Check Against Delivery

 

22 April 2015

 

Minister Ford, Distinguished Guests and colleagues.

 

I am very pleased to have been invited here today by the REACH Project partners to help launch this campaign.

 

We all recognise that we must take action to prevent human trafficking, to protect its victims and prosecute those who perpetrate this evil crime. And to achieve these aims we must work in partnership – partnership across Government, across borders and importantly, with civil society.

 

This EU funded project is an excellent example of this partnership approach in action. I want to congratulate all of the project partners on the striking campaign which is being launched today.

 

Parts of this campaign are hard hitting. The reality of the lives of women who have been trafficked does not always make easy reading; but it is a reality that must be confronted.

 

It happens here, on this Island. Every year, in every part of this Island we are identifying women in prostitution who have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

 

This, of course, is not a phenomenon confined to this Island. It is occurring across Europe and across the world.

Eurostat has indicated that nearly ten thousand suspected victims of human trafficking were identified across Europe in a single year.

 

Nearly two thirds of these victims were women and girls trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

 

While the reported figures in Ireland are quite low, the pattern of exploitation is similar.

 

It is not always obvious that a woman or girl has been trafficked; the chains that bind them are not always palpable. Traffickers employ a range of methods to control their victims – some obvious and brutal, others more subtle. Fundamentally, they exploit the vulnerability of their victims; preying on their circumstances, deceiving them as to what they are being involved in, exploiting emotional dependence and, often, simple violence. Traffickers use whatever means they can to control what they see as their ‘product’, to ply their evil trade.

 

Vulnerable women, with little English, in a strange country and very frightened - that is the lot of these victims.

 

Government, working in partnership with civil society, have taken a range of measures over the past number of years to put in place:

· strong criminal law to tackle trafficking,

· support services for victims, and

· pathways to help victims recover and move on with their lives.

 

Of course, prevention is better than cure. Preventing trafficking from occurring in the first place is our goal; and efforts to reduce the demand for the services of victims of trafficking are vitally important. If the demand for the services of victims can be reduced, and hopefully eliminated, the business model of traffickers can be dismantled. And be under no illusion, for them this is a business; traffickers operate only to make money from human misery. And those who purchase the services of these victims fuel this evil trade; they too bear the responsibility for the lives stolen by trafficking.

 

It is for that reason that I have brought forward new legislation in this area. As you will be aware in November last year I published the General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014, which amongst other proposals, creates offences of purchasing sexual services in the context of prostitution and trafficking. My primary concern, in introducing these provisions, is to vindicate the human rights of those trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

 

I believe that public education and awareness can also play a vital role in reducing the demand for the services of victims of trafficking; changing mindsets is important. That is the aim of this very striking campaign - to appeal to men to start a very public conversation on the wrongs of prostitution.

 

‘We don’t buy it’, is what the posters say. Building on this positive message is what this campaign is all about.

 

I know that this campaign is just one strand of the broader REACH project; strands directed at women who are vulnerable to trafficking are already underway and another strand developing innovative training methods is also being undertaken. These other strands are also important – reaching out to vulnerable women and offering them support and enhancing training capacity – both address important features of any approach to combating trafficking and supporting victims.

 

This is the first all-Island project of this nature that has been run; we share this Island and we share the responsibility to make every effort to fight the evil of human trafficking.

 

As I have said, I strongly welcome that this project has been undertaken on a partnership basis. It is by working together that we will best tackle this appalling crime.

 

I wish this campaign and the project as a whole every success.

 

Thank you.