On February 4 SWAI launched it’s long awaited paper “Realising Sex Workers Rights” to a packed out room in Buswells Hotel. The document is a collaborate project involving SWAI. sex workers, academics, legal experts and health care providers. It aims to bring forward the debate on sex work in Ireland and to address human rights, the protection of sex workers and to seek an approach based on harm reduction and social justice instead of criminalisation.
For too long the debate on sex work in Ireland has been one sided. Sex workers are often presented as victims who lack choice or real understanding of their own lives, however Sex Workers are a diverse group of individuals with different life experiences and should not be seen as a homogeneous group. Policy relating to Sex Work has to be focused on the needs of the worker, to assess what services they desire or what help they may or may not need.
Whatever the background or issues Sex Workers face most are agreed that further criminalisation of themselves or their clients is not the answer.
A survey done in 2014 by Queens University Belfast showed that 98% of Northern Ireland based Sex Workers were against criminalising the purchase of sexual services, a similar survey done in France that same year showed an equal number of Sex Workers there were also against such laws.
Sex Workers here and else where are concerned about further criminalisation and feel it will only make their situation worse.
Catriona O’Brien, sex worker and co-author of the paper said,
“The proposed laws do not reflect the reality of my life and will only serve to reinforce our exclusion and stigmatisation. “
Some who provide out reach support for Sex Workers also feel the law will have negative implications, as Sex Workers disengage with such services.
Billie who works with GOSHH said
“Given the high level of shame and fear surrounding the buying and selling of sex in Ireland anything that causes further criminalisation or stigmatisation will result in both sex workers and buyers been less willing to speak up when they need support or sexual health screening ”
When deciding on policy relating to sex work it is important that Sex Workers themselves are included in the debate. They know their lives and their needs better than anyone else. However more often than not their opinions are dismissed by people who do not understand the facts, not open to dialogue or who feel they know what is best.
By presenting this paper we hope to open up the discussion and have the voices of sex workers heard and more importantly listened to by policy makers and the public.
You may download “Realising Sex Workers Rights” here