Lap dancing clubs lead to rise in human trafficking: Ruhama

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

A conference at the weekend heard that lap dancing clubs and strip bars result in the rise of human trafficking.  And Gerardine Rowley of Ruhama, the organisation that works with women caught up in prostitution, warned that those who start out working in the legal end of the sex trade - such as lap dancers - often end up selling their bodies for sex.

The conference in Kilkenny, took place just hours after a new lap dancing club opened in the city on Friday evening.

Currently ‘Whispers’ is operating under an interim licence as the local council, all of whose members bar one, opposed the club, applied to An Bord Pleanála to ask the board whether the club constitutes a "development" and, therefore, requires planning permission.

The response, expected within weeks, could have national significance, potentially giving local authorities the power to decide whether such premises should be allowed to open.

Last week, Judge William Hartnett granted the club owners an interim licence, while he awaits An Bord Pleanála's response.

At its opening on Friday night, members of the John Paul II Society stood in protest outside the club carrying banners reading “"No sleaze in our area", and pictures of Our Lady.

One of the protesters quoted in The Sunday Independent, Michael O'Driscoll, from Cork, said that he believed that lap dancing clubs contributed to the “objectifying of women, whether the women themselves realise this or not. They are up there, dancing for men's titillation and so they are being seen as objects, not people," he said. "It is an abuse of sexuality that leads to the degradation of women."

Mr O’Driscoll handed out leaflets with statistics showing links between lap dancing clubs and rise in sexual assaults.  His view is supported by the city's mayor, Marie Fitzpatrick, and 27-year-old Fianna Fáil councillor Andrew McGuinness.

On Saturday, the mayor and the women’s section of the Labour party were the organisers of the Kilkenny conference on ‘Human Trafficking and the Sex Industry’.

During the conference Ms Rowley said she would support any group or individual who protests outside lap dancing clubs. "This is a serious issue. Don't be afraid to say 'we don't want this'."

During her talk, Ms Rowley said that women, often in desperate financial situations, were groomed to become sex workers."This industry is about the grooming and normalising of prostitution.

"The competitive element of lap dancing, where one girl has to give a better dance than the next, means boundaries are lowered and women find themselves sliding into prostitution."

On Monday Ruhama welcomed the former head of Swedish Social Services Prostitution Centre, Agneta Bucknell, to discuss her country's efforts to combat the problems of human trafficking and prostitution.

Ms Bucknell estimates that since the legislation was enacted in 1999, street prostitution is now 60 per cent of what it was.

She also said the number of women being trafficked into the country to join the sex industry had decreased to between 400 and 600 annually.

The legislation states people found buying sex can be sentenced to up to six months in prison or be fined. Some 250 men who were found soliciting sex have been prosecuted so far.

Ms Bucknell said the Irish Government has "a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and abused women" working in the sex industry and "it will fail in its efforts to combat criminals involved in trafficking" if it does not criminalise it.

Ruhama said it is aware of more than 200 women trafficked into Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation between 2000 and 2006.  Almost three-quarters of these women arrived from Eastern Europe and more than one-fifth came from Africa.

Ms Rowley said this figure was only "the tip of the iceberg". She believes that 90 per cent of the women involved in the sex industry are foreign nationals, many of whom have poor English and little access to support services.

Yesterday the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Brian Lenihan launched the new immigration bill, which among other things provides for a recovery and reflection period for victims of the new offence of trafficking.  The trafficking offence is provided for in the  Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, which is at present at Report Stage in the Dáil.

The Minister says the complementary provisions of these two bills will facilitate Ireland’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.