Press release in speech bubble

SWAI wholeheartedly condemn the Department of Justice’s Handling of Sex Work Laws Review

The Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) expresses deep disappointment and frustration regarding the Minister for Justice’s written answer to the parliamentary question put forth by Catherine Connolly on the 22nd February. This follows the Minister’s refusal to engage with SWAI on the processes and setbacks that the review of Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 2017 report has already undergone. 

Mardi Kennedy, director of SWAI said “Sex workers, the primary stakeholders in this review, feel marginalised and unheard. The independent reviewer stepped back recently, and we raised concerns at the time that the knowledge that was gained from the meetings held has been lost. The news that the Department of Justice thinks it can continue this ludicrous process would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.”

Linda Kavanagh spokesperson for SWAI added “I was in attendance during the meeting with Maura Butler and I noted that the meeting wasn’t recorded. We know from consultation with the sex workers who were involved that their meetings were not recorded either. How will the assistant to the independent reviewer be able to convey the vital information that sex workers imparted in these meetings to people who were not present through notes? 

Active sex workers are the most important voices needed in this review. It is of vital importance for sex workers’ voices in shaping policies that impact their lives. Meaningful inclusion of sex worker’s voices in this process was set out in the terms of reference but this has failed. Full engagement of sex workers has not been attempted.”

She continues “Despite numerous requests, SWAI has not received any response regarding the review process, leading us to demand a scrapping and redoing of the review. The Minister’s ongoing refusal to meet is seen as a disregard for the lived experiences and safety concerns of sex workers under the Nordic model of client criminalisation.

Sex workers are questioning whether ideology is prioritised over evidence, research, and the well-being of the community in this process. The recent setback in the review process further raises concerns about the government’s commitment to understanding the impact of the laws on sex workers’ lives. SWAI demands transparency, meaningful engagement, and a thorough review process to restore trust and credibility.

Would it have been acceptable for the Department of Health to conduct the review of the current abortion law, which, we note, was called for later than this review (2019) and was conducted and published last year? Why are only some women’s issues important to this government? Why are only some women listened to about the policies that shape their lives?

This past year has been especially devastating, marked by the tragic murder of a sex worker in Limerick, low trust in Gardaí, and the annual raids disguised as welfare checks that sex workers regularly endure. SWAI urges the government to address the pressing issues faced by sex workers and to prioritise their safety, well-being, and rights by decriminalising sex work in Ireland.

As we approach the first anniversary of the murer of Geila Ibram, SWAI reiterates its call for the decriminalisation of sex work as a crucial step towards ensuring the safety, rights, and dignity of sex workers in Ireland. SWAI also highlights the impact of criminalisation on sex workers’ mental health, emphasising the need for decriminalisation to address the stigma and structural inequalities that contribute to stress and poor mental health among sex workers. The ongoing harassment campaign, phishing scams, and threats of violence against sex workers underscore the urgency of addressing the harmful effects of criminalisation. 

We want to thank Catherine Connolly for her ongoing dedication to ensuring this process comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

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

Supporters of the Nordic model have Blood on their hands on a banner

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?”

Megaphone saying Press relelase

This week a phishing scam from someone pretending to be a major advertising site contacted non-national sex workers who are currently advertising. Later in the week, these texts escalated into extreme threats of violence, including threats of murder. 

Separately a man with an Irish accent has been calling sex workers, harassing them with threats of violence.  All of this is part of an ongoing, sustained campaign of harassment with serious time and resources being put into it. 

Mardi Kennedy, coordinator of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “We are highlighting these events to warn sex workers about the phishing calls but also to highlight the type of violence against sex workers, who are mostly women, that goes unnoticed, unreported and not talked about.”

She continued “We also wanted to bring attention to the campaign of harassment that has been levelled against Ugly Mugs, the app sex workers use to keep themselves safe. 

Due to online harassment, the person running the Ugly Mugs social media has been forced to take down their social media accounts. Ugly Mugs does not have an advertising budget and relies on word of mouth and social media to direct sex workers to this essential service. The police are powerless to address the violent threats that have been made to the person running the account and social media companies are indifferent.” 

