SWAI Statement on The Passing of Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill – Laura Lee Blog

This is a devastating time for sex workers in Ireland. This is a very dangerous law.

We are appalled that this Government is going against international expert opinion to bring in a law which jeopardises our safety, removes our bodily autonomy, and puts us at further risk of poverty. The Bill criminalises the purchase of sex to the tune of up to 500 eauro for the client, increases penalties to up to 5,000 euro and/or a year in jail for people working in pairs and groups, and includes measures to take sex workers’ fees as Proceeds of Crime. This has been a very thinly veiled moral crusade.

feet of a sex worker

Our biggest concern is the safety of sex workers, particularly the most vulnerable. Frances Fitzgerald’s plan to criminalise the purchase of sex does not magically create options for the migrants, trans people, single parents and others who turn to sex work in order to survive. The Tanaiste’s bill contains absolutely no provisions to create viable alternatives to working in the industry: it is an empty gesture which will cause harm to the most marginalised in society.

The Government’s bill was driven by ideology not evidence. There was not meaningful consultation with this unique population carried out, and there was no baseline research done to be able to compare to in the future. Little if any attention was paid by the Justice Committee to the option of full decriminalisation, the safest and most effective model as in operation in New Zealand since 2003. When the Justice Committee went to Sweden they failed to engage at all with the sex worker organisation in Sweden, Rose Alliance.

National and international expert groups including Amnesty International, WHO, Global Alliance Against Trafficking Women, the ILO, and UNAIDS provided clear evidence that criminalisation of the purchase of sex is not only ineffective but would be harmful to the health and safety of sex workers across Ireland. Despite being presented with this information, the Minister failed to amend the bill to mitigate these dangers, instead repeating that it was more important to send a message. The Government voted down an amendment to ensure the brothel-keeping law targets exploiters. As CSO reports from 5 years show, 92% of arrests from this law were of the workers ourselves, rather than exploiters as intended.

Interesting Research

In Norway, where such a model exists, their own government’s research showed that sex workers became more dependent on third parties and susceptible to traffickers. Today our thoughts are with the most vulnerable sex workers, who will be forced to take greater and greater risks in order to keep the clients they depend upon: those who will drop their prices, those who will agree to unprotected sex, those who will agree to go to an unknown location, and avoid calling the Gardaí when attacked or afraid.

When we say that criminalisation increases harm and risk in the industry, we’re talking about people like Galina Sandeva, a Bulgarian worker in Norway where the purchase of sexual services is criminalised. When she went missing her friends did not contact the police until they had found her body themselves. Criminalisation clearly further damages trust in the police. Already there is great distrust of the Gardai here. The Ombudsman is currently investigating 70 allegations of sexual assault by Gardai the the past 6 years. Last year there was a case last year where Gardai raided a brothel and later one Gard came back and allegedly raped a worker. How are we to trust that Gardai and judges – who repeatedly arrest, fine, and send back to their countries of origin, women working together for safety – will begin to interpret this law better?

SWAI therefore looks forward to the review in 3 years’ time – a review which, rather than focusing on any fluctuations in the numbers of sex workers, should examine the law’s impact on our health and ability to protect ourselves from violence.

We are so grateful for our allies, amongst the many – Chrysalis Community Drug Project, GOSHH HIV Ireland, Transgender Equality Network Ireland MRCI, Union of Students in Ireland (USI), Abortion Rights Campaign, Amnesty International-Ireland and political allies Lynn Ruane, @ClareDaly, @MickWallace, @DavidNorris, @MaryWhite, @MaureenO’Sullivan, @JoanCollins, @JonathonO’Brien, @JohnHalligan, @KatherineMartin, @BridSmith. Thank you to our bomb-ass founding group of people who were kicking off this fight in a much more hostile environment. Huge thanks to Open Society Foundations for creating the ability for us to be players on this mad stage and support this real progress, and all the love and respect to sex worker rights organisations worldwide that we have learned so much from – and proud of the progress we have made in this struggle. We got a review put in the law. We got decrim for outdoor workers. Our amendment to change the brothel-keeping law had 42 votes in the Dail. The conversation has shifted, people are waking up to the reality of how criminalisation and stigma affect us, and beginning to acknowledge us for what we are: an extremely diverse group of people struggling to get by. SWAI will continue to support all sex workers in Ireland and we will continue our fight to live and work in safety and with dignity. ONWARDS.

Laura Lee

Laura Lee

Irish mother, writer, animal lover, perpetual student and sex workers' rights campaigner.
Laura Lee

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