Homelessness & Prostitution - Legalisation not criminalisation


The sex industry is expanding and is said to gross millions of pounds per annum. Over the last year this has been reflected in the increasing focus in the media on prostitution. In October, a brothel keeper was arrested and charged. In November, Young Fine Gael passed a motion supporting the legalisation of prostitution. It is now a popular topic on the late night chat shows on tabloid radio stations.This summer, an inevitable tragedy happened. As a result of having to work unprotected on the street Sinead Kelly, a young Dublin prostitute, was murdered as she worked. Politicians and high-ranking cops shed crocodile tears for the cameras. Few of them pointed out that it was their stringent laws that made Sinead Kelly an easy target.

Prostitutes can be, and sometimes are, charged with soliciting when reporting attacks to the police. According to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, this inhibits them from reporting attacks and increases their vulnerability. A survey carried out in 1996, found that one in five prostitutes had been attacked by clients, and that 11% had been raped. Despite the media image of our Garda 'Siochana', workers in this industry find precious little protection from the cops against such attacks.

In 1993, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act criminalised soliciting and kerbcrawling for the first time. It gave the cops further license to harass prostitutes. Anyone found loitering with the intention of soliciting can be directed by a cop to leave that place immediately. Failure to comply can result in a £250 fine for a first conviction, £500 for a second and £500 plus four months imprisonment for a third or subsequent conviction. In the first seventeen months of the Act, 116 women were prosecuted, with only 12 prosecutions of men. Clients who pay for sex with minors are rarely prosecuted.

Juvenile prostitution is directly linked to homelessness. A new report by Focus Ireland shows that homelessness has doubled in the last four years. Focus, which has centres in Dublin and Limerick, dealt with 6,000 homeless people last year. 788 of them were under 18. The government says there are only 2,500 homeless people in the entire country. The Eastern Health Board (EHB) published a Working Group Report in September of 1997. Fifty seven people from the ages of 11 to 18 were reported to have been homeless and involved in prostitution.

There were only six emergency beds for under 18s in the whole of Dublin. The adult homeless shelters are too dangerous for children and many of them don't admit children because of this. It is safer for them to sleep on the streets. If children do seek help they must go to a cop station were they are put in touch with the EHB. This is obviously not an option for kids in trouble with the law.

The EHB social workers are obliged by law to return "intentionally" homeless children to their homes. This applies even if they left to escape sexual abuse or physical violence. The next day sees many of these kids back on the streets.

This negligent system leaves homeless children very vulnerable to exploitation. Sometimes they will go with punters just to get a bed and some food. According to the EHB Working Group Report there has been evidence of organised exploitation of homeless children, but there have been no prosecutions.

The government uses typical authoritarian rationale when dealing with prostitution. It will fine prostitutes hundreds of pounds, forcing them to work for longer hours on the streets to pay the fines. It will also imprison them, which costs £900 per person a week. The figure for running prisons in Ireland stands at over £100 million a year. This will increase when the new women's prison under construction at Mountjoy is completed. A fraction of this money would house all homeless kids and end much juvenile prostitution.

In October, a brothel keeper was arrested and charged. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act made it illegal to live off the earnings of a prostitute. At the time the Minister for inJustice argued that the restrictions would "provide further protection against the exploitation of people who feel they have no choice but to prostitute themselves".

In effect it means that, whenever a brothel is closed down, prostitutes are forced to work on the streets. Chest infections, the flu and other illnesses are common because they have to work outdoors for hours at night. It also makes them easy prey for attackers. The only "further protection" the law gives with regard to prostitution is to public puritanical morality.

The Workers Solidarity Movement is opposed to the criminalisation of soliciting. It only makes prostitutes more vulnerable. It leads to further victimisation from the cops. It creates a stigma of sleaziness and makes criminals of already marginalised people. We support the right of people to choose this profession, and their right to work in comfort and safety. We reject any judgements of these people made by the church, the state or other 'moralists'.

We recognise that prostitution will not end until capitalism does. In the meantime, we call for the decriminalisation of soliciting. "Tolerance zones" should be established where prostitutes can work without harassment. Brothels should not be harassed by cops or any moralistic laws.

All aspects of their business should be controlled by the prostitutes themselves. It is only through workers' control and not state control that prostitution will be a safer occupation to work in.


Hey! Frank Fahy, can you even spell injustice?

CHILDREN as young as twelve can be bought in Dublin. Boys in the Phoenix Park, girls in Benburb Street/Smithfield. This scandal is not invisible but government action to help these children is. Abused children require special services, they need full-time support and care. They have to learn how and who to trust.

The Liffey Voice, a community paper in Dublin's north west inner city, approached the Minister of State for Children, Frank Fahy, in person and got his agreement that he would answer a range of written questions. The reporter faxed them to him. No response was received, despite several phone calls to his office.

A spokesperson for the Minister said child prostitution was not within Mr Fahy's area of responsibility. The Liffey Voice was told that he deals with children's education, health needs, and injustices against children.

The Dublin government has signed the UN Convention on Children, which states that children should have a right to protection against sexual abuse and exploitation. Frank Fahy refuses to acknowledge that responsibility. After all, they are only badly abused children with serious problems. You couldn't expect a Minister to involve himself with stuff like that, could you.

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 56 published in March 1999