Sex Workers Oppose Northern Ireland’s New Law

Today, June 1st, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) expresses its serious concern on legislation criminalizing the purchase of sex now in effect in Northern Ireland.

The legislation goes against international best practice and advice from expert organisations including the World Health Organisation and UN AIDS, which advocate instead for a human rights based, harm reduction and decriminalization approach to law and policy surrounding sex work.

Maria, a sex worker in Northern Ireland said, “This new law is going to make my children and I homeless. I do escorting to give my children food, shelter and clothes. I am worried sick. I don’t want to feel like a criminal and have my clients facing charges”.

Sex workers themselves have clearly shown their opposition to the new law. Research commissioned by the Justice Department last year in Northern Ireland found that 98% of sex workers surveyed were against the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. Yet, these findings and views of sex workers were completely ignored by politicians in Stormont.

Sex worker and SWAI member Kate McGrew stated, “It is poignant that the law comes into force the day before International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. Sex workers in Northern Ireland will now be forced to work in more hidden circumstances to avoid police intervention and potential arrest of their clients. Sex workers across Northern Ireland feel that their views about their own lives and safety are not being listened to by those who say they want to protect them. It’s clear to us that politicians North and South are more interested in sending an ideological message than our safety or rights”.

SWAI calls on the Government in the South to stop and review its own proposed legislation in the upcoming Sexual Offences Bill criminalizing the purchase of sex. SWAI also calls on the Government to meaningfully engage in a safe consultation process with sex workers before introducing any laws or policy that will deeply impact their lives.