Leitrim County Council has become the first Local Authority to call for legislation to be introduced to criminalise the purchase of sex in Ireland.
At Monday’s council meeting Cllr Enda Stenson put forward a motion calling for the Government to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of Sex in Ireland, in order to curb prostitution and Trafficking for Sexual exploitation.
“The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery and a form of human rights abuse,” he said adding that he wanted the motion to be forwarded to other Local Authorities for consideration as well.
Cllr Sinead Guckian spoke up in support of the motion stressing that this was a “massively important issue”.
She noted a group of Senators had been fighting to get further debate on this matter and said a lot of work had already been put in place to support the call for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex.
“The legislation introduced in 2008 to target trafficking is not enough we need to criminalise the purchase if we are going to stop this,” she said.
Pointing out that similar moves to criminalise the purchase of sex in Sweden had seen a massive reduction in the number of people buying sex, she said that this had also led to a significant reduction in trafficking as well.
“The figures show that in Sweden the number of men buying sex dropped from one in eight to one in 40 after the purchase of sex was criminalised,” she observed. “We have to put pressure on the Government to act on this and act on this now.”
Cllr Gerry Reynolds agreed that trafficking should not be tolerated but he said that he wasn’t sure that banning prostitution would solve the problem.
He asked if there had been a reduction in trafficking found in countries where prostitution had been legalised and wondered if, by criminalising the purchase of prostitution, you would simply be pushing it underground.
“Maybe the Government should have a discussion on this or this matter should go before the Justice Committee so they can look at countries where prostitution has been legalised and see what impact this has had on trafficking,” he said.
Cllr Guckian however said that she felt criminalising was the way to reduce trafficking.
The major inroads made by the Gardai in finding and raiding brothels in recent weeks was highlighted by Cllr Enda McGloin who warned that it was important that people realise that this issue was already impacting on their local communities, even in rural areas such as Co Leitrim.
Cllr Martin Kenny agreed the issue had to be properly dealt with and arguing that there was a huge “duplication in moral standards” in Ireland where people were failing to speak up against trafficking, even when victims where being moved to locations within their own communities.
Councillors Mary Bohan, Siobhan McGloin and John Ward agreed describing trafficking as a “horrific crime” which “needs to be stamped out”.
The motion was passed by the Council and a similar motion will be sent forward to other Local Authorities in the hope that they too, will back the campaign to criminalise the purchase of sex.
Speaking to the Leitrim Observer following the meeting, Gerardine Rowley, Communications & Policy Manager with Ruhama, an NGO which works on a national level with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, said that she was delighted that the Council had supported the motion.
“We’d like to thank Independent Councillor Enda Stenson for putting this forward and we’d welcome the support from the Council in calling for the criminalisation of the purchase of sex,” she said.
“This is a major step forward. The sex trade thrives when the purchase of sex is normalised. Criminalising the purchase of sex is something we have been calling for for a long time.”
She said this legislation had already proven effective in countries such as Sweden, one of the few countries in Europe which has seen a decrease in both prostitution and trafficking in recent years.
She added that criminalising the purchase of sex also “sent out a message that this not socially acceptable.”
“In countries like the Netherlands and Germany who have legalised part of the sex trace there has been a huge increase in prostitution and trafficking. We believe that legalising prostitution is not the answer,” she said.
Ruhama is a core group member of the Turn Off The Red Light campaign. The aim of this campaign to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland. The campaign is being run by an alliance of civil society organisations, unions, non-governmental organisations and individuals..