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Criminalise buyers of sex Ruhama urges

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 August, 2013

PrintRuhama, the organisation that supports women in prostitution, has urged the Government to introduce legislation that criminalises the buyers of sex and decriminalises those who are prostituted.

The call was made as a report in the Sunday Independent revealed that a gang of Romanian criminals is behind a prostitution racket in Limerick city.

Gerardine Rowley, Communications and Policy Manager of Ruhama, said Ireland had seen “a huge increase in migrant women in the sex trade over the last decade.”

She told CatholicIreland.net, “When one looks at the profile of these women, they are coming from poor countries where there is a lack of employment and educational opportunities for women. I think their vulnerability is quite obvious.”

“We see the same in Dublin where some of the women who are in street prostitution are drug users and some are homeless.”

The organisation has called on the Government to introduce legislation to criminalise the buying of sex, warning that it is the buyers who are “fuelling the trade”.

Referring to the publication of a series of recommendations in a Department of Justice Report on prostitution legislation at the end of June, she said Ruhama was now urging the Government to take action and move “beyond having a report and recommendations” and instead “act on those recommendations.”

The Government held a conference and a consultation process on the future direction of prostitution legislation in Ireland last year.

“The debate and consultation process was very comprehensive. It met with women in prostitution, those who were opposed to criminalising the buying of sex and those who were for it.”

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee also visited Sweden and saw first-hand the effects of bringing in a law that criminalises the buying of sex because Sweden has had this legislation since 1999 and have since carried out a ten-year evaluation.

“I think it is about realism and about being honest and challenging the complacency towards those who buy sex,” Gerardine Rowley said.

The situation in Limerick prompted rugby star, Jerry Flannery, who is a publican in the city, to publicly criticise prostitution and urge men to make more of a social effort rather than resort to buying sex.

Welcoming his comments, Gerardine Rowley told CatholicIreland.net, “If there are no buyers, then there are no women for sale on the streets or in brothels, no traffickers and no pimps.”

“I think it is important that the focus is on the buyers and that legislation now moves towards curbing the sex trade by criminalising the buyers, and making it socially unacceptable,” she said.

However, she disagreed with Jerry Flannery over his depiction of the men who buy sex as people who don’t have or can’t have sexual relations with other people.

“It is a commonly held view, but from our experience at the frontline with women in prostitution and from studies internationally, the majority of buyers seem to be married or have sexual relationships. So prostitution is not a service to people who can’t have sexual relationships, prostitution seems to be more about power than sex for the buyers.”

Warning that the time for “debating and discussing is over”, Ms Rowley added, “Now is the time for the Government to act on the recommendations on prostitution legislation which were published in June.”

“We are not saying it is going to get rid of prostitution, it is only one aspect of the legislation that needs to be enforced. During the consultation process, Ruhama put forward recommendations around the role of modern telecommunications in the organising of prostitution. There are other recommendations in the Government’s report that we would hope they would also bring forward.”

Referring to the fact that at this time of year many parents are considering their children’s future as they look at their CAO offers, Gerardine Rowley said, “There is no parent out there that is considering a career in the sex trade as a good option for their children.”

“We sometimes hear excuses made for the sex trade which claim that women make a lot of money, but most people, if they have children, are not sitting down with them and saying this is something I want for my daughter or son … “

As to the situation in Limerick, she said that from Ruhama’s knowledge of what is happening there, they are very concerned about the involvement of organised crime.

“The Gardai in Limerick, just like in some of the districts here in Dublin, did carry out targeted operations against the buyers of sex and we would hope that would continue. They prosecuted a number of men and those men’s names, when they went to court, were in the newspapers.”

“While we are not advocating a blanket name and shame – sometimes when people are caught for a crime, it can be a deterrent. We all know that when something is made a crime, be it the wearing of a seatbelt or drink driving, it does stop people and make people think twice.”

Ruhama is part of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign which has the backing of almost 70 organisations who want to see legislation that will criminalise the buying of sex and make it socially unacceptable.

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