Ireland can be world leader in making prostitution legally and culturally unacceptable

27 November 2020

Ireland can be a world leader in making prostitution legally and culturally unacceptable. That’s according to the global advocacy group SPACE International, which today (27.11.20) is hosting a webinar from Dublin entitled ‘Black Women Against the Sex Trade’. 

The webinar will feature survivors of prostitution from the USA, the Netherlands and South Africa, speaking about the disproportionate impact of prostitution on women of colour, and why they are seeking to replicate Irish-style legislation in their own countries.

Speaking in advance of the event, Irishwoman Rachel Moran, founder of SPACE International, said a ‘dual approach’ is needed to ensure prostitution becomes both legally and culturally unacceptable.

“Firstly, we need strong legislation to criminalise traffickers, pimps, and the organisers and advertisers of prostitution,” she said. “Secondly, we need to build understanding across society that prostitution is exploitative, harmful and violent. 

“In Ireland, the legal deterrent to purchasing sex was introduced in 2017 with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act. However, websites that act as online brothels, marketing women, still operate with impunity in this country. 

“Sinister attempts to water down the Act must be resisted by the legislature. An Garda Síochána must continue to prosecute the demand for prostitution that fuels the exploitative sex trade. And An Garda Síochána must also be properly resourced to carry out high-level investigations into those responsible for sexual exploitation. A report published by the Sexual Exploitation Research Programme at UCD last week – the most comprehensive study on prostitution in Ireland since the 2017 Act came into force – demonstrates the strong links between Ireland’s sex trade and organised criminal gangs.”

Awareness Campaigns 

Ms. Moran said education and awareness campaigns are also needed to highlight how women in the sex trade are exploited and abused. 

“As proven irrefutably by last week’s UCD study, men who buy sexual access have no concern for the welfare or true circumstances of the women and girls involved,” she said. “They are focused entirely on their own sexual gratification, often demanding risky acts, and complaining or becoming aggressive if their demands are not fulfilled. Even when women show clear signs of control, coercion and trafficking, buyers display indifference. 

“There is resounding evidence that the sex trade causes untold misery and harm to the women caught within it. Despite this, some people retain an almost romanticised view of prostitution. I can tell you from my lived experience, and from what I witnessed in the lives of many others, how harmful and damaging this is. We need to get the message across – to all sectors of society – that purchasing sexual access is illegal, and that women and girls trapped in the sex trade are being exploited and abused every day. 

“We need public awareness campaigns to enhance support for laws that criminalise the demand for economically-coerced sex, and we need education programmes for young people that demonstrate the lasting damage caused by prostitution and sexual exploitation. Men have a role to play in calling out unacceptable behaviour and attitudes amongst their peer groups. Parents have a role to play in talking to their children about sexual mutuality, abuse, and about how the sex trade – like the drugs trade – supports organised crime and profits by exploiting the most vulnerable.  

“Ireland took a strong stance on this issue by introducing the 2017 law to criminalise paid sexual access to human beings. Over the coming years, we can build on this strong start and become a world leader in making sexual exploitation legally and culturally unacceptable.”

Global Speakers

The speakers at today’s SPACE International webinar are: 

  • Mickey Meji from Cape Town, South Africa, a survivor of the sex trade, a leading human rights activist, and founder of Africa’s first prostitution survivor movement, the Survivor Empowerment and Support Programme. 
  • Marian Hatcher from Chicago, USA, a survivor of sex trafficking and domestic violence, who has worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for the past 13 years, where she is the Senior Project Manager for the Office of Public Policy, as well as the Human Trafficking Coordinator.
  • Roëlla Lieveld from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the founder and director of Share Network, an organisation that creates opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to thrive. 
  • Vednita Carter from St. Paul, USA, the founder of Breaking Free, a non-profit organisation that helps women escape sex trafficking and prostitution. 
  • Taina Bien-Aime,Executive Director of the New York-based Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

The event will be moderated by Salome Mbugua,founder of AkiDwA, the migrant women’s network in Ireland, and a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Speaking in advance of the event, Ms. Mbugua stated “This meeting creates a great opportunity to amplify the visibility of black women, who have a deep understanding of the sufferings and challenges that face women in prostitution. The abuse, exploitation and discrimination that these women face cannot continue to be ignored.

“Migrant and black women deserve decent jobs in order to live with dignity, and meet their needs and those of their families. AkiDwA recognises prostitution as a form of violence, where women are routinely violated and abused. This cannot be taken to be a job. We must all unite and work together to empower and facilitate women to reach their full potential and be treated with respect and as equals in society.”

