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Business is booming on red light websites

Last update - Saturday, September 1, 2012, 00:55 By Sergio Angulo Bujanda

Online escorting has become a multi-million-euro business in Ireland. And according to research conducted by a sex worker support group, the illegal industry is monopolised here by just one website.

Gerardine Rowley, communications and policy manager with Ruhama, says that since the 1993 Sexual Offences Act, new technologies enabled by the internet have become the main way to contract sexual services.
“Off-street prostitution advertised through the internet is now the most common form,” she says, highlighting that a single website generates nearly all of this business in Ireland.
The language used on that site may not be startlingly explicit, but it is cold in its plainness. A ‘rates’ menu reveals charges between €100 and €220 for a half-hour minimum service. Potential clients arrange meetings at the escort’s location; these are known as ‘in-calls’. There is also the option to arrange an ‘out call’  in a hotel or your own home.
Bookings can be made through the website’s internal messaging system or by directly ringing an openly listed mobile number. Webcam sessions and phone chats are also available for a price, as are private galleries of photos. Choosy site users can narrow down the options available using a range of criteria, including age, ethnicity and body type. There is also a system of reviews where clients can rate their experiences and recommend escorts.
Ruhama’s figures reveal that over 700 escorts and/or agencies pay €250 a month to this website to publicise their services online, even though it is a criminal offence to advertise prostitution in Ireland. However, the website avoids legal restrictions by using foreign servers, explains Rowley.
The situation prompted Ruhama and other anti-prostitution campaigners such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland to launch their own website, called Turn Off the Red Light, to raise awareness of the issue.
Labour MEP Emer Costello is just one of the campaign’s high-profile supporters. She said: “An overhaul of Ireland’s legislation on the sex trade is long overdue, given the move en masse from the practice of kerb-crawling to the online sex industry which exists in Ireland today.”
Costello has promised to submit recommendations to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter that call for a new system of prosecution based on the Swedish model of targeting the customers rather than the women – and some men – caught up in prostitution “as well as innovative support services for those removed from the sex trade and increased awareness of prostitution as violence against women”.

The Irish sex industry appeared to hit back at this trend with its own site, Turn Off the Blue Light, supposedly set up on behalf of sex workers. However, evidence suggests that the campaign site was launched by the same people behind the escorting business.
Nusha Yonkova, anti-trafficking co-ordinator at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says that the pro-sex-worker site was created by the same web design company that set up the escorting website, and that it also was advertised on that site’s forum.
Attempts to contact the site’s operators via the phone number and address provided were not successful.
Yonkova added: “We do not believe [escorting] could be referred to as a job either, due to the emotional and physical harm it inflicts, due to the inequality inherent in it, and due to the lack of dignity, including self-respect, attached to it.
“It is also damaging for the society as a whole, as it affects the culture and the standards of gender equality.”
Rowley says that legislation against buying sex would help to end this extremely lucrative business – one with alleged criminal involvement – but emphasises that Ruhama is against any law that criminalises the women practicing prostitution. “Unlike the sex buyers, most of the women involved in prostitution have no options,” she says.

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