There were 13 women for sale for sex in Waterford on Monday of this week. This troubling statistic was relayed to The Munster Express by the Men’s Development Network (MDN), which is campaigning for a change in the law to combat the exploitation of women and girls through prostitution and human trafficking.
According to MDN Campaign Co-ordinator Rebecca Beegan, this figure fluctuates “on a daily basis” but nevertheless illustrates that the sex trade “has a presence in virtually every town and village in Ireland, let alone our cities”.
Said Ms Beegan: “We are seeking the introduction of the ‘Nordic Model’, which would involve the creation of new laws to target the buyers of sex whose actions are fuelling these appalling crimes.”
With the Government expected to publish a new Sexual Offences Bill next month, the MDN, which is based on O’Connell Street, hopes that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will “wreck the business model” for pimps and traffickers through legislation.
Rebecca Beegan continued: “Waterford City & County Council have been incredibly supportive, and we’re very thankful for the push they have given this campaign, and we hope that our TDs and Senators will prove equally supportive when it comes to the reading of the bill and, all things going well, its subsequent passing into law.”
Given that laws largely similar to what the MDN is seeking in the Republic came into force in Northern Ireland in June, Ms Beegan hopes that “common sense can prevail so that this serious issue can be tackled on an all-island basis”.
Echoing his colleague’s sentiments, MDN Chief Executive Alan O’Neill referred to the ‘Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution’ report (2009) which estimated that one in 15 Irish men will, on at least one occasion, pay for sex.
“This is a significant number, equivalent to a full attendance at Croke Park,” he stated. “This buying of sex contributes to women’s misery in the sex trade and impedes women’s full and equal participation in society.
“Those selling sex, mainly women, must not face criminal sanctions. Prostitution is not a job that a woman chooses – the majority of women enter prostitution because they have no other options.”
Alan O’Neill continued: “But we must also provide assistance to women who need support to exit prostitution while increasing our own awareness of prostitution and sexual exploitation in this country.”
While the one in 15 figure is sure to concern the general public, Rebecca Beegan said it was also important to focus on the “14 in 15 Irishmen who will never buy sex”.
She continued: “These men, this overwhelming silent majority, have voices we need to hear when it comes to addressing the exploitation of women’s bodies through trafficking and prostitution.
“And we need to engage with the majority of men when it comes to this campaign and we need them to start speaking up about this. We are talking about abject misery here inflicted largely on women by, again largely, middle class men, workers who are married, they’re white and educated – a stark contrast to the women they are buying, who are poor, who are vulnerable and are being constantly abused, so we are certainly not talking about an equal transaction in this appalling instance.”
Alan O’Neill said the MDN has been “greatly encouraged by the level of local support we have received and we’re now calling on politicians from all sides to unite and send out the message, loudly and clearly, that Ireland is no longer a soft target for pimps, traffickers and those who inflict great harm onto women.”
Said Rebecca Beegan: “Prostitution cannot be described as any kind of work. It’s not like going into McDonalds, for example, where your product is the burger. You, as a woman (as is the case in the vast majority of instances), you yourself are the product, and one that may be consumed several times a day. It simply can’t be described as work.”
Nationally, on one website alone last Monday, there were 530 ‘escorts’ available for paid sex, which “was quite low” in Ms Beegan’s experience of noting such a troubling statistic. Over 90 per cent of prostitutes in Ireland are migrants while globally, the average age of entry into the sex trade is 15.
The MDN intends to hold further public awareness events in Waterford in the near future to underline the grim reality of prostitution.