The independent Senators have a motion for debate next week to criminalise the purchase of sex, and it’s a Dodgy Stat-lover’s dream. Let’s take it one (loaded) bullet point at a time:
That Seanad Éireann:
• Recognises that the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is a modern form of slavery and a form of human rights abuse.
Hard to argue with that – though it’s not really that modern, nor are only women and girls affected.
• Notes that the Irish sex industry – which is worth €250 million a year (CAB, January 2011) – is very damaging for the girls and women involved in prostitution.
I can’t trace the source of this statistic. The most recent CAB document available seems to be its 2009 annual report, which says nothing about the value of the Irish sex industry. I note, however, that €250 million seems to be a popular estimate: Googling “Criminal Assets Bureau” “€250 million” I find that precise figure linked to the the private security industry, the Moriarty Tribunal, the IRA and even to CAB itself. Amazing, isn’t it, that such a wide diversity of matters can give rise to the exact same nine-figure estimate?
• Notes that internet audits consistently show that more than 1000 women are made available for paid sex on a daily basis all over Ireland and up to 97% of them are migrant women. (Kelleher 2009)
The cite here is to a report I have in front of me titled Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution which was published by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama, the two organisations leading the Turn Off the Red Light campaign (aimed at criminalising sex-purchase in Ireland). It’s a confusing mishmash of the actual statistics in that report, though those statistics are questionable enough anyway. The report alleges a “minimum of 800 women advertised on the internet in indoor prostitution in Ireland at any one time” (page 109), revealed by “internet searches of websites” (page 84) – but on the only website discussed in the report, Escort Ireland, they found between 387-468 women advertising at any one time (page 85). What other websites did they use? How do they know it wasn’t the same women advertising (for that matter, how do they know the same women weren’t placing multiple ads on Escort Ireland?). There is simply no explanation given for how “387-468” becomes “800” – and there is certainly no justification for the Seanad motion’s reference to consistent internet audits.
The 1,000 figure cited in the motion does appear in the report, on page 33, although it relates to “women in indoor prostitution” (not all women in the sex industry, and not only those who advertise online). Nothing in the report explains how they arrived at this figure. Page 15 cites its sources of information on indoor prostitution as the internet audit, “interviews with specialist frontline service providers” and “interviews with 12 women in prostitution”, so perhaps the extra 200 came out of these discussions, but without proper citing of that figure it’s impossible for the reader to know.
Finally, the claim that “up to 97% of them are migrant women” also comes from the chapter on indoor prostitution. It is not, as the Seanad motion claims, the figure for the sex industry generally. (Street-based sex workers are believed by both sides of this debate to be primarily Irish, as reflected on page 13 of the report.) And where did the 97% figure come from? According to page 86, that’s the percentage of women who advertised on Escort Ireland as non-Irish. On page 23 they allow that the percentage of Irish women over all forms of indoor prostitution could be up to 13%; presumably this is also derived from those non-EI internet searches and conversations with sex workers and service providers, but I can’t find any other explanation for that figure in the report.
Incidentally, I’m not disputing that there are at least 1,000 women selling sex in Ireland at any one time. In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was higher. But that’s just my own guesswork – I’m not trying to pass it off as research data. If I was going to do proper research into the numbers involved in the sex industry (all grant offers considered!), you can bet I would be a bit more careful about my evidence than the drafters of this motion were.
I also don’t take issue with the claim that most sex workers in Ireland are migrants. Turn Off the Blue Light accepts this to be the case, and they’re better placed to know than I am. But it is nonsense to cite specific figures, even within a ten-point range. The sex trade is simply far too complex and hidden to throw out numbers based on data from one internet site and conversations with a few people associated with the industry.
On a final point about this report, I note that page 86 urges caution with the fact that 41.9% of Escort Ireland advertisers are listed as “EU 15 states” (and therefore, presumably, very unlikely to have been trafficked). It notes the possibility that they may actually be from further afield but think “women from Europe have more appeal to men who buy sex”. Meanwhile, on page 23, it refers to the “growing demand for migrant women” in the industry. Nowhere does it put two and two together and consider the possibility that some of those advertising as foreign nationals on Escort Ireland may really be Irish women hoping to profit from a desire for the exotic.
• There is clear evidence of children who have been trafficked in Ireland specifically for the purpose of prostitution. (Kelleher 2009; AHTU annual report 2010)
The cites here are from police and NGO projects in which children have been specifically identified as victims of trafficking for prostitution. The criteria for identification may sometimes be questionable, but this statement is expressed in general enough terms that I don’t think there’s really any reason to dispute it. But buying sex from children is already illegal; I don’t know why it’s deemed relevant in a motion calling for criminalisation of those who buy sex from adults.
• Notes evidence from Sweden and Norway which shows that criminal sanctions for the purchase of sex are a proven a deterrent to prostitution and consequently to trafficking and also to organised crime. (Mc Leod et al. 2008) (Claude 2010).
The only thing I can find that looks like it might be “Mc Leod 2008” is this piece which is titled “Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution in Scotland”. Great referencing, there. That report cites from such reliable data as a police officer asserting that Sweden has less prostitution than its neighbouring countries (something that was claimed to be the case long before the sex-purchase ban was brought in), and another report which cites data from the first two years after the law was brought in. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this blog, however, more recent data make those claims impossible to substantiate.
“Claude 2010” is this document, and the sole statistic it cites (page 11) in support of the claims made in the motion is a decrease in the number of Swedish men who admit to buying sex, in polls taken in 1996 and 2008 – that is, before and after it was criminalised. Does anybody really believe this is a reliable way to measure it?
Interestingly, the same report also admits (page 14) that “the problems related to prostitution and human trafficking still remain significant” in Sweden, and quotes a policeman to the effect that street sex workers are regularly raped and do not report it (page 15). On the latter page another Swedish policeman states that “Sometimes the work seems hopeless, as there is a constant stream of new women ending up as prostitutes in deplorable situations…I also believe that, sooner or later, what we do for the girls on the street will produce results.” (emphasis added). Isn’t that a tacit admission that what they’re doing isn’t producing results now? I’m actually rather stunned that this report is cited as if it supports the motion.
Finally, contrary to the motion’s implication, neither the MacLeod nor the Clarke report say anything about how the law has worked – or not – in Norway.
• Further notes that International Conventions repeatedly call for efficient measures to deter demand for prostitution, which is recognised as an efficient approach to reduce sex trafficking (Article 6, Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2005; Article 9(5), UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish the Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children 2000)
The actual terminology used in these treaties is that states shall “discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking”. On the face of it, that may indeed look like it’s requiring states to deter demand for prostitution.
But this is why it’s important to read laws in their full context. Neither the CoE convention nor the Palermo Protocol is about sex trafficking specifically – both refer to the full range of human trafficking, including labour trafficking and organ removal. Articles 6 and 9.5 respectively do not single out sex trafficking from the other types, and thus must also be interpreted as referring to the full range of human trafficking. To read them as requiring states to “deter demand for prostitution” is as logical as reading them to require states to “deter demand for domestic work” or “deter demand for transplantable kidneys”. Exploitation and abuse are the targets of international law, not the exchange of sex for money between two freely consenting adults.
• Proposes that the Government develops effective and appropriate responses to deal with prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation. Therefore we call on the Government to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland in order to curb prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Senators Katherine Zappone, Fiach MacConghail, Jillian van Turnhout, Martin McAleese, Marie Louise O’Donnell, Eamonn Coghlan
In case anyone is curious what bright sparks came up with this text. On your dime.