‘Sex for Rent’ must be outlawed

Research makes compelling case for legal reforms

Denise Charlton, Chief Executive, Community Foundation Ireland, says new research with the National Women’s Council makes compelling case for action to combat Sex for Rent exploitation.

Achieving an equal society means confronting and ending sexual violence and exploitation in all its forms – including sex for rent.

In recent times we have together achieved many milestones on that journey to equality.

We can be greatly encouraged by Zero Tolerance, the National Action Plan to Combat Gender Based Violence, the establishment of Cuan the new statutory agency to end gender-based violence as well as big commitments on consent and creating safe routes for women and girls out of prostitution.

Each of these have been achieved through campaigns based on research and evidence which have convinced policy makers of the urgent need to make our country a safer and fairer place.

Community Foundation Ireland has been proud to partner frontline organisations, advocates and researchers to reach these goals. We do so as a philanthropic hub on a mission seeking Equality For All in Thriving Communities. A mission supported by our donors.

That equality mission will only ever be achieved if every girl and woman is safe from exploitation and violence. No-one must be left behind. No-one forgotten. No-one left in danger.

Glaring Omission

Today we put an uncomfortable spotlight on one area which has been overlooked by policy-makers but is causing alarm for frontline support agencies.

The practice of ‘sex for rent’ whereby landlords exploit their tenants in lieu of payment has been of concern internationally.

In the UK the first successful prosecution was recorded against a 53-year old man offering a room to young girls over-16 in return for domestic duties and sexual services. Online applicants were told they must wear a bikini at all times.

Here it is suspected for a long time that such predators are using the housing crisis to prey on women and girls desperate for a roof over their head. Marginalised women, often facing poverty, addiction or exploitation in prostitution are the most vulnerable.

Such abuse is not mentioned in Zero Tolerance, yet frontline services have identified it as a reality. Now we have a pathway to respond to this glaring omission.

This report not only captures exploratory research on why we should be concerned but also identifies the steps necessary to bring sex for rent to an end.

Next Steps

This is a complex issue which requires more than one simple legislative action or change in the law and the authors are to be congratulated for capturing that complexity and need for a response on a number of fronts.

Any doubt or question over sex for rent amounts to exploitation must be immediately removed by creating and naming a specific offence under which predatory landlords can be prosecuted.

For absolute clarity it needs to be stand alone and no longer tied in with prostitution and other offences.

The new offence must offer protection for tenants in every circumstance. Whether in a leased apartment, renting a room or licensee arrangements. There can be loopholes and no hiding place.

For the safety of all tenants, landlords who advertise such arrangements as well as those who have carried out exploitation must not only be prosecuted but must receive a lifetime ban from the Residential Tenancy Board.

All online platforms must be compelled to ban such advertising with powers granted to the online Safety Commissioner to ensure compliance.

Rightly the report also identifies the urgent need to honour existing commitments so as to change the landscape which allows such predatory exploitation to take place.

Promises on housing, renting and supports for those who wish to restart their lives by exiting sexual exploitation, including prostitution, must be met in full.

Clear Pathway

While this report rightfully identifies the need for further research in this complex area, that is not an excuse for further delay. We know the problem exists. We know it is happening. We know the conditions within the housing and rental market allow it to happen.

The legislative and regulatory steps outlined are multi-faceted but yet are easy to achieve.

The author of the report, Feargha Ní Bhroin, the National Women’s Council and the European Women’s Lobby are to be congratulated for this pioneering and thought provoking report.

Community Foundation Ireland and our donors are proud partners of the work, and endorse the recommendations in full.