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for SWAI said “There have been countless complaints to 3rd parties about Ugly Mugs from somebody or some people over the past several months. This app is one of the few safety nets sex workers have. If this app disappears, sex workers will die. It is as simple as that. 

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. How does this statistic not concern the Minister for Justice? How does it not concern those who campaign against gender-based violence?”

Linda continued “Sex workers are real people, who are forced to work alone to work legally. They are rejected from rape and sexual assault services because of their job. They are refused treatment by mental health professionals because the economic activity they perform is framed as acts of self-harm. Gardaí pose as clients and lied to sex workers to get access to them, under the guise of so-called welfare checks.

Threats and harassment are inevitable in the current environment of criminalisation and stigma. This violence is not from clients but from men who feel empowered by the law and the dehumanising language around sex workers. During the 16 Days to End Gender-Based Violence next month will we see a focus on the reality of harassment, stalking and threats to sex workers, or will we see more misguided support for laws and stigma that creates the environment for this violence?”

Sex Workers Awareness Training

The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) are delighted to announce our new Sex Worker Awareness Training, available in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Developed by sex workers, this training will enhance participants’ knowledge including:

  • What is sex work?
  • Appropriate language and terminology
  • Barriers, stigma, and discrimination experienced by sex workers
  • Models of laws, what do sex workers want?
  • Sex worker services including information about SWAI
  • How you can provide sex worker-friendly services

This training is appropriate for organisations and groups either working with sex workers or those who are wanting to improve their knowledge, professional practice, and inclusion. This training can run from 1-2 hours, and be done online or in person, depending on your needs. We deliver this training with passion and enthusiasm for learning and growth, whilst encouraging a safe learning environment for participants.

SWAI charges a reasonable fee to deliver Sex Worker Awareness Training. However, we do not want finances to be a barrier to accessing this training so we can discuss fees once we receive a completed training request form. 

Mardi Kennedy, co-ordinator of SWAI says “For over a decade I have worked with sex workers in Melbourne, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as an advocate, educator and support worker. This training has been developed with sex workers and delivered to various human rights, health and LGBTQIA+ organisations, colleges and universities, Human Rights Festivals’, sex Therapists, art spaces and more. We receive consistent, positive feedback and gratitude for sharing our sex worker-informed, first-hand knowledge. This training is for everyone and we would love to deliver it to you!  

Please note: as staff work part-time, we will endeavour to respond as soon as possible and appreciate your patience as it may take a couple of weeks. 


SWAI came to talk to DCU as part of a module called Ireland Sex and Text. Originally offered to final year students, the discussion was open to anyone in the University. The session was outstanding inasmuch as the audience was very receptive interested in the practical information delivered as well as in the theoretical/philosophical discourses sustaining SWAI. We had about 80 people of all ages, Irish and non-Irish, from different constituencies within the University. Thank you Mardi!

Jean-Philippe Imbert

I attended your first training session in Outhouse a few weeks ago and absolutely adored it, as a former sex worker myself I found it incredibly informative and interesting.



Yellow siren

The murder of a sex worker is the grim but obvious result of a law that disregards the voices and safety of sex workers. 

Linda Kavanagh, communications manager of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says “When this law was being debated in 2015 and 2016 sex workers and allies warned that the law would increase violence against sex workers. Since that time mountains of research, as well as the lived experiences of sex workers, have shown us to be correct.”

She continues “Everywhere the so-called Nordic Model has been passed, sex workers have been murdered. It has happened in France, it has happened in Sweden in the country of its origin, and now it has happened here.

Client criminalisation laws reduce the number of clients while doing nothing to address the economic need which drives people to do sex work in the first place. Despite the misguided promises of those who support the law, the client now has the upper hand in negotiation – he is the one at risk of criminal prosecution. To get the client’s money, a sex worker needs to make him feel safe and deprioritise their own safety. This may result in risk-taking behaviour like not using a condom, or taking on clients that a worker would normally turn down. The industry is pushed underground, away from services that can help a worker in an exploitative situation. 

