By Ann Marie Foley - 08 October, 2015
Ruhama has welcomed the passing through the first stage in the Seanad of a law which will criminalise sex buyers.
The charity, which helps those involved in prostitution, has also welcomed assurances that amendments at the next (committee) stage will strengthen protection for on-street sex workers.
“It went through the Seanad last night and it was passed without a vote,” Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, told CatholicIreland.net.
“We very warmly welcomed the fact that Minister Fitzgerald, who addressed the Seanad, indicated that she would be putting in an amendment at the committee stage to repeal the offence of soliciting and loitering for those involved in street prostitution.”
She added that Senator Ivana Bacik, who is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Justice Committee, told the Seanad that her committee had formally written to the Department of Justice requesting that this amendment be made to the legislation and there was cross party support for it.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said in a statement that “a historic moment” has been reached as the Seanad on Tuesday evening (6 October 2015).
“The decision of Senators to proceed with the Sexual Offences Bill again underlines the widespread political support for the targeting of demand for prostitution and sex trafficking with laws focusing on the buyers of sex,” said Brian Killoran Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council.
“We welcome the agreement to proceed swiftly to the next stage of the debate next week when other areas of the bill will be addressed – including the need to ensure that at no stage will women in prostitution be treated as criminals for the exploitation they have endured,” he said.
Brian Killoran added that there is broad acceptance across political parties about the links between organised crime and prostitution in Ireland and the need to put the gangs behind the trade out of business.
When the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 was first published during September 2015 Ruhama welcomed it as an important step forward in combating sexual exploitation within the sex trade.
But the charity was concerned that the spirit and intention of the law would not be fulfilled without also removing the offence for soliciting. Sarah Benson now feels the Minister will act to correct this.
At that time Ruhama pointed out that Northern Ireland had already implemented dual measures of criminalising the sex buyer, while repealing the soliciting offence for those selling sex.
At the time Sarah Benson said, “Ruhama has for years seen the terrible consequences that women have borne having been convicted of soliciting offences and treated as perpetrators rather than vulnerable persons in the eyes of the law.”
“It can create a complete barrier when women want to leave prostitution and rebuild their lives. The risk of a criminal charge can also act as an inhibitor to women in reporting crimes committed against them. We believe that nobody should be criminalised for their own exploitation.”
She pointed to a highly successful Garda initiative in Dublin 7, which she said showed how the proposed law could work in practice.
The Gardaí set up ‘Operation Kerb’ in 2011, which took a victim-centred, human rights approach to policing street-based prostitution.
Through this initiative they targeted the buyers but did not criminalise those selling sex on the streets, whom they acknowledged as vulnerable persons.
Instead, Gardaí offered those in prostitution assistance and referral to health, drugs and other support services.
The local community welcomed this initiative as an effective means of dealing with the public order elements of prostitution.
It resulted in a 0% recidivism rate by the buyers that were apprehended, and increased confidence in women to come forward and report crimes against them.