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Jill Nesbitt writes on Preda projects in Ireland’s Woman’s way:

July 5, 2006 · 

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Woman’s Way
July 05, 2006

Irish people were recently outraged by the possible release of sex offenders, who had sex with underage girls. We all agree that men who commit such crimes in this country deserve severe punishment. But what about the Irish men who travel abroad to avail of sex with underage girls in other countries? Or with women who have been forced into prostitution?

Last month three million football fans descended on 12 German cities for the World Cup. Along with the beer and burgers, something else was laid on for them. Something those at home may not have realised is common at major sporting events, even in Ireland: women’s bodies for sale. Many of the estimated 40,000 women imported to meet the demand were expected to have been trafficked into Germany and came from poor countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

Specially built for the World Cup were ‘performance boxes’ resembling carports that were built in fenced-in areas the size of a football field. Condoms, showers and snack vending machines will also be on hand for the buyers with a special focus on protecting their anonymity.

Here in Ireland the National Woman’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has joined with other international organizations to try to combat this abuse of women’s human rights. In a campaign entitled ‘Buying Sex is Not a Sport’, the NWCI’s director Joanna McMinn says that treating women’s bodies as sexual commodities causes women both physical and psychological harm.

“Male demand for a supply of women and children to sexually exploit is the root cause of prostitution and trafficking.” says Joanna. “Gender inequality, globalisation, poverty, racism, migration and the collapse of women’s economic stability are global factors which create the conditions into which women are driven into the sex industry.”

Not all men are happy about this trade at the World Cup. The French team coach, Raymond Domenech, is reported to be appalled by the prospect of thousands of prostitutes being imported for the tournament. And Lars-Ake Lagrell, president of the Swedish Football Association has promised that no Swedish player will use brothels during the tournament.

Sweden, incidentally, criminalised the buying of sex seven years ago after a long campaign by feminists, supported by many of its female MPs. Trafficking into Sweden has decreased since then, compared with Germany where prostitution is now legal.

Does the FAI condemn fans who may gave traveled to the World Cup to avail of women and girls in the performance boxes or brothels, given the very real risk that these women may be both underage and trafficked?

“Absolutely,” says an FAI spokesman, adding that is “strongly condemns such anti-social behaviour and especially the exploitation of such sectors in society.”

So what can Irish people do to help protect women and girls being exploited by the sex industry not only at the World Cup, but other international sporting events and here in Ireland?

“Irish men and women need to challenge the myths around prostitution” says Geraldine Rowley, spokesperson for Ruhama, the organisation which works with women in Ireland involved in prostitution. Myths such as the one that men need prostitutes or that lap dancing is just harmless fun.

Joanna points out that the average age of girls going into prostitution is just 15 and for the vast majority of these children, it is not a free choice at all, but one forced on them through poverty and violence. “Buying someone’s body is a denial of that person’s human rights,” she says.

Another option is to talk to your local TDs and MEPs, several of whom are concerned about this issue and are raising it at Dail and Eu level. Ask our public representatives to introduce similar legislation to Sweden, which criminalises the purchase of sex and will stop the growing sex industry here. Ask them to ensure that legislation to combat trafficking into Ireland, and of women around Ireland, is made a priority.

According to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Criminal Justice (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill should be published later this year. Not before time either, as according to Grainne Healy, chairperson of the European Women’s Lobby Observatory on Violence Against Women in EU States, Ireland’s is the only government which hasn’t yet produced the specific legislation urgently needed in this area.

Ruhama says it has come across over 100 women in the last few years who have been trafficked here for sexual exploitation. Geraldine Rowley says that this figure probably represents just the ‘tip of the iceberg’. She urges Irish women to use their voice for those voiceless women who are powerless in the grip of a business which uses violence and threats to control them. By Jill Nesbitt

Sign the NWCI online petition at www.nwci.ie

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