LEGISLATION NEEDS to be introduced to deal with organised prostitution, much of which takes place in private settings where the purchase of sex is not an offence under existing Irish law, according to Ruhama, the organisation that offers support to those affected by prostitution.
A discussion document on the possibility of such legislation criminalising the purchase of sex will be issued by the end of the month, according to the Department of Justice.
Although it is an offence to solicit prostitution in a public place, it is not an offence to sell or purchase sex, except in the case where someone knowingly solicits a person who has been trafficked for the purpose of prostitution.
Gerardine Rowley, communications and policy manager with Ruhama, said legislation needed to be updated given that internet and mobile phone technology has revolutionised how prostitution is organised.
“Since the 1993 Sexual Offences Act we have seen the introduction of the internet. The modus operandi of criminals has changed very much, so we need legislation to address how pimps are organising prostitution,” she said, adding that off-street prostitution was now the most common form.
She said that, although the advertisement of prostitution is illegal, pimps get around this by using servers located in a foreign jurisdiction to bypass legislation.
The criminalisation of the purchase of sex would help cut off demand for what are “hugely lucrative” and “serious organised crimes of prostitution” while also serving to raise awareness.
“Legislation can be used to change attitudes and when you change attitudes you change behaviours,” Ms Rowley said.
However, Ruhama is against any legislation that further criminalises women involved in prostitution. “This is not an equal transaction. Most of these women are vulnerable and do not have the same power as those buying sex.”
In December last year 27 men appeared before Limerick District Court charged with soliciting prostitution services from undercover female gardaí. They were charged under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 which makes it an offence for a person “who in a street or public place” solicits a person for the purposes of prostitution. However, this does not cover the common situation where prostitution is arranged via mobile phones and email.
CSO figures show that between the start of 2010 and September 2011 gardaí recorded 276 offences relating to prostitution, including soliciting or loitering in a public place.
They recorded a further 111 offences relating to brothel-keeping and 15 relating to the organisation of prostitution.
A group including representatives of the Department of Justice and gardaí travelled to Sweden last September to meet officials and experts to examine 1999 Swedish legislation which provides that a person who obtains or attempts to obtain a casual sexual relation, in any place, in return for payment commits an offence.
A report on the visit was published by the department at which time Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said a consultation document would be prepared to inform future legislation in this area.