LEITRIM COUNTY COUNCIL has become the first local authority to propose legislation on criminalising payment for prostitution.
The council unanimously passed the motion put forward by independent Cllr Enda Stenson, calling for the Government to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland, in order to curb prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
As it stands, it is an offence to solicit prostitution in a public place, but not to sell or purchase sex, except where someone knowingly solicits a person who has been trafficked for the purpose of prostitution.
According to councillors, criminalising prostitution would reflect current legislation in Scandanavia, which has had a major impact on the sex trade.
“The figures show that the number of men buying sex in Sweden dropped from one in eight to one in 40,” Cllr Sinead Guckian, who voted in favour of the motion, told TheJournal.ie.
She said councillors felt forced to act because the government had failed to fulfill a commitment to commence a public consultation process on legislation regarding prostitution.
In October, the Seanad secured a commitment from the government to publish before the end of May 2012 clearly defined Terms of Reference for the consultation process to consider criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland.
It has yet to do so.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, an NGO that works with women affected by prostitution, said that it was critical that the legislation is passed as soon as possible.
“Criminalising the purchase of sex will have an immididate impact, sending out a clear message that you cannot buy sex and access to someone else’s body.”
The ‘Turn Off the Red Light’ campaign that it and 52 other NGOs have organised is calling for the focus to shift on the sex buyer and away from prostitutes themselves.
Doing so will free up the Garda, who can target their limited resources towards traffickers and the organisers and away from the vulnerable people caught up in the trade.