Independent Senators press Government on Prostitution Commitment

“Every day that passes there is a possibility of women and children being forced further into sexual exploitation in Ireland. We have to take action.”

– Senator Jillian van Turnhout

Tomorrow, Wednesday 18th April, the Seanad will debate a motion put forward by the Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees), on criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland to curb prostitution and trafficking.

This motion follows on from the Independent Group motion on the same topic which was debated in the Seanad on October 12th 2011. The result of that debate was a Government amendment stipulating that a public consultation process would take place in the following six months. No such consultation process has even begun.

The Independent Senators will call on the Government to uphold their commitment to engage in public consultation in order to decide whether legislation should be enacted along the lines of that already in place in Sweden and Norway to criminalise the purchase of sex.

The Senators will remind the Government that, as more than 1000 women are made available for paid sex on on any given day in the State, any further delay in consulting and drafting legislation means a perpetuation of ‘a modern form of slavery’ and an abuse of basic human rights.

Introducing the original motion, Senator Katherine Zappone said that “Our current laws are not working. Female enslavement in this country is alive and well and it is generating vast profits for those in control. There is an inescapable interweaving of trafficking with prostitution and this exploitation must be addressed. We need legislation that can interrupt this activity, which is an absolute infringement of human rights”.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout (Leader of the Independent Group in the Seanad) turned to the role of children in Ireland’s burgeoning sex trade. She argued that “the impact [of trafficking and sexual exploitation] is almost unimaginable for children.” Having detailed the harrowing experiences of children trafficked into Ireland and exploited for sex work, she pointed to documented cases of “eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to ‘break them in’ and then shipped off to various brothels around Ireland. This intolerable situation is my motivation for fully supporting the motion proposed by the Independent Group.”

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail spoke as a middle-class, middle-aged Irishman, making the point that he is one of the demographic which is perhaps most likely to purchase sex in Ireland. “It was not until I read about the Turn Off the Red Light campaign recently that I awoke from my own ignorance with regard to prostitution. Prostitution is not one of those things a liberal country should tolerate. We cannot turn a blind eye to it.

The Independent Group will call for the ‘considered public debate’ promised by the Government to take place by October 2012, and for a report to be produced for discussion of its findings by December of this year. The outcome will be to decide whether this Government should legislate to criminalise the purchase of sex outright in the State.

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