In 2017 the law also increased fines and added a jail sentence for so-called brothel keeping, where two or more sex workers share accommodation. Almost all sex workers we speak to want to work with another worker. Sex work is a cash business and working alone makes sex workers targets for criminals. Working safely and working legally are now incompatible. 

The laws surrounding sex work have made criminals of consenting adults and have done nothing to stem the rising tide of violence against women in Ireland. Those at the forefront of the fight against violence against women vocally support our misguided laws. They refuse to listen to sex workers when they say they want sex work to be decriminalised.

When we hear of sex workers being murdered our immediate concern is the safety of the sex work community. What systems are in place for when something of this magnitude happens? It became clear to those of us in direct contact with sex workers day in and day out that there was not a Garda system in place. It was Ugly Mugs, advertiser sites and the community ourselves who spread the information about the attack and warned sex workers. A description of the possible perpetrator was given to the media before it was given to the community. Without organisations that constantly get called “the Pimp Lobby”, get refused funding, get shut out of policy decisions, and have our data and research ridiculed and laughed at (genuinely) the community would not know what was going on. 

Another migrant woman has been killed in our country, because of our laws. It is time for people in Ireland to demand the end to laws that put women, migrants, gender-diverse and marginalised people in harm’s way. We deserve better than a country that pushes people into sex work through the continuing housing crisis, lack of drug reform, lack of legal migration paths, the cost of living crisis etc and then puts people in danger when they chose to do sex work. People are desperate because of these concurrent crises. Violence like this is not inevitable, but the dehumanising language used around sex work contributes to it. We need to fully decriminalise sex work as a first step towards the safety of sex workers. 

Our thoughts are with her and her family.

#DecrimforSafety #SupportSafeSexWork

Press release in speech bubble

When will the state own up to the fact that the law has failed and decriminalise sex work in Ireland?

Mardi Kennedy, coordinator of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) commented on today’s guilty verdict of a man who assaulted two migrant sex workers in 2020 “The case today shows that the current sex work law in Ireland is failing on its own terms. The law did nothing to prevent the violent behaviour of this client.

We commend these brave workers who came forward and ensured the prosecution of a predator. However we note that this is unusual. 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. How does this statistic not concern the Minister for Justice?” 

Linda Kavanagh, communications manager of SWAI continues “In the wake of the change in the law in 2017, SWAI was the first point of contact for workers who were assaulted. As this case today proves, this spate of violence against sex workers has not abated. 

Everyone deserves to be safe in their job, and sex work is an economic activity. The sex workers in this case noted that they worked for themselves, they were not being exploited or coerced. 

The criminalisation of the purchase of sex does nothing to address the economic needs of sex workers. In fact, what it has done is made sex workers less safe and pushed sex work underground and away from services that can support them. 

The strategy of so-called End Demand has created a climate of hostility and scarcity which means that sex workers may feel the need to take on clients who they would normally refuse or engage in riskier behaviour. It empowers clients to demand sex with no condom, for example.”

We MUST decriminalise sex work so that workers can work together for safety. We demand the Gardaí, the Department of Justice and supporters of the law listen to sex workers about what they need. They have the power to right these wrongs.” 

* An earlier version of the blog post stated incorrectly that the sex workers were trans.

Inernational Sex Workers Rights Day

Mardi, our coordinator writes about her experience in India where she met the founders of International Sex Workers’ Rights day. The Durbar Mahila Samawaya Committee (DMSC) founded the day in 2021. 

“When I visited DMSC in Kolkata, India, I was awestruck and inspired by the successful outcomes of community organising by sex workers. I was generously introduced to members of the committee, and sex workers in their workplace, I met performers who are the children of sex workers and visited health clinics within the sex work district. I learned about their financial cooperative and other infrastructure that sex workers established, as society has previously excluded access to sex workers due to their work, class, and gender identities.

We see similar accessibility barriers within our own society in Ireland due to the current laws that promote stigma and discrimination towards sex workers. SWAI is engaging with sex workers to build solidarity and strength within our community to overcome isolation and prejudice, facilitate inclusion and establish non-judgemental, safer spaces.”  

