332. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps being taken to target the practice of sex trafficking here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2586/15]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Strong legislative, administrative and operational measures have been put in place to combat and prevent trafficking in human beings including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Since 2009, trafficking in human beings has been identified by An Garda Síochána as one of the priorities in its Annual Policing Plan with a focus on the prevention and detection of human trafficking.
The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment and, at the discretion of the court, a fine for persons who traffic or attempt to traffic other persons including for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It also makes it an offence to sell or offer for sale or to purchase or offer to purchase any person for any purpose. Penalties of up to life imprisonment and, at the discretion of the court, a fine apply in respect of these offences. Furthermore it is an offence for a person to solicit for prostitution a person who s/he knows or has reasonable grounds for believing is a trafficked person. The penalty can be up to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment.
There is a dedicated Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) in my Department to ensure that the State's response to human trafficking is coordinated and comprehensive. In addition to this dedicated Unit there are 3 other dedicated Units in State Agencies dealing with the issue namely:
- the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit in An Garda Síochána;
- the Anti-Human Trafficking Team in the Health Service Executive;
- and a specialised Human Trafficking legal team in the Legal Aid Board.
The State provides a wide range of support services to victims of human trafficking including those persons who have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. These services include accommodation, medical care and planning, psychological assistance, material assistance, legal aid and advice, immigration and residence permissions, vocational training and education.
Specific detailed training is provided to members of An Garda Síochána. Almost 4000 members of An Garda Síochána have received awareness training in human trafficking and over 900 have participated in the in-depth training course developed jointly by An Garda Síochána and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). A module dealing with human trafficking forms part of the training programme for all new recruits to An Garda Síochána. There are also a wide range of other training and awareness raising activities on-going and extensive consultation structures exist with up to 70 State Agencies, Non- Governmental Organisations and International Organisations.
AHTU, in partnership with Ruhama, has been successful in obtaining EU funding for a project aimed at delivering activities that promote zero tolerance of human trafficking as a form of violence against women. This project has two strands: one aimed at women at risk of sexual exploitation and another aimed at men and boys promoting zero tolerance of human trafficking as a form of violence against women. Activities under both strands of this project will occur this year.
I am committed to ensuring that the measures taken to combat human trafficking for sexual exploitation, including legislation, are adequate. To this end, on 27 November 2014, I published the General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014 which includes two new offences of purchasing, in the context of prostitution, sexual services. The first is a general offence of purchasing sexual services which carries a penalty of a fine of up to €500 for a first offence and fines of up to €1000 for a second or subsequent offence. The second is the offence of purchasing a sexual service from a trafficked person and carries a potential penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine. In both cases, the person selling the sexual service will not be subject to an offence.
Unlike the existing offences relating to prostitution such as soliciting, loitering or brothel keeping, the new offences will specifically target the demand for prostitution.The purpose of this new legislation is to reduce the demand for the services of victims of human trafficking who are being sexually exploited in prostitution. My primary concern in introducing these provisions is to vindicate the human rights of those trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.