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March 2017 Leading Experts on Sex Work and Human Trafficking Criticise Ireland’s New Sex Purchase Ban Legislation
The new Irish law to criminalise the purchase of sex is unworkable according to experts on sex work and human trafficking from NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin. A new book published by the two academics, Dr Eilís Ward, NUI Galway and Dr Gillian Wylie, TCD, analyse Ireland’s newly adopted policy.
They draw a parallel with Sweden which introduced a similar law in 1999, and was the focus of a major campaign in Ireland over the past decade, ‘Turn off the Red Light’. In both the case of Ireland and Sweden, they contend that the legislation is based on the belief that prostitution is a form of violence against women and is caused by male demand.
“It is clear that Irish parliamentarians already knew what they wanted: a sex purchase ban. No serious efforts were made to consider an alternative model such as that currently in New Zealand. Here, the act of buying or selling of sex itself is not subject to the law but all activities surrounding it are, such as criminal activities or violence. It holds out the promise of an approach that, at least does not create more problems especially for the most vulnerable women in the sex trade,” said Dr Ward.
“The complex realities of sex workers' lives and views were not being recognised in the Irish debate, nor were the many international studies that show the negative impact of sex purchase bans on those who sell sex,” said Dr Wylie of the Irish School of Ecumenics.
The academics claim that it is a very complex area of law and human activity and that the sex purchase ban is a crude instrument that does not work very well. Prostitution continues in Sweden as does sex trafficking.
They suggest that to end exploitation of sex workers an approach which ensures the rights of all workers and provides safe and legal migration routes will be far more effective in the long run than banning the buying of sex.
The book ‘Feminism, Prostitution and the State; Politics of Neo-Abolitionism’ is being launched in Trinity College on Thursday, 9 March by Alan Shatter, former Minister for Justice who queried several aspects of the report produced in favour of a sex purchase ban by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice Defence and Equality arising from the original consultation.
In addition, a second book on the international politics of trafficking, written by Dr Wylie, will also be launched by the former Minister at the event.
“By looking at the comparison of all these countries we can see that there are drivers for abolitionism coming from feminists, religious groups and fears about sex trafficking but we also see the consequences of these policies in allying feminism with policing approaches to social problems and government strategies designed to keep migrant women out”, said Dr Wylie. “Sex purchase bans have been shown to impact more harshly on migrant women in sex industries, particularly undocumented migrants who lack strong networks of social support.”
This connection between anti-trafficking activism and increased border control is a central theme in this second book being launched. In ‘The International Politics of Human Trafficking’ Dr Wylie traces the different feminist voices that have made human trafficking a big political issue in the 21st century, but she also argues that worryingly governments are now using anti-trafficking language to justify blocking refugees and migrants from Europe. “Governments everywhere are using the rhetoric of combatting human trafficking to deprive people of their rights to move and seek refuge,” says Dr Wyllie.