International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers closes out a brutal and deadly year for sex workers in Ireland. 

Supports of the Nordic Model have blood on their hands, written on a banner in black

Mardi Kennedy, coordinator of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “This year has been devastating for Irish sex workers, marked by a murder in Limerick, raids disguised as welfare checks and an ongoing campaign of harassment targeting sex workers, including phishing scams and threats of violence. The Nordic Model of client criminalisation, supported by the government, contributes to increased violence against sex workers. We call for decriminalisation of sex work as a crucial step towards ensuring the safety of sex workers.”

She continues “The tragic murder of Geila Ibram, a sex worker in Limerick, underscores the consequences of laws disregarding sex workers’ voices and safety. We reiterate that warnings from sex workers and allies during the 2015-2016 Nordic Model debates have been validated by extensive research and lived experiences worldwide. And now the danger the state was warned about has come to pass. How the government chooses to continuously ignore sex workers and research is both unfathomable and confusing”.

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for SWAI says “Client criminalisation and so-called brothel-keeping laws have led to adverse effects on negotiation dynamics, prioritisation of the safety and well-being of the client rather than the sex worker themselves, and the industry being pushed underground, forcing risk-taking behaviours. The 2017 law escalated fines and introduced jail sentences for brothel keeping, making legal and safe work incompatible. The criminalisation of consenting adults has failed to curb exploitation and trafficking in Ireland and disregards sex workers’ calls for decriminalisation.”

She continues “In October SWAI reported on an ongoing campaign of harassment targeting sex workers, including phishing scams and threats of violence. This highlights the need to address violence against sex workers, which goes unnoticed and unreported. Less than 1% of sex workers report crimes against them to the Gardaí, compared to 81% of the general population who have trust in Gardaí.

This lack of trust in the police is caused by all-island brothel raids disguised as welfare checks, which conveniently happen around the 16 Days to End Gender-based Violence each year. The Gardaí, disguising themselves as clients, shamelessly deceive sex workers to gain access to them. These intrusive checks, coupled with their mass texts, have inflicted terror upon sex workers. It’s infuriating that this is the chosen method to combat trafficking and exploitation in the sex industry. It does nothing to end exploitation in the sex industry.”

“We also learned of another setback in the overdue review of sex work laws, with the independent reviewer stepping back. We condemn the lack of transparency and engagement with stakeholders and demand a restart of the review due to concerns about outdated data and the loss of direct engagement with sex workers. We have since learned that the reviewer stepped back due to the lack of faith the Department of Justice had in her and her methods. 

The extended delay raises questions about the government’s commitment to addressing the issues faced by sex workers. We reiterate the importance of a thorough and transparent review process that genuinely considers the impact on sex workers’ lives. How can we trust this process when it has been a disaster from the beginning?

SWAI demands immediate action to address the urgent concerns facing sex workers in Ireland. We urge the government to prioritise the safety, well-being, and rights of sex workers, acknowledging their invaluable role in shaping policies that impact their lives.”

The tide has decisively turned against sex workers in Ireland, trampling their rights and safety. These are real people, coerced into solitary work for legality, only to be shunned by rape and assault services and denied mental health aid, branding their economic activity as self-harm.

In this hostile landscape of criminalisation, shame and stigma, threats and harassment loom large. The violence isn’t from clients but from men emboldened by the law’s dehumanising rhetoric. As the 16 Days to End Gender-Based Violence comes to an end, will the focus be on exposing the grim reality of harassment, stalking, and threats faced by sex workers, or will misguided support for laws perpetuating this violence persist?

In the face of murder, assault, robbery, and deceit at the hands of Gardaí, what does it take for their voices to be heard?”