Thank you for inviting Sex Workers Alliance Ireland to speak. A special hello to the sex workers amongst us tonight.

When was the last time you heard someone respectfully use the words “sex worker” in your workplace? Have you ever heard a joke made at a sex worker’s expense? Have you ever seen a movie where the main character is a sex worker, but their job is inconsequential to the plot? Have you ever raved about a documentary that showcases how sex work improves someone’s life?

Often when we think about violence in relation to sex work, we might not recognise how our own behaviour contributes to stigma and discrimination against sex workers. When we hear the words “sex worker” do we think about taboo sexual activity, or do we think about informed consent? Do we think about vilifying and criminalising customers, or do we think about sex workers wanting to work together for safety without the risk of criminal conviction? Do we think about who is profiting from sex work or do we think about sex workers topping up the gas meter to heat their home? Do we think about the permanency of nudes being posted online or do we think about financial companies stealing money and banning sex workers from earning online?

Moral panic is muddying our ability to hear what sex workers have to say. Sex workers are telling us that they want decriminalisation so that they can choose where, with whom and how they work. Safely. The 2019 review of the criminalisation of paying for sexual services in Northern Ireland, reported that a heightened fear of crime has contributed to a climate whereby sex workers feel further marginalised and stigmatised. This is evidence that politicians are choosing to retain these laws whilst being aware that they are continuing to oppress the sex worker community. How we can continue to accept this is unfathomable.

Violence is perpetrated via marginalisation and stigma. I ask you now, to take a moment to imagine the fear experienced by people who say, “I am a sex worker”. Tonight, we have come together as a community to declare that we are united against violence. As always, I ask you to show your solidarity with sex worker rights by giving a big cheer now woo. Reclaim the night, thank you.

Laura Lee lecture image


In November 2019 we spoke at the 2nd Annual Laura Lee lecture. We read out a speech by a male sex worker. Male sex workers are absent from the conversation about sex work in Ireland. His speech highlights the stigma and shame that exists around sex work. We have helped this man get refugee status and he is now pursuing a career in journalism. Below is the transcript.

I was asked by Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) to participate in today’s event, but because of stigma and as I’m exiting migrant sex worker I’ve declined. So, I’ve decided to write some paragraphs to tell my story.
I’m Nando (of course, not my real name) and I’m originally from Venezuela. For about seven years I was a prostitute in the emerald island, because I didn’t have good luck finding a job and the choices were selling my body or drugs.
Back in my country I was a working professional and not even thought of having a sugar daddy during my years in college to get my degree in Journalism.
But when you’re abroad things change, drastically. I’m a gay male average built, dark-skinned fella with long black hair.
By that time, when I arrived in Dublin, I was 26 years old and I thought my look made me exotic for gays, or bi curious straight Irish guys.
So, since I didn’t have any luck finding a job, I decided to be a full-time escort. I have good and bad memories, but I clearly remember when in March 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was commenced into force.
While it has been an offence to buy sex in Ireland, I started to meet fewer clients little by little. I had to reduce to my rates and engage into chemsex to get punters, which I didn’t want to, because when you’re high, sometimes, clients take advantage of you.
I still remember there were hard years, just keeping my head above water. I tried a marriage of convenience and it didn’t work out. I just wasted about 10 thousand euros.
When I was totally undocumented and with my passport about to expire in few months, I looked for help and I was told by experts in immigration and even an NGO that because I was sex worker, I wouldn’t get any papers.
The only good thing, this NGO did was to put me in contact with SWAI. They contacted solicitor Wendy Lyon and she agreed to meet me for a consultation.
Wendy told me it was my right to claim asylum given the circumstances in Venezuela and it wouldn’t care I was an escort.
I was lucky enough to avoid staying in Direct Provision and I must say my case was sorted out in over a year.
After almost four hours interview, in August 2018, with an immigration officer from the International Protection Office in Dublin, unexpectedly I got letter in the first weeks of October of 2018, saying that I should get declaration as a refugee.
Being honest, the immigration officer never asked me how I survived during eight years in Dublin. I think it was good luck.
By the end of October 2018, I got my declaration as recognised refugee in the Republic of Ireland and that was just the beginning of another battle.
So, as I wasn’t getting enough money from sex work since 2017 and I got my papers back last year, I thought I would ask for my social welfare benefits, given they must treat me as any Irish citizen.
I remember the first time approached the Department of Social Protection they asked three times why I didn’t have a passport. I had to explain them it’s the first thing an immigration officer take from you when you claim asylum and showed my ministerial letter.
Last July as I’ve been getting my social welfare allowance, I decided I didn’t want to be an escort anymore, because not even my regular clients were visiting me and because for me there’s no more profits from sex work. It was all the time about money, even though I enjoyed meeting few guys for cash.
Nowadays, I’m happy retraining as Journalist in Dublin, getting the digital skills, and because I got my degree in my native Spanish language 10 years ago, but there are days when I feel scared, you know that they could use my past against me.
I hope to make peace with my past any time soon and be able, in a couple of years, to stand up in front you and tell my story without shame.
And if anybody dare to judge me say or even shout: Bitch! I’m a journalist and I was undercover getting a better inside in the oldest profession.

Reclaim the Night Belfast

Last night we spoke at the Reclaim the Night Belfast march. Below is the text of our speech.

Firstly, thank you for having SWAI here and asking us to speak. I honestly wish I wasn’t standing here talking, but my colleague and friend Laura Lee instead. These are big boots to fill and it is extremely difficult to do justice for someone who has done so much work for the sex worker movement and also acting as essentially SWAI’s Northern Ireland representative. Building bridges between allies such as Belfast Feminist Network to make sure sex worker voices were included in events like this and building a sex worker community here in the North.

This year has not been an easy year for sexual violence here on the island of Ireland between the Belfast rape trial and now the recent trial in Cork. How can sex workers have any hope under those circumstances, when the criminal justice system will blame our work for when we try to seek justice. And how can sex workers have hope, when organisations which seek to support victims of sexual violence debate against us and only recently tried to prevent us from having an event. Or use these events like Cork and Belfast to further criminalise our work.

Their demand for criminalising our clients and our workplace, when two or more sex workers share together, makes us easy targets for rapists. There are serial rapists out there at this moment, who only target sex workers because they know we won’t report to the police in fear our place of work will become a surveillance target by police to catch our clients. And even more so, as a migrant sex worker fearful they will be deported and all their earnings taken off them to pay for their deportation if they are discovered working together. Why would you want to report a rape, when the outcome could make you lose literally everything?

But yet our voices are silenced and ignored.

Client criminalisation also known as the Swedish Model, because it has its roots in Sweden. This was seen by anti-sex work feminists as a beacon of hope. But all it did was put sex worker further at risk of violence and exploitation, especially the most vulnerable.

Petite Jasmine was a sex worker in Sweden, who had her children taken away because she was a sex working mother. the father, with a history of violence was given custody. Shortly afterwards he killed her in front of the very social workers who took her children away.

Many anti-sex work feminists believe that the increase of violence, which will inevitably happen as a result of client criminalisation, is seen as a deterrent for anyone who may consider becoming a prostitute. Sex workers are seen as collateral damage to further this agenda. You don’t have to take my word for it – ask Frances Fitzgerald, the ex-Justice Minister, who introduced this law in the South.

Reclaim the Night started in response to the Yorkshire Ripper murders when police told women to stay inside after dark while the Ripper was on the lose. The Yorkshire Ripper first targeted sex workers and there was only a public outcry when non-sex working women were targets.

This is why sex workers need to be part of any movement against sexual violence as we are often the easy target and amongst the less likely to get justice.