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Opinion: Buying a woman’s body for sexual gratification is not a harmless act

It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the sex industry as it stands – far too little is done to protect the vulnerable.

Alan Farrell

BUYING A WOMAN’S body for sexual gratification is not OK. It’s not harmless and it shouldn’t be acceptable in our modern society.

It is estimated that the prostitution industry is worth €180 million a year in Ireland. All of it illegal, all of it generated by illicit means.

In November 2014, the Government published the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill strengthening the laws on prostitution which will, for the first time, make it a criminal offence to pay for sex. This change will reduce the demand for sexual services in Ireland and is a first step toward ensuring the growing problem of human sex trafficking is tackled by this State.

In my opinion, it is simply unacceptable that a man or a woman would purchase a person’s body for sexual gratification and that he or she would be the one risking criminal conviction. It is the person who pays for the services of prostitutes that is ensuring the survival of this industry and by addressing this demand, we are protecting those forced to work in this world of fear and exploitation.

While human sex trafficking is of major concern to me, without addressing the reason for which this takes place, we will be unable to adequately tackle the core issue of the requirement for sex workers to be trafficked here in the first place. As we speak, young girls, no older than Junior Certificate students, are forced to work in the shadows of this industry to satisfy the sexual demands of others. This must end.

There are some who object to legislation that would criminalise the payment for sex on the grounds that it ‘will signify the re-involvement of the State in the private sexual lives of adult citizens’. What is more important; that we protect vulnerable women and men, many of whom have been trafficked into this this country for the sole purpose of entering the sex industry, or that we continue to protect those who take advantage of their vulnerability? I know where I stand.

The reality is that many women and a small number of men have been trafficked into Ireland and forced to work in the sex industry. A number of months ago, RTE Primetime aired a shocking exposé investigating the underbelly of this industry. Having viewed this programme and having been recently appointed to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence Equality at that time, it became increasingly obvious to me that steps had to be taken to eradicate this scourge in our society.

During the extensive Oireachtas Committee hearings into this matter, chaired by David Stanton TD, I spoke with sex industry workers, trafficked women, An Garda Síochána and several advocacy groups who all spoke of the abuse suffered predominantly by vulnerable women who have been coerced into this life.

There is no doubt that prostitution is closely linked to the criminal underworld of drugs and violence. There is a definite criminal element to the provision of sexual services in this country and knowing that young, vulnerable women have been forced into this life, I believe that it is vital that those who purchase sex are held to account.

I know that this legislation, when passed, will not bring an end to prostitution. There will still be people who will pay for sex, regardless of the threat of prosecution. But there are some who will not want to face their family, friends and acquaintances following their arrest for purchasing sex. It is my hope that, by removing this spontaneous user from the industry, we will significantly reduce the size of the industry and strike a blow to the heart of the criminal underworld who exploit and control so many young women for their own gain.

If passed, Ireland will be joining other countries, such as Sweden, by making it an offence to purchase sexual services. There will also be a more serious offence for buying sexual services from a trafficked person. In both instances, the people selling the sexual service will not be subject to prosecution. Sweden has adopted this law following years of research into international best practice and is a shining example of the furtherance of progressive policies for the betterment of society.

As a public representative, I see many situations where change is necessary but barriers exist. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the sex industry as it stands and the implementation of this legislation will, I hope, enact a change in social attitudes which, in my view, can only be seen as progress.

Alan Farrell is a Fine Gael TD from Dublin Fingal and serves as Chairperson of the Party’s internal Committee on Justice, Defence & Equality as well as being a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence & Equality.

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Alan Farrell

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