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New report leaves sex workers out in the cold says Sex Workers Alliance Ireland 

‘Disrupt Demand’, a report published today fails to address the reality of the lives of sex workers in all their diversity. In Ireland, buying sex is a criminal offence under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017. 

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland has seen the law do the opposite of protecting sex workers, putting them at more risk of exploitation by third parties, clients and landlords. 

Kate McGrew, director of SWAI says “We have seen an increase in attacks against sex workers including a spate of violent knife attacks a few months after the law was introduced in the Republic of Ireland. There has also been an increase in trafficking in Northern Ireland in the last year, which seems to be the opposite of this law was purported to do. This is not raised in the report.

She continues “We have already seen an increase in violence against sex workers in the short time since the criminalisation of clients has been introduced in Ireland. Even though sex work becomes more risky, difficult or dangerous, it is seen as worth it. Are currently working sex workers collateral damage in the futile quest to eradicate sex work entirely?”

As in the report published today by Disrupt Demand, there is an increasing transparency about criminalisation of sex work being pushed for its purported protection of society at large, namely, women who are not sex workers. Therefore we see organisations who support further criminalisation of sex work minimize or ignore the harms and negative impacts that come from criminalisation.

The report conflates human trafficking and exploitation with sex work. While exploitation, violence, harm and safety issues clearly exist, most sex workers didn’t want client criminalisation as a means to address these issues. Conflating human trafficking with all sex work only serves to marginalise and silence those best placed to report exploitative situations and fails to acknowledge the choices women may make to migrate to engage in sex work. The best way to tackle human trafficking is to strengthen identification procedures and prevention measures within the trafficking framework.

In Ireland, the review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017 due to take place in 2020 needs to ensure that sex workers themselves have the opportunity to be heard and their evidence taken on board in shaping Irish policy on sex work and humane responses that uphold the human rights and dignity of all sex workers.

People engage in sex work due to a variety of reasons such as unequal access to education, healthcare, housing and social supports. It’s much easier to criminalise the purchase of sex work and brothel-keeping than to face that the compounding factors that make people susceptible to exploitation are too complex to be solved, with a broad stroke, by making a job illegal and shaming it out of existence.

Poverty is the driving factor in instances of trafficking. It is not subsidiary to demand for sexual services as the report states. When people have to use third parties to migrate and find work across borders they are more likely to see the terms of their agreement change or be taken completely out of their control. Their vulnerability becomes manifold. The report fails to address this reality for migrant sex workers.