Words: Ellen Kenny
Officials fear that women left vulnerable by the housing crisis and women fleeing the war in Ukraine, in particular, will be targeted by landlords demanding sex in exchange for accommodation.
An Oireachtas joint committee heard that 3900 households could be impacted by sex-for-rent extortion due to the deepening housing crisis and the growing number of Ukrainian refugees in Ireland.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice discussed a Bill drafted by Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan. If passed, the Bill would make it a specific criminal offence to ask for sex from tenants in exchange for free or cheap rent or to advertise free or discounted rent in return for sex.
There is still no hard data in Ireland about the prevalence of sex-for-rent, according to O’Callaghan. Because sex-for-rent is not yet a specific criminal offence, it is not recorded in the Garda Pulse system.
However, UK data shows that nearly 60,000 women seeking accommodation were targeted for sex over eighteen months. Based on this data, up to 3872 households could be similarly targeted in Ireland.
The committee heard from the legal policy director at Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Caroline Counihan, who explained that the sex-for-rent issue is “multiplying” now due to the shortage of affordable housing for rent that leaves most women vulnerable and desperate. The influx of Ukrainian refugees who are now being taken advantage of is also deepening the issue.
Counihan described sex-for-rent as “a serious form of sexual exploitation and abuse of some of the most vulnerable people, especially women and girls, in our society”.
Legislation outlawing the practice would “send a strong message that it is unacceptable to exploit a person’s acute need for a roof over their head”, Counihan urged the committee.
Irish Examiner reporter Ann Murphy, who has written extensively on sex-for-rent, told the committee that ads requiring sex in exchange for rental accommodation “are still to be found online even as we discuss this legislation today”.
She warned that many women who have been targeted in this way are reluctant to go to the Garda “for reasons including a fear that they will not be believed or taken seriously”.
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