Criminalising the purchase of sex is the most effective way to end demand and effectively tackle human trafficking, a report has found.
The research, which examined legislative approaches to prostitution and trafficking in six EU member states including Ireland, also recommended the decriminalisation of those in prostitution.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland partnered with agencies in Cyprus, Finland, France, Lithuania and Sweden for the two-year EU-funded project, Disrupt Demand. The report unites the findings of each country.
It found laws targeting demand will not be effective unless they are supported by clear, policy-led efforts to properly support women and girls exiting the world of sexual exploitation.
Monica O’Connor, co-founder of University College Dublin’s Sexual Exploitation Research Project (SERP) and author of the report, said: “In Sweden, and now in France and Ireland, the laws flow from the understanding of prostitution as a form of violence against women.
“This means the demand to buy girls or women to supply sexual acts is not regarded as legitimate or acceptable within society.
“The purchase of sex is a criminal offence, while those being exploited are decriminalised.”
Ms O’Connor said the Swedish approach, which was introduced in Ireland last year, has proved to be effective against trafficking and demand.
“Positive outcomes for women in prostitution and for society require the state to provide adequate resources ensuring the law is fully embedded and that there is a robust statutory or policy basis for service provision and exit routes,” she added.
Immigrant Council of Ireland chief executive Brian Killoran said: “What is clear and has emerged from the two-year project is the crucial importance of using the law to develop a collective societal acceptance that we will not stand for the sexual exploitation of women and girls.”
Mr Killoran said the report also showed that in countries with different legal frameworks, like Cyprus and Lithuania, migrant women, who constitute the majority of those being exploited in the sex trade, have fewer protections and support and are in a more vulnerable position.
The report recommended an independent national rapporteur on human trafficking should be installed in each country, like in Finland.
Activist and survivor Mia de Faoite said: “This comparative report is most welcome, once again highlighting that targeting the demand through criminalising those who purchase human beings is the most effective way to reduce trafficking of women and girls into prostitution.
“A law aimed at buyers works because it puts them at risk of bringing what they do in the dark into who they are in the day, and that is a risk many will not take.
“We are dealing with criminal gangs who will try to find a way around the law. European nations must continue to collaborate together and learn from each other because if we do not put our minds together then the criminal minds will always have the upper hand.”
Ms de Faoite said she fully supported the call for Ireland to appoint a national rapporteur.
“In fact, I believe it is vital that we do so,” she said.