Press release in speech bubble

Risk of eviction, mass surveillance and threats to our livelihood are just some of the issues that sex workers have faced just days into the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. 

“We have been inundated with calls and messages from sex workers who have received texts from the Gardaí. These texts have terrorised a population that is already fearful of interaction with the Gardaí” says Linda Kavanagh from the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI).

“This week there have been reports of so-called welfare checks by Gardaí on sex workers, where Gardaí have posed as clients and lied to sex workers to get access to them. The Gardaí have then taken the names of the landlords of these premises. Brothel raids have been conducted both north and south of the border and there have been trafficking arrests. However, there is no mention of the welfare of the sex workers who worked there. This is not how to go about combatting trafficking and exploitation in the sex industry.” 

“Ireland must recognise that, for sex workers, Gardaí can be a vector of violence. The “I Must Be Some Person” research, published in August of this year highlighted that one in five street sex workers interviewed had experienced being sexually exploited by the Gardaí. Trust in the Garda amongst the rest of the population is at 90% according to the Gardaí’s own research. If we compare that to the Ugly Mugs stats, the only stats of crimes against sex workers that are collected, we see that less than 1% of sex workers report crimes against them to Gardaí.”  

“The 2017 law is failing on its own terms. It has pushed sex work underground, away from Gardaí and services that can help. The law does nothing to improve the situation of a population who are already on the margins of society.  In order to improve relationships with Gardaí, we must decriminalise sex work so that sex workers can feel safe reporting crimes against them. Sex workers deserve to be safe and they deserve laws that uphold their safety.”

We deserve t be safe

Kate McGrew, current sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) welcomes the news that arrests have been made following raids on suspected attackers. She said “We know that when sex workers and the Gardaí can work together we can make Ireland a safer place for everyone. 

However, these arrests do little to assuage the fear and paranoia sex workers feel because of the law. These attacks are the direct consequence of a law that does not prioritise sex worker’s safety and instead focused on a vain attempt to end demand for sex work.” 

She continued “Everyone wants sex workers to be safe but we need to be realistic about what the laws introduced in 2017 have actually accomplished. We have seen a 92% increase in violent crime against sex workers and a marked decrease in the probability of sex workers reporting a crime against them to the Gardaí. One client has been taken to court and many more workers have been prosecuted. 

Forcing sex workers to work alone under the so-called brothel-keeping laws makes them a target for criminals such as these attackers. Driving sex workers to the margins by criminalising the purchase of sex or forcing them to break the law to work together in safety is detrimental to the safety of sex workers. 

Gardaí resources are wasted on attempting to police consensual sex work. An Garda Siochana are already stretched thin. We want sex work decriminalised so sex workers are no longer afraid to engage with the police.” 

Kate McGrew, current sex worker and spokesperson for the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland(SWAI)  said “The criminalisation of client law was brought in with great fanfare over 2 years ago but, as yet, has only seen two men prosecuted for the purchase of sex in Ireland. It is unclear at this time that any of the 38 people questioned will be prosecuted.”

She continues “In early 2020 there will be a review of the impact of the law so we are not surprised that there has been an increase in the questioning of those who seek the service of sex workers. But we know from figures gleaned from Ugly Mugs, an app sex workers use to keep ourselves safe, that over the past 2 years the laws have seen sex workers being deported, arrested or forced to leave the country to avoid prosecution for working together for safety. We also know that there has been a marked increase in violent crimes against sex workers here in Ireland, an increase of 92%. As far as we know everyone who has been prosecuted of so-call brothel-keeping in Ireland has been a migrant.  All of this begs the question, who is truly being affected by the law, who are the vulnerable persons the Garda say they are protecting and who are we trying to keep safe?

With closures of Gardaí stations around the country we know that the Gardaí’s resources would be better served investigating other crimes. We’ve seen from the report released last week, commissioned by the Department of Justice Northern Ireland that the law does not reduce demand or, indeed, trafficking

We don’t know anything about the workers who were caught up in these actions. We don’t know if they were consenting workers or part of the minority of those who have been trafficked into Ireland for sex work. These actions have not addressed the root causes of sex work, such as austerity, poverty, lack of childcare. These actions have not provided the supports on exiting sex work, should people want to exit, which were promised with the introduction of the law. 