Also speaking in advance of her participation in the event, Mickey Meji said those working worldwide to end sexual exploitation look to Ireland for inspiration. “International evidence demonstrates that the most effective way to reduce sexual exploitation is to address demand,” she said. “By criminalising the buyers of sex, Ireland has shown real commitment to reducing demand. 

“Using money or power to buy sexual access to and consent from vulnerable people is not acceptable. In short, paying for sexual consent is not cool. Strong laws that signal this are needed worldwide to protect vulnerable women and girls. In South Africa, my colleagues and I are campaigning for legislation to be introduced that is similar to that which exists in Ireland.”

Today’s SPACE International webinar is open for members of the public to attend, free of charge. Advance registration is required at:

  • "My body, mind, and spirit survived so many things for so many years. The sexual exploitation and violence I endured was almost like something that happened to someone else. If I had told myself the truth about what was being done to me, my psyche would have splintered into a million pieces."
    - Autumn Burris, Denver, USA
  • "When I look back now I see that prostitutuion lured and consumed those of us who were already marginalised in society. If you were poor, if you were disadvantaged, if you had come from a broken home or had vulnerabilities connected to prior cycles of abuse, especially sexual abuse, prostitution was there waiting for you. Prostitution is a trap, and it’s not a coincidence that all over the world it ensnares those who are already struggling to survive."
    - Rachel Moran, Dublin, Ireland
  • "What I know today is that women are victimised by the system of prostitution by innumerable perpetrators, and at the same time victimised by a society which is not only allowing but encouraging prostitution by accepting it as a 'job like any other'. We are victims of a society blind in one eye, advancing the wealth of a privileged few over the suffering of an incalculable number of women and children."
    - Marie Merklinger, Stuttgart, Germany
  • "At the tender age of fifteen I was coerced into the brutal world of prostitution, I immediately lost my identity. I liken my day to day life to being on the front lines of a battlefield. I spent the next eleven years shut down and disassociated. I supressed feelings of shame and disgust constantly, by telling myself that this was a job like any other."
    - Fiona Broadfoot, Bradford, UK
  • "When New Zealand passed full decriminalisation, things changed in unexpected ways and I came to understand that the myths of legal protection, autonomy, increased choice and greater community acceptance were unfounded.. The myth of health being better was proved false in less than 6 months of the law reform. Women were kissing and risking herpes, doing oral sex without condoms with the risk of throat warts, doing rougher and riskier practices just to get the jobs.. I dealt with punters changing expectations. I had no choice but to fight against this model ever spreading to another country."
    - Sabrinna Valisce, Melbourne, Australia
  • "For me, sexual abuse was a direct route into prostitution. The same kind of destructive abuse chosen by myself, because I knew this feeling and recognised myself in this situation, even though the situation traumatised me over and over again."
    - Tanja Rahm, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • "I was able to exit prostitution and rebuild my life, and with that my education became a tool. I was recognized for my tenacity and my strength and have been able now to be an asset to my community and to my people."
    - Bridget Perrier, Toronto, Canada
  • "Remembering friend’s I have lost along the way, and taking a glance at all the violence, rape and inhumane activities, I just can’t help but recognize my luck to alive today."
    - Mickey Meji, Cape Town, South Africa
  • "It might surprise you, but it can happen to anyone. No you’re not exempt. I wasn’t."
    - Marian Hatcher, Chicago, USA
  • "Many people ask me, how did I get into prostitution, was I “trafficked” or was I a willing participant? What many don’t understand is - however we entered - what the act of prostitution does to us; how it slowly strips us of any semblance of ourselves, as we try to sell part of our bodies, while keeping our soul intact. Prostitution preys on the most vulnerable; it takes us places we never intended to go, all driven by those who feel entitled to pay for our bodies. "
    - Cherie Jimenez, Boston, USA
  • "Just because dancing (stripping) is legal does not mean it’s not violence against women - Stripping and prostitution go hand in hand."
    - Vednita Carter, St Paul, USA
Read more testimonials
"At the tender age of fifteen I was coerced into the brutal world of prostitution, I immediately lost my identity. I liken my day to day life to being on the front lines of a battlefield. I spent the next eleven years shut down and disassociated. I supressed feelings of shame and disgust constantly, by telling myself that this was a job like any other."
- Fiona Broadfoot, Bradford, UK
Read more testimonials