Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Motion

Posted on April 18, 2012

Human Trafficking and Prostitution: Motion

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the Minister to the House and am glad of the opportunity to renew this debate. We had a full debate on this issue six months ago. I commend Senators Zappone, Mac Conghail and van Turnhout, as well as the other Independent Senators, for bringing the debate to the floor of the House again. They have kept everyone on their toes as regards timing and have also kept this issue at the forefront of our minds.

I was here in this House for the entirety of the previous debate when the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, gave a commitment that there would be a public consultation process. Like all Members, I regret that there has been a lack of progress or apparent progress in the past six months although we have had a good deal of public debate on this issue, given the excellent documentaries to which other speakers have referred.

The information available to us has probably increased in the interim. Senator Zappone set out very clearly the facts and figures around prostitution and trafficking in Ireland and Senator van Turnhout very helpfully and eloquently provided us with some of the very human stories behind the facts and figures.

Given that we are where we are, to use that cliché, and that the document on public consultation has not been published, there is now very little between the Independent Senators' motion and the Government counter motion. I thank the Minister for very helpfully setting out a clear timeline for public consultation and for assuring us that a discussion document on which the public consultation will be based will be published before the end of May. It is very helpful that a conference will be held in the autumn at which interested parties, stakeholders and others can discuss and debate the arguments and the issues entailed in legislating around prostitution and trafficking. I suggest there is a useful model in the conference which the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, held in January in Dublin Castle, on the issue of gender quotas prior to the debate in both Houses on the gender quota Bill, the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill. That conference crystallised the issues for everyone and a conference on this subject could do the same and I suggest it be held in Dublin Castle. It is generally accepted that the end of December is a very reasonable time to have a report published. If the time slips a little, I think we will all accept that. As the Labour Party justice spokesperson I accept a significant amount of legislative work is ongoing in the Department of Justice and Equality even though the Department has had other work to deal with in the past six months.

The Dignity report published by the Department the week after our debate on 17 October 2011 referred to certain practical difficulties associated with adapting a model from Swedish legislation for use in Ireland. In our previous debates we discussed these issues to do with the constitutional framework for criminal justice in Ireland. However, these difficulties can be overcome and this is an aspect which would need to be examined.

We are all in agreement that the current model of legislation needs to be reviewed. There are difficulties associated with it and in the past I been involved in defence cases under that legislation and I know how difficult it is to prosecute and to obtain prosecutions under it. I have also looked at the evaluations of the Swedish legislation and they seem to be very clear that street prostitution has halved in Sweden, and that in eight out of ten prosecutions the purchaser admits the offence. The Minister referred to this statistic. However, it is also clear from the Swedish experience that the legislation alone has not been responsible for the apparent reduction in demand. Reports on the Swedish law find that considerable work was also carried out separate from the legislative work. For example, alongside the legislative model, social services were operating KAST groups involving purchasers of sexual services in order to motivate potential and active sex purchasers to change their behaviour. This demand reduction strategy has to be undertaken in conjunction with any legislation.

I acknowledge and commend the Turn off the Red Light campaign which has been able to mobilise a great deal of support for the Swedish legislative model and which has put the arguments into an Irish context. This campaign has also undertaken a good deal of legal research. The Labour Party was one of the groups which signed up to the Turn off the Red Light campaign. I also acknowledge the work of many NGOs, notably Ruhama, which have done a great deal to support those women, men, boys and children engaged in prostitution.

The Minister referred to the United Nations report on HIV which I have read with great interest and which was issued subsequent to our debate. It is an interesting report which refers throughout to sex work so it takes a very different position to the position adopted in the Swedish legislation. Some of the issues it raises are of particular interest with regard to health strategies and HIV prevention but in my view it comes from a particular position on prostitution law.

We are all agreed in this House on the need to ensure our legislation is robust and effective in tackling prostitution and trafficking. We need to look again at how our legislation is framed. The Swedish approach offers us a different framework and model which appears to have been highly effective in Sweden. It has been adapted for use elsewhere and we should consider its use here. I welcome what the Minister said about a timeline for public consultation and consideration of the legislation. I hope we can move forward in a spirit of compromise and in a constructive manner as is the tradition in this House and since we are all in agreement on how to address this issue.

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