The International context

Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) works with allies nationally and internationally to progress the campaign’s objectives. From the outset, the campaign located itself in a wider global context. An evidence based campaign, it explored approaches globally to inform the campaign’s recommended legal change. It continues to highlight relevant progress in other jurisdictions to gather support nationally. It works with international monitoring bodies, focusing on recommendations in international treaties, ratified by Ireland, relative to demand. The campaign invites international experts and champions to address members of the media, policy makers and legislators, again highlighting and supporting the campaign objectives.

Initially, members of the campaign were involved with the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), working with the Observatory on Violence against Women. The EWL’s membership had been debating an approach to prostitution for many years, concluding with support for the Swedish approach of criminalising the buyer and supporting those exploited in the sex industry. The organisation highlighted the links between prostitution and human trafficking as the evidence base for their position1, as well as being informed by its transnational membership of over 2,500 organisations. Subsequently the EWL developed an EU wide campaign ‘to free Europe from Prostitution’, of which TORL is a member.

The founders of TORL began to explore the international context further and met key organisations in various countries, contemplating various approaches. Conversations were progressed with policy makers, legislators and front-line services in countries where prostitution was legalised, where the market was decriminalised and/or where the buyer was criminalised and the seller decriminalised.

First to Germany, where the members noted that sex trafficking increased by 70%2 since the introduction of legalisation, and there was a limited impact of measures such as registration, health insurance and protection for those in prostitution3. Members of the campaign also visited the Netherlands, visiting with police and various agencies. Members of the police highlighted the explosion of the sex trade in Amsterdam specifically, the increase in human trafficking and the failure of various provisions to protect those in the industry. On the evaluation of legalisation it was noted that the majority of women reported to be under the control of pimps, in a trade that continues to increase, with over 750 new prostitution enterprises since the introduction of the law in 2000. The evaluation of the law noted the limited take up of registration and no improvement in conditions or stigma for those prostituted4.

Representative of the Swedish Police, Simon Haggstom

The campaign also explored the approach in countries that had introduced sex buyers’ laws, with supports for those exploited. It considered and visited Sweden, as one of the first countries to introduce such provisions, and also evaluated the effectiveness of such an approach5. The membership learnt that the law, in addition to the normative effect (with over 70% public support), and the implementation of the law, had an impact on street prostitution, halved human trafficking and prevented a massive increase of the sex trade on the internet, experienced by neighbouring countries. The delegation met with various agencies, frontline services and survivor groups. All advocated the declarative and normative effect of the law, and stated with pride, that in Sweden, it was not ok to buy women and girls for the profit of pimps and traffickers. Subsequently, the organisation brought members of the Swedish Police Force responsible for Organised Crime to address members of the Irish parliament. The Swedish Rapporteur came also to address the parliament and discuss the application of the law nationally, with the Minister for Justice. Members of the campaign also had discussions with policy makers, legislators and frontline services in Iceland and Norway, who had progressed similar legal change, and of the impact of this change. Subsequently, members of the Norwegian police were invited to address legislators and policy makers in Ireland.

Addressing and discouraging the demand that fosters all forms of human trafficking, especially of women and children, is recognised as an efficient prevention strategy in all major international treaties dealing with trafficking in human beings. This is by far the prevalent form of exploitation in the European Union (EU) and other parts of the world. Women and girls are disproportionally affected, with the relevant Eurostat report from last year indicating that their proportion among all the victims of trafficking is as high as 80 per cent. Through our European work, we worked closely with the EU Anti Trafficking Co-ordinator, Myra Valisslio, and she highlighted the crime across the EU and the various provisions from the Commission and Parliament on demand. The Coordinator highlighted the criminal element of human trafficking and the revenue it generates for organised crime, echoing the police experience nationally.

Members of the campaign, through their transnational work, were able to explore and consider approaches and context in other EU Member States. Through an EU funded programme, Dignity6, members of the campaign to worked with partners in Spain, Scotland and Lithuania. Experts from those countries highlighted the reality of prostitution nationally, and the legal frameworks addressing prostitution and their effectiveness.

The EU project, Stop Traffick, funded transnational research which informed strategies to reduce demand in five participating countries (Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania)7. The research analysed and assessed efficient approaches, based on a greater understanding of experiences, attitudes and motivations of the people who purchase sex, and what might deter them. The findings supported TORL recommendations and further informed the campaign’s political and media engagement strategies and activities.

Throughout the campaign, frontline members engaged with the monitoring bodies considering the Irish Government’s response to human trafficking, in the context of their international obligations. Consistently, Ngos informed the findings of bodies such as GRETA8, OSCE, through shadow reports and presentations. The issue of demand was considered with recommendations on legal change nationally.

The Finnish legislative approach was considered and we visited Finland to explore the context and reality there. We invited the Finnish Rapporteur to visit Ireland and discuss their legislation and National Rapporteur mechanism with various key influencers and opinion formers. She highlighted the inadequacies of the Finnish Law in tackling demand, legislation very similar to that in the Irish context. The Finnish National Rapporteur model was highlighted as one of promising practice.

