AN ANTI-trafficking officer in Limerick has expressed concern about the criminalisation of prostitutes, who she believes should be dealt with more humanely.
Patricia Stapleton, an anti-trafficking officer with Doras Luimni, which runs a street outreach programme in conjunction with the Red Ribbon Project to support women affected by prostitution in Limerick, believes the recent approach by the court is wrong.
At Limerick District Court last week, civil orders were issued against eight Eastern European women, alleged to be involved in prostitution, who breached behaviour warnings after they were requested not to congregate in the Catherine Street and Cecil Street areas of the city.
But Ms Stapleton argued that “the public order approach is a completely inappropriate way of dealing with prostitution. The women who are being exploited bear the brunt of the law, time and again. While it is not illegal to buy or sell sex in Ireland, all the associated activities are criminalised.
“Many of the women that we meet during outreach have been prosecuted for soliciting or loitering. We strongly believe that the exploitation of women should be approached from a human rights perspective, providing services and supports to assist the women involved.”
She said during their outreach sessions with the women they have observed “male controllers, handlers and pimps” who often prevent outreach workers from engaging with the women, some as young as 18 years of age.
“Many of them are very vulnerable, they are tend to be young migrants with little English, far away from their families and communities. We have witnessed the intimidation of these women by their controllers, making it blatantly obvious that they are not in control of their own lives.
As the ongoing issue of prostitution was highlighted again last week, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman, Niall Collins, said people who trivialise prostitution are “ignorant of the reality” that powerful criminal gangs are abusing and trafficking young women onto Irish streets.
Mr Collins said the only way to tackle prostitution was to copy a Swedish model and criminalise the purchase of sex. “In Sweden, prostitution has reportedly been reduced by 70% through legislation. The Government needs to act now.
The Oireachtas committee report has been finalised and I will be pressing for legislative action when the Dáil resumes after the summer recess,” he said. An anonymous person erected street signs on Catherine Street last week, reading ‘red light district’ to highlight the issue.