Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Friday, 3 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] I am not sure if it is making any films here - it may simply be benefiting from the tax haven just as other companies in the IFSC do. Of course, it was ably assisted by Arthur Cox in setting up there. It is a bit rich to be talking out of two sides of one's mouth.

Sex trafficking and violence against women are reprehensible and criminal activities. There is already legislation dealing with both these activities on the Statute Book. The issue is the Garda is unable to deal with it successfully. The Bill does not deal with sex trafficking and violence against women. It is simply based on the premise that by criminalising people who purchase sexual services and making it an offence, the demand will fall off and the problem will be solved. That is the basis of the proposition. That is what we need to consider. The Bill does not deal with organised crime, sex trafficking or violence against women. It simply proposes that demand can be restricted by criminalising the purchase of sex. I do not believe that is the case or that there is evidence to support that claim.

Before looking at the big picture, I want to touch briefly on some of the details of the Bill. It is designed to be a deterrent and put people off purchasing sex, but it contains certain very dodgy provisions. I believe a four-week jail sentence is not realistic. We are moving away from short-term prison sentences and it is not something to be encouraged, as it does not fit in with overall policies.

I have a real problem with a fixed-payment notice for obvious reasons, given the recent controversy over the power of gardaí in issuing fixed-charge notices for speeding offences and the allegations about those charges being written off because of political interference or whatever. The Bill proposes that if a garda has reasonable grounds to believe that somebody purchased a sexual favour, he or she can slap a fixed-charge notice on a person, who can either pay €500 or go to court to clear his name. Who will go to court to clear his name when he is putting himself in the spotlight? It gives gardaí enormous powers and in the context of questions that have been raised over the accountability of An Garda Síochána, I would have grave concerns about that provision.

I do not want to dwell on the specifics and will, as other Deputies did, deal with the overall issue of how we, as a society, can best deal with exploitation and prostitution. Those who support the method proposed by Deputy Pringle claim that because it has worked in Sweden it is the only and best way to address it. I do not agree for the reasons articulated by other Deputies. There is no evidence to support that view. It has been revealed that there are substantial problems with the quality of the evidence produced there. The Swedish Government has admitted it had no statistics in the first place. It is not possible to claim the activity has been halved if it did not know its starting point. Sweden is incredibly different from Ireland. It has a wealth of social supports, health care, welfare, education and gender equality.

There is considerable talk about concentrating resources on the exit programmes to allow women to leave prostitution and so on. However, that is not included in our Bill either. The debate is very much pitched in a men-versus-women context when obviously prostitution also involves the exploitation of many men. I do not believe the assertion that it will not be driven underground because for prostitution to survive the client has to be able to find the prostitute; therefore if the client can find them so can the police; so if the client thinks he is going to be criminalised he will not go because the police will catch him. That does not make any logical sense. The conclusion is that people would not bother going. The same situation applies to the criminalisation of drugs. In order to sell drugs, people need to find a seller. It is a criminal activity, but people can still find someone from whom to purchase drugs. Criminalising the activity does not stop it taking place and all evidence backs that view.

It is important to look at the bigger picture. A major aspect of prostitution is linked to the economic position of women in society and exploitation in that regard. In many ways I have a similar view to that of George Bernard Shaw, the great socialist and writer, whose play Mrs. Warren's Profession about a prostitute is running in a Dublin theatre at the moment. That play was written in 1894 to draw attention to the truth that "prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together." He had a wish to improve the position of women in society. He wrote about the sexual oppression of married women and was in favour of unmarried women having sexual experiences, having children, being supported in going to work etc. We need to consider the issue holistically. We need to consider the circumstances that drive people into prostitution.

I do not believe most people would like to be prostitutes. If they had a viable alternative they would go with that alternative. I accept that and they are the conditions because all labour is exploitation under capitalism in my opinion.

There are examples where it is not a non-voluntary activity. I can give a few examples. There was a recent film about sex surrogates where women were paid to have sex with people who had disabilities. There are many instances where people are grappling with their own sexuality - perhaps men who are afraid to come out. They may engage in a co-operative physical act for which they pay another male. There is no violence in that and it is a way for them to release a physical need in a co-operative basis for which the person gets paid. I know of people who are in heterosexual marriages where the sexual activity has finished and the male has gone to prostitutes because there is a physical need. Moneys are paid, but there is no violence or degradation involved.

This is a complex issue involving interconnected social relationships and we need to look at it in a much more holistic way than is proposed in the Bill. It is good that we are discussing it. I want to discuss these issues. I believe the industry should be regulated and controlled to reduce harm. Critically people should be given the economic sovereignty to prevent them going down that road. The Garda is adequately resourced to deal with the issue where it occurs.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett In the end I will disagree with the central proposal of Deputy Pringle's Bill. However, I commend him on raising the issue and allowing for discussion on it because it is the most serious of issues and needs to be debated. We need to do everything we can to reduce the pressure on young women and young men to go into prostitution where they are forced to sell their bodies and sexuality for money. It is abhorrent that people might be forced - in most cases are forced - into that situation. Obviously, given that this happens we need to do our utmost to ensure that people who are forced into that position have the safest possible conditions available to them and have as much protection as possible given the nature of what they are doing and the association with violence, criminality and the horrors of trafficking.

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