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The purchase of sex was made a criminal offence in The legislation has gender equality as its founding principle; recognising that buying women and girls to perform sex acts is a form of exploitation and formally recognising that sexual consent cannot be purchased, because a power imbalance is immediately introduced. The equality model decriminalised those exploited in the sex trade and is designed to criminalise and target the criminal gangs, pimps and buyers.
Having first-hand lived experience of these people, I know their sole aim is profit, whatever the human cost. However, both logic and research tell us that disrupting demand reduces the trade in women and girls, including trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The vast majority are women and girls who end up in the sex trade due to structural inequalities and a lack of choice.
We also know that roughly nine in 10 of those sold and used in prostitution in Ireland are migrant women, the majority of whom have been coerced into the most dangerous and exposed conditions on the front line of the trade. There is a need to be vigilant and monitor its implementation to ensure the spirit of gender equality underpinning the law is realised. Those of us who campaigned for years to deliver new legislation did so to ensure that those exploited in the commercial sex trade would be protected, offered redress and provided with appropriate services and exit routes.
Access to non-judgmental information and practical supports for those who wish to exit prostitution is imperative. Some concerns have been raised about the reforms following the prosecution in June of two women working in prostitution for brothel-keeping. Critics have argued that the prosecution highlights the unworkable nature of laws criminalising the sex trade. No woman exploited in the sex industry should face prosecution simply for seeking safety with other women in a shared premises which in itself highlights the inherent dangers and violence associated with prostitution.
We need to continue to work with those enacting and implementing the legislation to ensure the exploiters are the target and those exploited are protected. The most recent data available from the Central Statistics Office shows a marked overall decline in criminal proceedings since Their legislation has been in place since , with slightly tighter regulations introduced in It fosters grooming of children and increases trafficking to meet the increasing demand. Research from other countries where the equality model has been introduced eg Sweden in , Norway in or France in has seen many positive outcomes for women in prostitution when that relationship is a trusted and positive one.