While new report shows that Sex Workers working even in partially criminalised settings face three times the amount of violence, it remains completely illegal for two workers to work together for safety in Ireland.
Today is International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Sex Workers. In a year of difficult conversations which challenged the status quo and led to real gains for women and people who can get pregnant in Ireland, we must continue to push further to ensure bodily autonomy and the safety of everyone, including sex workers.
Kate McGrew, director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “Penalties for workers working in pairs or groups doubled was a change in law that happened quietly, but it is an extremely dangerous piece of legislation. The Nordic model purportedly is meant to target the client but by this law, but if we want to work legally here we are forced to work alone. Violent attacks specifically increased on us 77% in the first year of the law being introduced. This is not a coincidence.”
She continues “We talk to worker after worker whose safety and income has become increasingly precarious. Many are forced to seek assistance for housing by criminals who prey upon our vulnerability. In a time of housing crisis we are exploited by landlords who take advantage of our brothel keeping laws to extract enormous sums for use of their property.
Trans sex workers of colour are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Sex work is one of the few avenues of income open to trans people. While we have quite progressive law on gender recognition in Ireland employment opportunities are rare. Until proper supports are put in place for everyone people will still continue to see sex work as their opportunity for independence and income.
The officers who arrest us are the ones we are to report to if we are assaulted. For sex workers the police are vectors of violence, not of safety or harm reduction. Many migrant sex workers, already on the margins of society, are offered the choice of leaving the country or face prosecution and possibly deportation. When anti-sex work organisations speak about all sex work being violence, including the consensual transactions, what recourse do we have when we are actually assaulted?
We see reports published that back up what we have known anecdotally for years; that when any aspect of sex work is criminalised, including the purchase of sex, violence against sex workers is normalised. We want sex work decriminalised so that we are no longer pushed to the margins. How long can some feminist organisations, the government and the health department ignore the growing body of evidence that shows that their policies are damaging our health?”