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Shortcomings of Criminal Legislation Due to The Criminalization of The Purchase of Sex

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“Why is it immoral to be paid for an act that is perfectly legal if done for free?”,” All prostitution exploits women,regardless of women’s consent.”,”We are not going to apologize for prostitution but we are going to struggle for the dignity of the profession.”. These are among the plurality of opinions on how legislation should address prostitution/sex work. The following essay is not merely an opinion but will critically analyze Ireland’s Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 in relation to its law regarding prostitution. It will achieve this by discussing the history of the Act,violence within the prostitution industry and the legislation concerning brothels.

Before looking at the reasons why the current legislation surrounding sex work should change, we need to look at the history that has shaped the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act that we have today. Our first legislation surrounding brothels was within the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1933.In this legislation, prostitution wasn’t outlawed explicitly as we see it today. Differently, however, you had to be seen “loitering” etc to warrant any punishment.

The legislation was reformed in 1935 for a number of reasons. Sexually transmitted diseases were widespread in Europe so laws were aimed at protecting men. Laws in the new act were prohibitionist-prostitution was now explicitly illegal. Like the loaws in modern-day Ireland, the law was aimed at outlawing brothels. Gardaí were allowed to search premises with this aim in mind. Prostitution was far more looked down upon than in today’s relatively liberal Ireland. Magdalene Laundries were workhouses trying to reform and “better” prostitues and seemingly promiscuous women. There were at least 11 in existence.

The 1997 law was introduced with the aim to make Gardaí more aware of their actual powers in enforcing this legislation. The 1997 Act came to be partly as a result of heroin and other drugs coming to Ireland and women having very few avenues to fund their addictions. Ireland became a lot more liberal by the time of this Act-prostitution was now supported by Irish feminists. Ireland moved toward decriminalizing prostitutes with this Act. The Minister for Justice at the time also made an argument against criminalizing the advertisement of brothels which mirrors closely arguments made not to criminalize the sex industry.”The minister also opposed an amendment to criminalize the advertising of brothels on the basis that it would drive them underground with consequences for both surveillance and health of prostitutes”

Ireland’s Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 2017 criminalises the purchase of sex. This is to mirror the Nordic Model concerning prostitution.This model puts illegality on the buyer instead of the prostitute.Purchasers of sex can face fines or even imprisonment. The aim is to realize that are often vulnerable women and shouldn’t be punished for trying to fight their way out of trying circumstances. This appears to be a fairer approach than the UK which infringes fines on both the purchaser and the however the Irish Law does have some issues. Although it sounds harsh, to quote the Swedish government, “..all trade is based on the fact that there are customers and demand. If there were no customers looking upon women’s bodies as objects, there would be no market”.It is often cited as female empowerment, a feminist stance that prostitution should be legalised. There is little empowerment in selling people’s bodies.Prostitution is more often than not a last resort, in a survey of prostitutes working in Vancouver, the vast majority (88%) said that they wanted to leave the prostitution industry.

This isn’t grounds to illegalize prostitution but rather the opposite. Increased legalization leads to increased regulation and cares for those in these vulnerable situations. Ireland has recognised a fundamental law of economics with the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017-the law of demand. As prices rise, demand falls. High fines or prison sentences are pretty high prices to pay for the purchase of sex and the law is sure to deter some buyers. Sex Worker’s Alliance Ireland has argued the unfairness of lessening the income of already struggling prostitutes. Instead, I suggest, the executive should legalize and ensure regulation of the practice while taking steps such as upskilling workshops to aid prostitutes in their occupational mobility. This is an alternative to help them survive in this admittedly challenging economy. If we are committed to lessening the workers in this sector through manipulating the market and providing tangible assistance, what has been coined the world’s oldest profession will cease to exist.

There is, however, a counterargument that the law concerning prostitution in Ireland shouldn’t be altered. The main reason for this being violence against prostitutes. Prostitutes currently experience violence both from bosses and clients.A lot of this happens in brothels or establishments where sex is the primary activity. According to the Sex Worker’s Project, “Behind Closed Doors” 2005 report concerning the in-house sex work scene in New York,42% of sex workers reported being beaten or threatened by clients. Ireland has strict laws in place within the Act with the intention of preventing brothels in Ireland and as a result the violence associated with them. Similarly, in the UK, brothels are banned. A key difference between the jurisdictions is that Ireland explicitly states that two prostitutes working together from one property will be considered as operating a brothel while the UK’s Sexual Offences Act 2003 doesn’t define the term brothel. Penalties being enforced against brothel keeping undoubtedly deter some number of exploitative people from the practice.

Unfortunately, there is a disadvantage concerned with the wording of the legislation which certainly warrants critique. Our law which states that two or more prostitutes working from the same establishment are brothel-keeping significantly disadvantages prostitutes who are widely known to work in pairs and share apartments to increase their security and lessen the likelihood of them being subjected to violence. The law, therefore, is counter-intuitive in its narrow view of what constitutes brothel-keeping. A reform of this legislation would result in prostitutes not only having the support of their peers/colleagues but also the protection of the police. A view that concludes that the law shouldn’t be changed to allow this comradery is a view that is content with being a party to the suffering of women in the sex trade.

The argument that sex work shouldn’t be decriminalized often makes reference to the fact that women aren’t more likely to report violence experienced in the sex trade simply because sex work is legal.Evidence, from the research in the New Zealand Ministry of Justice Report 2008 seconds this. The result from this jurisdiction that has decriminalized sex work is a persuasive authority but by no means the conclusive word on the subject. It is up to every society to establish the norms of the society. Black people may be less likely to report to police in America due to police brutality, the story isn’t the same here as we have created a culture of peaceful policing. We have the capability of changing the narrative in relation to sex work. It is the responsibility of the government to educate and promote correct reporting mechanisms for violence within prostitution while emphasizing that it is okay to do so.

To conclude, our Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) is flawed. It is flawed in its lack of prioritizing the safety of women through the criminalization of the purchase of sex. It is flawed in its wording of the legislation concerning brothels which is vague and unfit for purpose, again, it fails to prioritize the safety of women. Although there is merit in the argument that the legislation in Ireland concerning sex work is appropriate,the evidence suggests the counter is true.  

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Shortcomings of Criminal Legislation due to the Criminalization of the Purchase of Sex. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
“Shortcomings of Criminal Legislation due to the Criminalization of the Purchase of Sex.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
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