“Today is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and since we marked this day last year there has been a notable shift in attitudes against sex workers in Ireland,” says Mardi Kennedy, coordinator of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI). 

“The tide is turning against sex workers, and it is alarming to see”, Mardi continues. “This year the Department of Justice funded‘ I Must Be Some Person’ research highlighted that 1 in 5 street sex workers in Ireland has been sexually assaulted by Gardaí. This research was unique in giving voice to street sex workers who have been silenced in the dominant narrative around sex work in Ireland.”

Linda Kavanagh, comms manager for SWAI added “We have also recently learned of a sex worker who had their earnings seized at Belfast airport. Selling sex is supposed to be legal on the island of Ireland and yet this worker had her name published online and her earnings stolen by the police. Under what law have her earnings been seized?” 

“All-island brothel raids were conducted in November with no mention of the well-being of the sex workers involved. Gardaí have posed as clients and lied to sex workers to get access to them to conduct so-called welfare checks. The Gardaí have then taken the names of the landlords of these premises. These checks, accompanied by mass texts, have terrorised sex workers and we have been contacted by many sex workers who are concerned by these actions. This is not how to go about combatting trafficking and exploitation in the sex industry.”

“Violence against sex workers comes in many forms, not just from clients. Police, the government, healthcare professionals, landlords, and society at large are all vectors of violence against sex workers. We know this because SWAI listens to sex workers themselves. Trust in the Gardaí 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.”

“In the past year we have learned that victims of trafficking who were prosecuted for brothel-keeping will not have their convictions wiped. There is a huge problem in Ireland with trafficked people getting recognised as such, while it suits many to conflate all sex work with trafficking. Just look at the number of traffickers prosecuted and how Ireland has been admonished numerous times for our lack of convictions” says Leah Butler.  

She continues “On a more positive note, this year the review of the law continued and we eagerly await the outcome of this report. This review MUST centre on the experiences of current sex workers and how the Nordic model of client criminalisation has made sex workers more vulnerable to violence, including violence from the state.” 

Here at SWAI we have hired a new coordinator and have a new board, made up of sex workers and allies. We have resumed our monthly coffee meet-ups, and online meet-ups to bolster the diverse community of sex workers in Ireland. We have sent vouchers to sex workers who are struggling with the cost of living crisis because we know that sex workers need more than rhetoric to survive. 

This International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers we demand that sex workers are listened to when we call for the decriminalisation of sex work. The cost of living crisis, on top of the years-long housing crisis, means more people turn to sex work to make ends meet. The Irish government is pushing people into sex work but simultaneously ensures they are less safe once they are. 

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.”

Board announcement!

We are so pleased to announce the new SWAI board! The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland welcome Leea Berry, Leah Butler and Lianne O’Hara to our board of directors. 

Leea Berry is a Domina and activist taking the role of Treasurer of the Board. Her experiences of harassment and eventually eviction by the Gardaí under the Nordic model in Ireland make her an ideal candidate, with lived experience of life as a sex worker in Ireland.

Leah Butler is taking the role of Chair of the Board and has a BA (Hons) in History and Folklore with structured electives in Equality Studies from University College Dublin. She brings a wealth of experience in grassroots activism and community organising to this role. 

Lianne O’Hara is taking the role of Secretary. She is a poet and playwright. Her debut play Fluff, following two Dublin strippers through an evening’s work, sold out a six-show run at the Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2022. Her deep ties to the sex worker community are invaluable to our organisation.

This board, along with our new coordinator Mardi Kennedy, will ensure a sustainable, sex worker community-focused organisation fighting for the human rights and safety of sex workers on the island of Ireland. To find out more about our team please check out the About Us section of the website.

We are also seeking additional board members for SWAI. If you are interested please read this Board Call Out post and email [email protected]. We are actively seeking board members from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds, and particularly welcome applications from current or former sex workers. Come join our team in the fight to ensure the voices of sex workers are heard