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No convictions secured against sex buyers since new laws introduced

Websites advertising sex remain operational.

Image: Shutterstock/Dmitri Ma

IN THE PAST year, there have been no convictions secured against sex buyers in Ireland despite new legislation being implemented in March 2017. 

It is understood that two cases have been sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, however. 

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 prosecutes a person who “pays, gives, offers or promises to pay or give a person (including a prostitute) money” or any other kind of remuneration to engage in sexual activity. Advertising sex work has been prohibited since 1994. 

Despite this, a number of sites openly advertise sex work and sex workers. Among them are eurogirlsescort.comlocanto.ie and Escort-Ireland.com. The latter provides users with over 800 “escorts, dominatrix, and massage providers to find your perfect type”. The site lists escorts from all over Ireland, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Kildare.

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Details of the services being advertised on the site

Escort-Ireland.com is owned by Lazarus Trading SL. The company is registered in Spain, which allows the website to operate legally as it is outside Ireland’s jurisdiction.

In 2015, Lazarus Trading SL had a turnover of over €6 million. 

Escort-Ireland.com’s busy traffic allows it to charge sex workers from €35 for a one-day “classic advert” to €700 a month for a “double ad”. Rates vary depending on how long an escort advertises for. 

Users rate the escorts out of five stars on the basis of satisfaction, photo accuracy, value for money, physical and overall appearance. 

One anonymous user reviewed an escort as “very pretty but had no English”. Another said he found the interaction to be “very mechanical and awkward”. 

Garda work

A garda spokesperson confirmed gardaí monitor the sites and have become aware of sex work operations through the websites forums, and on third-party sites such as Twitter. 

“Our job is to enforce the legislation. Although the sites are hosted outside the jurisdiction, they allow us monitor where operations are taking place.

“In cases where garda operations are carried out, a file is sent to the DPP and it is in their hands from that point on.” 

In Ruhama’s annual report for 2017, CEO Sarah Benson said they are disappointed the law has not been effective in securing prosecutions. 

“While Ruhama welcomes the increased efforts being made by some Garda units to support those in prostitution to safely report crimes against them, this is not enough. We need swift and decisive action from An Garda Síochána to effectively target both sex buyers and prostitution organisers,” she said. 

Ruth Breslin, also from Ruhama, is critical of Ireland’s online sex trade, saying it is a contributing factor to Ireland’s booming sex trade. Breslin believes that although it is now illegal to purchase sex in Ireland, “a business like escort-Ireland.com is making hefty profits from advertising exactly that”. 

“The gardaí have no power to tackle them because they are technically outside the this jurisdiction, even though all the ads are for women [and men] in Ireland,” she added.

Buyers still buying

Edward Keegan, from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says although the purchasing of sex is illegal, the risk of prosecution fails to act as a deterrent for buyers. 

To Keegan’s knowledge, only two cases have been sent to the DPP since the law was introduced. 

“When you look at the website most of the discussion in the forums is about implementation of the law and if it’s strict. There’s a need for further training of the gardaí and further resources need to be put in place,” he explains. 

Many experts believe it is naive to think Ireland can eradicate the use of sites like escort-ireland.ie

Genitourinary physician, Dr Derek Freedman, says he has seen no change in the number of people who visit him after using brothels or sex work services but believes there are benefits to Ireland’s ever-growing sex trade: 

“Some women work to send their child to one of the best schools in Dublin. For others, their partner has let them down and they want to keep hold of the family home.

“Sites such as escort-ireland.com is simply providing an avenue for sex workers and those looking to avail of their services.” 

Disagreement over laws

Defending the legislation, Labour party TD, Ivana Bacik said, “We spoke to a woman working in sex industry. When I asked her how many of her colleagues operate of their own free will, she said 20%. As legislators, we have to provide for the 80%.” 

Former HSE worker, Mia De Faoite, fell into prostitution after developing a heroin addiction in 2002, and says more needs to be done to eliminate the use of sex purchasing websites.

De Faoite exited the sex trade after six years following the help of a healthcare professional. De Faoite is now a survivor activist and law graduate. Speaking on the opposition to current law, De Faoite believes less than 10% of sex workers see sex work as a choice. 

“It’s not about them, it’s about the 80%. It’s about ‘Do I have a right to go online and find an 18-year-old Romanian woman, or girl to do whatever?’” 

“The 10% are a small minority of people. What’s their collateral? They get less buyers, and they make less money, and they fall into trouble with their finances. Guess what? They will have to find a new job.” 

The problem, says Dr Eilis Ward, NUI Galway’s School of Political Science and Sociology, is that the State has not put enough resources into researching the effectiveness of the legislation. 

Dr Ward questions how the State intends to review the law in five years time as the only research carried out on the current law is by independent groups that is “completely unreliable, biased and problematical”.

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Aoife Walsh

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