Gardaí questions 36 men but many more sex workers have been arrested

Gardaí should protect the most vulnerable. Instead our laws put marginalised people in danger and waste precious Garda resources.  

Kate McGrew, director of SWAI and currently working sex worker said “36 men have been questioned over purchase of sex in the past few days and, while this is a huge number this is still far less than the 55 workers who have been prosecuted for working together in safety*, so called brothel-keeping. Of these 36 men we don’t know how many, if any, will be prosecuted. All the while there has been a 92% increase in violent crime against sex workers since the 2017 laws came in. This is where Garda resources should be directed”

She continued “While we don’t know the details of the cases, the press release from the Gardaí reads like there was mass surveillance on workers. The outcome of this will mean that clients will not use their real names or phone numbers to evade detection. This puts workers at a very real risk as they will be less able to screen predators. They may also insist that workers come to them, taking the worker out of their security zone and into somewhere unknown. Sex workers are now forced to work in isolation, which puts them at further risk of violence and exploitation.  Ultimately sex worker will be driven further underground, which does nothing to help the minority of trafficked people working in sex work in Ireland. 

“There is nothing in the Garda statement about the workers. We don’t know if they are safe, or whether they were coerced or consenting adults. Sex work is a particular type of work that people do when they have few other options. The law does not help them. Workers will be forced to take risks to make ends meet. Questioning and arresting clients is, in fact, not support for sex workers and is a terrible use of stretched Garda resources. Mass surveilance of sex workers leads to distrust in the Gardaí, making workers less likely to report when they have been assulated.”

“The bottom line is these actions reported today are not support. The actions by the Gardaí over the past few days and the resources spent on them do nothing to help sex workers, should they want to leave sex work. In the past we have worked with the Gardaí and workers who were violently attacked to bring those perpetrators to justice.  During the period of escalated violence that has followed the 2017 change in law, SWAI has been increasingly involved on the ground with helping workers on the ground in emergency situations. In our interactions with the Gardaí, even when they are dealing with workers who have been attacked, it is clear that they are overstretched. We fear that actions such as those reported today will mean a loss of trust in the Gardaí. We would like to see Garda efforts focus on actually helping sex workers when they are the victims of a crime, instead of meddling with their means of survival.”

The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, the only sex worker led front-line organisation in Ireland, want to see sex work decriminalised. Studies have shown that where any aspect of sex work is criminalised it means increased violence and adverse health conditions for the worker**. The 2017 law does nothing to address the precarity and lack of security that can lead to human trafficking. One of the big reasons we need full decriminalisation in Ireland is to improve relations with Gardai, so that those on the ground – sex workers and clients alike – can easily report exploitation, abuse, and trafficking without repercussion. We ask that misinformed politicians listen to us, the very people who are materially affected by these laws. Who are these laws helping? Sex workers want to be safe, like everyone else.