This year we have seen the results of sex workers working with Gardaí which led to the conviction of a serial rapist of sex workers. But we are afraid that actions such as those reported on today will result in a decrease in trust in the Gardaí. We know that less than 1% of crimes committed against sex workers are reported to 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.”

SWAI is the only front-line, sex worker-led organisation in Ireland and we want to see sex work fully decriminalised. These laws make clients more fearful, which impacts the safety of sex workers. One of the many reasons we want sex work decriminalised is so that sex workers can work with the Gardaí to combat trafficking and exploitation in the industry. We only have to look at New Zealand and New South Wales in Australia to see how full decriminalisation has led to cooperation between workers and the police. If we truly want to combat trafficking the Gardaí should work with their best allies, sex workers, instead of targetting them and their livelihood. 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. 

#DecrimforSafety #SupportSafeSexWork.

Sex Workers Want Rights Not Rescueess releasem

Kate McGrew, director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “This man was caught procuring sex during a raid on a so-called brothel, when two or more workers work together. This case yet against highlights how the law is being used against workers who may want to work together for safety reasons. This man was collateral damage in an ill-fated war to end demand. He was not the intended target of the raid, the workers were.” 

She continues “As a result of this prosecution workers will be forced to work alone, which increases their vulnerability. Working or living with another sex worker is illegal in Ireland. Penalties doubled for workers working in pairs or groups when the law change and this change in law 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.” 

“This is the first prosecution of a client under the laws brought in in 2017, but from statistics we go from the Central Statistics office we know 55 people have been arrested. We can only conclude that the rest of those prosecuted under brothel keeping laws are the workers themselves. Is this really what this law was introduced for?” 

“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?”

“No one is asking about the sex workers who have been caught in this raid. We hope they are safe and getting the support they need and we would like to remind them and all other sex workers that we are here for peer-led, non judgemental support for all sex workers”

Sex Workers Want Rights Not Rescue

Since the laws have been introduced there have been 55 people arrested for prostitution offences, but only 2 of them are clients. Garda resources are already stretched without having to police consensual acts between a sex worker and their client.   

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) supports the findings of the associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health, that criminalisation of sex work including the purchase of sex normalises violence against sex workers. The report shows that when aspects of sex work are policed there are higher instances of HIV among sex workers, less safe sex, more instances of violence by their clients and others including the police, lack of access to support and that it leads to workers are taking more risks in order to work and survive. Whereas in places where sex work is tolerated workers have more access to justice and better bargaining power with their clients. 

Kate McGrew, SWAI’s director says “This report backs up what we already knew; that sex workers lives and health, including mental health, are damaged by aspects of our work being criminalised. Criminalisation of clients, which is the law introduced here last year, means that workers are forced to take more risks. Fines were also increased for sex workers working together for safety, which fall under the crime of brothel-keeping. These laws were introduced to “rescue” sex workers from our work but this report shows that policing of sex work leads to poorer outcomes.”

She continued “As we predicted, violence against sex workers rose dramatically once these brothel-keeping and client criminalisation laws came in. When a serial rapist or attacker shows up in our community, often workers will only share this information amongst ourselves and not report because of the threat of prosecution. 

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. How is there oversight and care shown in these cases? How can that lead to improved interactions and trust with the state?

The laws put in place in 2017 are scheduled for a review in 2020 but until that time sex workers face increased violence and a reduction in safety. We are collateral damage in the ill-fated war against our means of survival.”

We got the following stats from the Central Statistics Office when we requested information on prostitution offenses 

Recorded Crime Offences Under Reservation (Number) by Type of Offence and Quarter
134 ,Prostitution offences 2017Q1 2017Q2 2017Q3 2017Q4 2018Q1 2018Q2
9 6 12 12 11 5
Statistics Under Reservation.
For further information see our
( Under Reservation FAQ page
( See Background Notes

134 Prostitution Offences is made up of

1341 Brothel keeping
1342 Organisation of prostitution
1343 Prostitution, including soliciting etc