Discussions from the Stop Traffick! Conference
The prostitution market in Germany is 60 times bigger than that of Sweden. How can there be such a difference? The latest research undertaken across the EU on the characteristics of people who buy sex may shed light on the issue. Gathered as the Stop Traffick Conference, members of the relevant Oireachtas Committee, representatives from anti-trafficking NGOs across Ireland and experts from EU countries met this week in Dublin to hear and discuss the research undertaken by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI). One conclusion was clear; to tackle human trafficking, the demand for prostitution must be targeted.
Well-educated men in relationships
According to ICI, the sex industry is worth €25 billion a year in Europe. This is not the odd girl doing a sexual favour to pay a bill, this is a complex criminal operation spanning from Galway to Gdansk. The ICI Project involved researchers in Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Finland undertaking in-depth interviews and online surveys with people who buy sex. Although a small minority are women, the vast majority of buyers are men. The findings show that most buyers are between the ages of 25 and 45 and are in relationships. A study in Bulgaria found that 64% have children. Most earn more than €20,000 and are well educated, with 48% of Irish buyers having a third level education.
Naming and shaming would scare me
The most interesting finding of the research was the attitude of buyers towards deterrence. It was found that most buyers are not old regulars, but rather have only bought sex a few times. In fact most first-time buyers purchased sex spontaneously at a young age while under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on a night out with friends. It was only after this first time, that purchasing sex became a more planned activity. Professor Roger Matthews of Kent University found similar results in his interviews with buyers in London, and concluded that spontaneous buyers would be easily put off by effective deterrence. In his research, 89% of buyers said they would be put off from buying sex if it meant they would be added to the sexual offenders list.
The Swedish model: deterrence hits demand
As Dr Monica O’Connor outlined, the current anti-trafficking legislation in Ireland is unworkable. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 requires the buyer to know that the seller is trafficked in order to be prosecuted, a requirement which is very difficult to prove. For this reason there were just 3 prosecutions under the Act between 2008 and 2012 (although there were prosecutions of trafficking made under other legislation). The experience and research presented by an array of experts from Sarah Benson (CEO of Ruhama) to Venla Roth (Finland’s Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking) to Nusha Yonkova (Anti-trafficking Coordinator of the ICI) shows that when demand for sexual services is effectively deterred, the trafficking of humans is a less profitable business and subsequently reduces. This has been the case for Sweden. The message from the Conference was clear; end the demand. For more information on the conference read our report or visit www.stoptraffick.ie