduced regarding evidence by victims, particularly children; new offences addressing public indecency; maintaining the age of consent to sexual activity at 17 years of age and providing new rules for sexual consent as well as a new “proximity of age” defence; criminalising the purchase of sexual services.
Welcoming the passage of the bill, Sarah Benson from Ruhama said the it was a long time coming. “We and other members of the ‘Turn off the Red Light’ campaign have been working for it since 2010.”
According to Ms Benson, criminalising the purchase of sex deters men from the “exploitative act” of buying sex. It has a “normative effect”, she told CatholicIreland, where “it is no longer acceptable for any human being to buy access to another.”
It is very clear that attempts in other jurisdictions to regulate or legalise the sex trade led to a “massive expansion” of the trade with “more vulnerable women and girls exploited in prostitution in jurisdictions which try to normalise the sex trade.”
In Ireland most of the sex trade, valued at around €200 million per year, is controlled by ‘third parties’ – “organised crime gangs, opportunistic pimps and others and they are the ones who are drawing women into the sex trade, and targeting vulnerability. So if you target their market and the demand for sex for sale, it is envisaged that you will reduce the numbers, vulnerable to entering prostitution, from going in,” she said.
“At least 50 per cent of what they (the women) get goes to the pimp,” said Ms Benson. “If he is running five women, each one of them will get maybe half of what they earn and then they’ll be charged rent as well.” Most of those working in the sex trade in Ireland are women, with a small number of transgender women and a “handful” of men.
Ruhama, an NGO working with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, puts the number of people working in prostitution at around 1,000 – a figure that has remained stable in recent years, although they have seen a change in the makeup of the numbers, with a greater number now coming from Eastern Europe.
The new act also deals with the issue of sexual consent. When passed, it will clearly state that a person is incapable of consenting to a sexual act when they are sleeping, unconscious as a result of intoxication, or unable to communicate because of a physical disability. The law will also mean consent cannot be offered through a third party.
Denise Charlton, Chair of Turn Off the Red Light, says the bill shifts “attention to the perpetrators of sexual crime, and those who enable abuse and exploitation to continue.
“The sex trade is Ireland is worth €250 million to pimps and traffickers annually, and the Irish Government is making a clear statement that we will stand together with those being exploited to stop this exploitation. Targeting buyers means we can reduce the demand for women and children to be coerced into selling sexual services.”
The 70+ partners of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign have called on the members of Seanad Éireann to give the bill their full support. “Every day that this legislation is delayed puts women, children and men at risk of further abuse, and puts thousands of euros into the pockets of pimps, thugs and traffickers,” said Denise Charlton.