- 27 Mar 19
Violent crime against sex workers has almost doubled since the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 came into force, in March 2017, according to figures provided by the Ugly Mugs app. Now Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.
Sex Workers Alliance Ireland has called for the Government to decriminalise sex work. The call was made alongside the revelation that violent crimes against sex workers had almost doubled in the two years since the so called Swedish Model was brought into effect in Ireland, via the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017.
That law made it an offence to pay for sexual services, a move which sex workers at the time forecast would drive sex work underground – without having any positive effect. That view, it seems, has been borne out since – with disastrous consequences for sex workers. While the law was perceived by some as shifting the onus away from sex workers (mostly women) and onto the clients (mostly men), in practice it still works against women, and their safety – not least as a result of the fact that it substantially increased the fines when those who sell sex are charged and found guilty of sharing premises.
“We deserve to be safe, but instead of decreasing demand the laws have created a buyers market, where the purchasers of sex hold the power,” Kate McGrew, sex worker and director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), said in a statement issued today. “This (is) in direct opposition to what we were told was the intention of the law.
"Sex workers are not decriminalised,” she said. "The penalties of sex workers sharing premises together, also known as brothel keeping, has doubled since the introduction of the new Sexual Offences Bill in 2017. Sex workers are now forced to work in isolation, which puts them at further risk of violence and exploitation. Since the law has been introduced, many more sex workers have been arrested than clients. We want sex work decriminalised, so that the power gets put back in the hands of the worker.”
What is even more upsetting is the extent to which the change in the laws has triggered an increase in violent crimes, up from 385 to 740. According to Kate McGrew, many of these are never reported.
“Security and safety matter to sex workers too,” Kate said. "When the laws changed in 2017 we saw a marked increase in violent crime. We supported several trans migrant sex workers after a spate of serial attacks. If we are attacked we want to rely on the Gardaí to help us and to apprehend our attackers.
"Sex workers are afraid to report crimes to Gardai, in fear their workplace will then be surveilled to catch their clients. The law means sex workers see (that) Gardaí don't have their best interests at heart, as they need to enforce the laws. The current law diverts much-needed resources away from community policing and into policing what happens between consenting adults.”
“Sex workers can be an ally in the fight against trafficking,” she added, "but right now we feel we cannot approach the Gardaí with information because we will be surveilled, or worse, deported. This new law does nothing to solve human trafficking.”
“Everyone is worthy of a life without oppression and coercion, including sex workers. Workers that have been caught up in brothel raids have been asked to leave the country. Where are the oversight and compassion? How does that solve human trafficking?”
Many, in any event, believe that the link of trafficking with prostitution is a spurious one. The fact that someone comes from outside the country – or even outside the EU – does not mean that they have been trafficked. But they seem to be counted as such in the arithmetic engaged in by those with a moral objection to sex work.
"We want to be safe in our jobs,” Kate McGrew stated. "Since the laws have been enacted, workers have lost negotiating power with their clients. Ending demand has led to a drop in prices, increased risk-taking such as taking clients that they feel aren’t safe or not using a condom.
"In Ireland rates of HIV are rising. Sex workers are at increased risk of HIV – but with (the) stigma perpetuated by State bodies and misguided politicians, workers may not attend services provided for them. Trans and vulnerable migrant workers bear the brunt of this and fall through the cracks. We need services fit for purpose.
"In Ireland, in the past year, we have (made) monumental strides away from our dark past of Magdalene laundries and hiding women away in shame. We succeeded in repealing the 8th Amendment by having difficult conversations about taboo topics. We asked the country to listen and they did. Now we ask misinformed politicians to listen to us.”
More than anything, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland wants the voices of sex workers to be heard – and listened to.
"We are the currently-working sex workers in this country. We are the experts in our lives and we are telling you that these laws are damaging. We are calling on the government to decriminalise sex work fully in the 2020 review and make sex workers safe.”