Victims of sex trafficking who were later prosecuted for brothel-keeping will not have their offences expunged from the record, the Department of Justice has said.
wo or more victims of sexual exploitation who live together in a property from which they are pressured to sell sex can be classed as living in a brothel under the law.
Since 2017, such victims have faced harsher sentences for brothel keeping.
The Government announced a plan last year to scrap criminal convictions of those involved in prostitution as part of what it described as a strategy to decriminalise those who sell sex and punish those who pay for it.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee had said the State planned to expunge more than 600 convictions for the “sale of sex”. But those involved in prostitution, including sex trafficking victims, and who were prosecuted for brothel-keeping, will not now have those offences wiped out.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman said “a conviction for the offence of brothel-keeping will not be expunged under the expungement initiative as it remains a criminal offence”.
Five years ago, the Oireachtas doubled the penalties for running a brothel to a maximum of a €5,000 fine and 12 months in prison. Harsher sentences were brought in as part of a new bill to criminalise the buying of sex.
Human rights and sex worker advocacy groups have repeatedly criticised the law, claiming it punishes sex workers who live together for safety reasons.
However, the department said there were “concerns” that decriminalising brothel-keeping “could create a loophole open to abuse by criminal gangs and others who wish to profit from prostitution”.
Ugly Mugs, a sex worker safety scheme, said it believed the Department of Justice should expunge brothel-keeping offences.
It said there were documented cases where gardaí told the courts the women being prosecuted for brothel-keeping “were victims of trafficking”.
In 2016, four Romanian women were arrested for keeping a brothel in Galway.
A garda investigating the case told Galway District Court at the time that the women had been “used and abused” by many people and it was believed they were under the control of a pimp.
Ugly Mugs founder Lucy Smyth said: “The reality is the Department of Justice has a plan to expunge some soliciting convictions but not any brothel-keeping convictions, and none of this has happened yet.
“I would like them to consider expunging brothel-keeping convictions as well as soliciting convictions under their plan to expunge convictions to assist trafficking victims, but they won’t consider this.”
The 2017 law, including the harsher measures against brothel-keeping, is being reviewed.
The Department of Justice said the minister would “carefully examine any recommendations of the review and progress appropriate actions.”
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