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Prostitution and The Law

On Friday, the Irish Times published a Letter to the Editor, which was in response to an article called “Former US president urges Ireland to criminalise the buyers of sex” (September 2nd).

It makes for an interesting read, so here's the full letter:

Sir, – 

The letter by Jimmy Carter to the Taoiseach and members of the Oireachtas urging the Government to criminalise the purchaser of sexual services but not the seller is an almost unprecedented intervention in the internal affairs of another country (“Former US president urges Ireland to criminalise the buyers of sex”, September 2nd). The letter says that Ireland should take a lead which would inspire others to follow.

It is highly significant that the letter was written at the prompting of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which has been relentless in driving the campaign. Mr Carter is known for his book on violence against women globally but hardly for his knowledge of prostitution in Ireland.

The intervention of Mr Carter, though well motivated, is ill judged. Ireland should be allowed to make decisions on its own laws without outside interference, which is all too common today.

The argument has been repeatedly made that trafficking for sexual purposes and prostitution are two separate things. This country has stringent laws on trafficking and the authorities have reported a decline in numbers of trafficked persons for all purposes from 2010 through to 2012. The further claim that the so-called Swedish model would “prove to be an extremely effective deterrent” is not supported by the evidence.

Indeed two Nordic countries have rejected the Swedish model after extensive investigation: Denmark in November 2012 and Finland earlier this year. According to the Danish report, “a criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services will most likely not have any actual effects on the reduction of prostitution in Denmark because a ban on the purchase of such services will be extremely difficult for the police to enforce”.

It says further “that the Swedish model may even have negative consequences for the women providing the services due to potential poorer financial conditions for these women and increased stigmatisation”.

Moreover the PSNI in a report to the Stormont Assembly questioned its value also: “Whilst there are many advocates of the Swedish model in the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services, there is conflicting information available. Recent PSNI experience and investigations in Sweden have highlighted concern that significant levels of trafficking and prostitution still exist despite the introduction of legislation to criminalise the purchase of sexual services”.

It states baldly, “The majority of prostitution within Northern Ireland is through independent prostitutes who are not trafficked or controlled by organised crime groups”.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee that produced the 2013 report can hardly be said to have been impartial – seven of its 15 members had declared in favour of the Swedish model at the outset of the hearings.

Ultimately this is a debate about freedom – the freedom of consenting adults to make decisions about their private lives, however unpalatable these decisions may be to ideologically driven groups such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland. 

– Yours, etc,

Co Kildare.


It certainly has some good points and the references make for an interesting read, however it seems likely that whatever information is available it's not going to be considered by those pushing for the legislation, who appear to have no real interest in a discussion or review of available data, which may indicate that this legislation is actually harmful to those it sets out to protect ....

Here's a letter from 20th May:

Sir, - 

As academics in Ireland who have been following national and international developments in relation to prostitution regulation, we note that one year has passed since the publication of the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality that unanimously supported the enactment of laws penalising the purchase of sexual services of another person by means of prostitution, or any request, agreement or attempt to do so. Despite the political consensus on the committee, no progress has been made to implement its recommendations. The report summarises an extended national consultation process, which involved the publication of a consultation paper by the Department of Justice and Equality, followed by a call for written submissions which attracted in excess of 800 responses, an international study visit, a conference and oral hearings at the joint committee.

Even though the committee concluded that it found "persuasive the evidence it has heard on the reduction of demand for prostitution in Sweden since the introduction of the ban on buying sex in 1999", no meaningful action has been taken to progress to the legislative stage. Contrary to the lack of political leadership on this issue in Ireland, other countries are acting decisively. The French National Assembly, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and an all-party committee of MPs in the UK have all supported targeting demand for prostitution to curb abuse, exploitation and trafficking. Canada, despite a controversial ruling providing a legal basis for prostitution establishments, has now engaged in a national consultation on this issue; some Canadian government ministers oppose a regularised sex "industry". We are calling on the Government and the new Minister for Justice and Equality to target reducing the demand for prostitution as a priority by implementing the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, and adopting the Nordic model. 

- Yours, etc,

Department of Sociology,
Trinity College Dublin;



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