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Column: Human trafficking and forced prostitution is continuing in Ireland

Forget the myths you’ve heard about ‘happy prostitutes’ – the reality is that adults and children are in a living hell right now after being trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation, writes Denis Charlton.

Denise Charlton

THIS YEAR’S EU Anti-Trafficking Day takes place as Ireland has an opportunity to take the lead internationally in curbing criminal gangs which are profiting from exploitation, abuse and violence.

Together with other organisations which make up the Turn Off the Red Light campaign we will be marking the day with calls for political leadership on this issue.

We are conscious that already a Government review of our prostitution laws is more than 15 months old, and it is four months since the Oireachtas Justice Committee unanimously backed the introduction of laws targeting the buyers of sex.

It is important to note that during those periods the criminals have continued their evil trade unabated.

Women and girls are being sexually exploited – that is the reality

We know from the Government’s own figures that 48 people were trafficked here in 2012, 23 were children, most were women and girls, and most were sexually exploited. That is the reality.

We also know that senior Gardaí testified before TDs and Senators in February about the links between organised crime and prostitution – and that criminal gangs, foreign and domestic are running the sex ‘trade’ in Ireland.

In addition, the survivors of prostitution bravely agreed to relive their stories before the Committee members and in an effort to increase awareness have also shared their experiences in the media.

The politicians who examined the issues found the testimony not only compelling but all agreed the best way to end these crimes is to target demand – or in other words the buyers of sex whose actions have brought organised crime to every county.

These are facts which those behind prostitution are trying to undermine with a campaign of misinformation.

Misinformation

On social media the crime of sex-trafficking is almost dismissed with claims it only exists on a small scale, or does not exist at all.

We are also being asked to believe that prostitution is work and should be treated like any other job. Pimps and traffickers are portrayed as model employers and as protectors of vulnerable women – the trade union movement, employers and the Gardaí all reject this myth.

In addition spurious health arguments are put forward, which again do not stand up to any scrutiny.

In the wake of this summer’s Oireachtas Recommendations the sex ‘trade’ is making every effort to re-open Ireland’s prostitution debate. Every trick in the book is being used with the sole purpose of muddying the waters and creating confusion.

Perhaps the mis-information and myths should come as no great surprise given that the criminals are estimated to be pocketing between €180m-€250m a year.

The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter is currently considering the recommendations and has confirmed that he is consulting the Attorney General as well as other cabinet colleagues.

At the Immigrant Council we have welcomed the interest the Minister has shown in this area, and we have been fully involved in the review of the law.

However, we are also mindful that the only people benefiting from the delays are the criminals.

Our opportunity to put pimps under pressure

Throughout the review we have been overwhelmed by the level of public support for sex buyer laws. The 68 organisations which make up the Turn Off the Red Light campaign have a combined membership of 1.6 million members.

In addition to our partners thousands of people acting as individuals have joined our email campaign to politicians through www.turnofftheredlight.ie/action

Fifteen local Councils have added their voices to the campaign and have passed motions of support. The past year has seen members of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin vote in favour of sex-buyer laws, echoing a motion already passed by the Labour Party.

We will be asking Fine Gael members to do the same at their Ard Fheis in the New Year.

Our opportunity to put the pimps under pressure has arrived. It is important now that our politicians seize it and set an example to other nations which are also examining their laws.

The Justice Committee has given us the blueprint now it is the time to act and together ensure that Ireland Turns Off the Red Light.

Denise Charlton is Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, one of the founding organisations of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign.

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Denise Charlton

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