Earlier today, I spoke in the Seanad on the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011, as follows:
I welcome the Minister. Like other speakers, I welcome the proposed changes concerning the provision of legal advice for victims of human trafficking but agree the provisions do not go nearly far enough. We will be giving legal advice to victims but will not be providing them with legal representation in court. As Senators Jillian van Turnhout and Ivana Bacik pointed out, the legislation will not protect victims in the sex industry who fall outside the very narrow definition of trafficking.
When considering trafficking, it is not good enough to consider the crime on its own; we need to consider why it happens. The reality is that women and many children are generally trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Ruhama and the Stop the Red Light coalition published figures showing the sex industry in Ireland was worth 180 million Euro. This is a shocking figure. When talking about trafficking, therefore, we need to recognise it happens only to serve the prostitution industry. It is driven by the demand for prostitution and our shameful failure in this state to recognise prostitution for what it is, namely, the most extreme form of violence against women and children, and also our failure to punish the perpetrators.
As Ruhama documented in various reports, the reality is that a woman rarely chooses to be a prostitute. Rather, prostitution is seen as a survival strategy. International research highlights that the majority of women involved in prostitution were victims of sex abuse in childhood. Typically, prostitutes are poverty stricken and many are addicted to drugs or homeless. The unfortunate reality is that a large proportion of those who enter prostitution do so in their youth or mid-teens. The figures clearly belie the fact that it is choice. By contrast with these circumstances, men who buy the services of prostitutes obviously have the money to do so and also have power in the transaction. We need to see prostitution for what it is.
Our laws on prostitution are totally out of place, increasingly so in an international context. The buying and selling of sex are still not considered crimes. Soliciting is the only crime and it applies equally to the buyer and the seller. Instead of seeing women as victims, we criminalise them for soliciting and stigmatise them. By doing so, we make it harder for them to report abuse. We also make it harder for them to access health and social services and leave the very industry we claim to be opposed to, especially if they have a criminal record that they must declare if applying for a job.
I agree strongly with Senator Mullen on the need for Ireland to adopt the Nordic approach. We need to become serious about tackling prostitution and criminalise the purchaser with tough penalties. We need to recognise that the women and children involved in prostitution are victims; we should not criminalise them. We should enact spent convictions legislation for women convicted of soliciting to give them a genuine choice to have a new future.
As the Minister will be aware, as long ago as 1999, Sweden changed its law in order that it would no longer be illegal to be a prostitute but rather illegal to exploit a prostitute. This has had the very clear effect, documented in numerous studies, of reducing demand very quickly. It made prostitution unacceptable to Swedish society. Figures show that, within a few years of the enactment of the legislation, 60% of women left the industry. We should adopt this model.
We need to increase the penalties for organising prostitution. While we have penalties, they are very small and clearly not working. I hope the Minister will examine this.
We should consider measures to address the role of technology in organising and advertising prostitution. A key aspect of the Swedish approach is that not only did Sweden change its law, it also provided a network of support for the women involved in prostitution and specific initiatives to help them to exit the industry and enter a new life. I hope the Minister will consider this.
If we are genuinely committed to equality in Irish society, we must reject the idea that women and children are commodities that can be bought and sold. We must send a clear message to everybody that the paid abuse of women is a practice we will not tolerate as a society. We should enact legislation in that regard now.
I hope the Minister will take account of the fact that there are ten aspects to this Bill. While it is an omnibus of Bills, there is one aspect on which several Senators focused, namely, the exploitation of women not just through trafficking but also through prostitution. Perhaps the Minister might take a signal from this that the subject is an issue of concern to the House.
There is a growing coalition outside the House that wishes to tackle this issue. The Minister will be aware of the Stop the Red Light campaign. At its conference in April the Irish Medical Organisation passed a motion stating the use of prostitutes should be made illegal. A growing number of Members of all parties want to see real change in this regard.
I hope the Minister will return on another day for a debate on trafficking and prostitution which comprise only one aspect of the Bill. I hope legislation will be introduced that will bring about real change. I welcome and support the changes being made to the domestic violence legislation and the provisions to improve the enforcement of maintenance orders.