The campaign works closely with countries that are campaigning for similar legal change such as Canada9 and France. We publicise positive developments and communicate same to policy makers and legislators nationally.

Members of TORL at Stormont

Northern Ireland has introduced sex buyers’ laws10, with a provision for services for those exploited in the sex trade and a provision to support exit strategies. TORL worked closely with advocates in Northern Ireland to support the introduction of the law. We now highlight the need for an all Island approach, to prevent criminal activity of the sex trade moving across the border. We monitored the number of profiles on line advertising sex for sale before and after the introduction of the law in Northern Ireland. We were able to demonstrate how the trade moved to the Republic in a matter of days.

All of our international activity continues to inform, influence and support TORL’s key recommendations. Allies internationally support our evidence based approach in relation to the legalisative approach in their countries and the impact of same. This strategy is further strengthened by our communications strategy. The media are regularly engaged through international site visits and/or strategic dialogues nationally. All international experts were offered to the media for discussion and debate.

International Links

The links made between the European Women’s Lobby, the European network of women’s organisations who had voted on a policy of seeing prostitution as violence against women and as seeing trafficking as a phenomenon which was inextricably linked to prostitution for women and children, were significant. The EWL Observatory with its links across 26 member states was a useful space to examine the growing phenomenon of sex trafficking and also to make links with other NGOs and member states who were struggling to find policy and practice solutions to this growing problem. Irish representatives on the EWL Observatory included at various times, Dr Monica O’Connor (researcher), Denise Charlton (ICI Director), Sarah Benson (Ruhama – informal partner of Dignity and later member of TORL).

DIGNITY Project and its contribution to TORL Campaign

The Dignity Project – an interagency initiative working to deliver quality services for victims of sex-trafficking in Ireland – was funded by the DAPHNE EU Programme who granted monies to Dublin Employment Pact and Immigrant Council of Ireland in 2009-2010. The project was led by Dr Grainne Healy, former Chairwoman of European Women’s Lobby Observatory on Violence against Women and Project director on Nordic Baltic Project which examined prostitution and trafficking links in the Baltic area. The project involved a transnational consortium of multi-disciplinary stakeholders who examined models of good practice in legislation/policy. The project also examined service provision to victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and sought to replicate and mainstream appropriate models of inter-agency work involving both statutory and non-statutory or NGO bodies. The Irish project partners included the key NGOs/front line service providers and the statutory bodies with responsibility for trafficking in Ireland including An Garda Siochana (the Irish police force) who examined best practice responses and participated in study visits with their transnational partners in Spain, Lithuania and Glasgow/Scotland.

A key development during this project work was a study visit organised to Sweden to meet with police, policy makers and service providers who were involved in the implementation of the Swedish model to combat trafficking and prostitution. Since 1999, purchasers of sexual services were criminalised and those selling sex decriminalised, with extensive resources provided for services and exit supports. Significantly, the group met with the High Court Judge who had conducted an evaluation of the Swedish legislation on behalf of the Swedish Government and had examined its implementation. The evaluation concluded that the law was working and had led to a major reduction in prostitution and a dramatic fall in trafficking for sexual exploitation into Sweden. Significantly, the law has gained in popularity and is supported by the vast majority of Swedes. This study visit was a major breakthrough for Irish partners in understanding the Swedish model, and the challenges and successes of this approach. It also presented a possible legislative solution to underpin supports and services for those caught in prostitution and trafficking.

The Dignity Project gave the ICI and the Irish Partners an opportunity to study in depth the Swedish model for combatting prostitution and trafficking, including examination of research conducted there on the harm which prostitution caused. It helped ICI and TORLC to develop a brief for the first comprehensive study of prostitution and trafficking in Ireland (Kelleher, O’Connor and Pillinger, 2009). The Dignity Project created the context from which the Turn off the Red Light Campaign was initiated, facilitating ICI and the partners, under the leadership of the Director of ICI, Denise Charlton, to move towards developing a campaign to lobby the Irish government to introduce legislation following the Swedish approach in Ireland.

At a later stage when the Joint Oireachtas Justice Committee, expressed an interest in examining the Swedish approach, TORL was able to use the contacts made in the Dignity project so that members travelled to Sweden to see for themselves the operation and implementation of the legislation which criminalised purchasers of sexual services. Members attending the study visit from the Dail and Seanad were impressed by the application of the law by police, the provision of exit supports by NGO and statutory service providers and the findings of statistics and research on the impacts of the Swedish legislation. This visit was crucial in convincing the members of that committee to bring forward a Bill which became the (full name of Criminal bill here).

Dr Gráinne Healy
Independent Consultant, former Vice President of EWL, Chairwoman of National Women’s Council of Ireland, Chairwoman of EWL Observatory on Violence against Women, co-author of The Links Between Trafficking and Prostitution (Healy & O’Connor, EWL 2006,








International Influence

Jerry O’Connor –
Former political strategist to the campaign



5Kajsa Claude, Targeting the sex buyer, the Swedish Institute (2010), available at: