A SHAMEFUL SILENCE

24 August 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Prostitution is not a subject much discussed in public forums in Co Monaghan and the prevailing perception would be that it is not a significant social problem in our circulation area.
Away from the arenas of public debate, however, there is a rising volume of anecdotal evidence which suggests that there is at least the beginnings of an organised sex trade in operation in the towns of Co Monaghan and in some rural locations – with the social media playing a key role in circulating information about its practitioners and the means by which their services can be accessed.
Such activity has not gone entirely unnoticed or unmonitored by the law, and a small number of prosecutions in relation to it have been taken at our courts in recent times – but the extent of the problem is beginning to grow much larger, we suspect, that the level of Garda action to date would indicate.
The sale of sexual services is as old as time, and different societies in different ages have adopted different attitudes towards it.
Often the stance is a hypocritical one – public opprobrium, private tolerance – and this attitude is mostly the one that has prevailed in this country and other parts of the West down through recent decades.
Ireland may have grown more tolerant and liberal in its treatment of a range of sexual issues in that time, but there is still a nagging reluctance to acknowledge the existence of the prostitute and the complex mix of social, sexual and commercial factors that create the demand for the services they provide.
A good many people would be content to allow this ambivalent attitude to continue, and would be perfectly at ease with the sex trade being allowed to function away from the light.
However, recent media campaigns by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, and the latest report of the Ruhama organisation that assists women and children who have become embroiled in the sex trade, argue strongly for a much more open and less tacitly tolerant attitude towards this activity.
A frank discussion of prostitution activities in this area, in particular the degree to which sex trafficking in the Border region has developed, would shine what could literally be a life-saving light on the victims in this particular form of crime – the women, and sometimes the children, who are forced to take part in the trade and who find themselves ruthlessly, sometimes brutally, exploited by the criminals who control it.
A large number of activist groups and support organisations have recently come together to form the Turn Off The Red Light campaign with the objective of bringing an end to sex trafficking in this country.
Perhaps more contentiously, the campaign also seeks to have the purchase of sex made a criminal offence and is seeking to bring about an end to Irish prostitution in all its forms.
There are those who make the argument that the legalisation of prostitution is one sure means by which it can be freed from malign criminal influence – and also a method of ensuring that those who practice the activity can gain the protections and supports available to other workers.
This presupposes, of course, that those who choose to work in the sex industry make that choice freely – and there can be no doubt that women and children from other countries who are brought into Ireland for the purpose of supplying sex to strangers for money have not had any freedom of choice in the matter.
Their initial involvement is often the consequence of their being duped, or coerced by threats of physical violence towards themselves or family members in their homelands. Once ensnared, the depth of the suffering that is inflicted upon them in the course of the forced practice of their ‘trade’ can scarcely be imagined.
The plight of those who find themselves trapped in this dreadful situation, the difficulties they face in accessing assistance in escaping it, and the need for ongoing support services to ensure they can heal and survive in the future, are graphically communicated in the recently published Annual Report of the Ruhama organisation, which assisted 91 suspected victims of sex trafficking last year.
Ruhama’s Sarah Benson cuts to the quick of their dilemma, and cuts through much of the ambivalence and timidity that can frame attitudes to this subject, when she remarks: “Most people in society know that prostitution is harmful; no parent this week, as they sit with their children discussing CAO offers, will be considering prostitution as a career option for their son or daughter.”
Immigrant Council of Ireland Chief Executive Denise Charlton, who penned a powerful article on the topic of sex trafficking in Ireland for this newspaper recently, this week hailed moves in Northern Ireland to hold a public consultation exercise on the topic of outlawing payments for sexual services (see story, page two).
Ms Charlton sees an opportunity emerging for the harmonisation of legislation on both sides of the Border in order to make it difficult for sex traffickers to operate here.
Such legislative coherence seems a pre-requisite for any serious address of this problem. We would encourage readers who have concerns about this matter to lobby their politicians at both local and national level in order to build the tide of popular pressure that will be necessary, one feels, to have this matter given any serious priority on the parliamentary schedule of the Government in the remainder of its term in office.
The Dept of Justice has invited public submissions on how the law on prostitution in this country should be shaped in the future, and this is also a means by which public concerns on the topic can be raised.
We would call upon our readership to be vocal in this regard – and also to be vigilant about any manifestation of the sex trade in their midst, and report their observations and suspicions to the Gardai.
It is surely time to end the often shameful silence that surrounds the issues of prostitution and sex trafficking in this country – and in our Border region in particular.

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