Today SWAI marks it’s 10 year anniversary and reflects over the work we have done and the work we need to do.
Kate McGrew, current sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “Since its inception in 2009 SWAI have sought to bring an alternative voice to the discussion around sex work. The dominant narrative then and now has conflated sex trafficking, human trafficking and human smuggling with consensual sex work. We give voice to the real experiences of currently working sex workers because we ARE currently working sex workers. This voice has been sorely lacking in Irish society.”
She continues “Since 2009 we have grown, taken on staff, have a majority sex working board and hired a sex worker as a director. This means that the lived experiences and voices of currently working sex workers permeate every aspect of our work. We have direct contact with hundreds of sex workers each year and we provide non-judgemental advice on many subjects such as housing and health, provided paths to justice and signposted services. We have helped workers gain refugee status and guided some through the justice system, resulting in a 20-year sentence for a serial rapist.
Since 2009 this country has gone through a recession which we are slowly climbing out of, and it has undergone a sea-change in social change, with same-sex marriage, gender recognition and abortion access being legalised.
Unfortunately, since 2009 client criminalisation has been introduced in Ireland which has a detrimental effect on the safety of workers here. It was brought in with great fanfare but none of the promises that were made has come to pass and in fact, we have seen a 92% increase in violent crime against us. Trust in the Gardaí amongst sex workers has fallen even further. This month alone we have seen a spate of attacks nationwide. We warned that this would happen but we were not listened to.
Sex workers want to work together for safety but the laws in 2017 changed to increase fines for so-called brothel-keeping and added a jail sentence. In June of this year, our worst fears were realised when two migrant workers, one of whom is pregnant, were sentenced to jail for the crime of working together for safety. The judge acknowledged that they were not coerced into this work and there were no bosses, pimps, traffickers or clients involved.
Since the law was introduced only a fraction of the arrests have been of clients. Sex workers bear both the legal brunt and the burden of navigating this law with clients who are potentially more dangerous and much more concerned for their own safety than that of the worker.
In the 10 years since SWAI has started our organisation has gone from strength to strength. We have succeeded in adding a different voice to the sex work discourse and given a voice to this hidden population. In the 2020 review of the law, we must be listened to as the experts in what is best for sex workers.
To mark our 10 years we are re-launching our website http://sexworkersallianceireland.org/. Through it we provide easy to understand information about sex workers rights, support after sexual assault and budgeting and money management. It will also provide up to date news and our press releases.