Condoms are used as evidence of sex work

With HIV diagnoses on the rise in Ireland as well as demands from clients empowered by a law that was supposed to help sex workers, workers now fear carrying condoms.

Kate McGrew, current sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) said “Today is World AIDS Day. Ireland needs to wake up to the fact that there is an increase in HIV diagnoses each year here. 

We were assured that our sex work laws, which changed to client criminalisation in 2017, would make us safer. Instead, they have caused a 92% rise in violent crimes against, ensured the jailing of migrant sex workers and tipped the balance of power towards our clients.

We hear of clients who demand that condoms are not worn. We know that ‘stealthing’, the practice of removing a condom during sex without the knowledge of the sexual partner, is increasing. SWAI has recently supported a migrant sex worker who was too afraid to tell the nurse that she was an escort, and was thus refused PEP, for not being considered part of a high-risk group. Sex workers are afraid to carry condoms now in case they are used as evidence that the purchase of sex work has occurred. All of this flies in the face of best practice of HIV prevention. 

We all deserve to have health and safety but laws which police sexual expression, including transactional sex between consenting adults, lead to already marginalised people being pushed further into the margins. When sex workers, who in Ireland are mostly migrants, cannot work together in safety they take greater risks, such as shorter negotiations or lack of use of condoms. Stigma and shame lead to sex workers not attending services such as rape crisis centres or seeking justice if they have been a victim of a crime.” 

In Ireland, we hear from workers that Gardai routinely take condoms as evidence of sex work as well as any money made, during a brothel raid, even when they do not make any arrests and only tell the women to move on. This leaves the workers with no money to travel and with no safe way to make money to do so. Sex workers and trans workers, in particular, are at high risk for HIV and any law that makes them less likely to practice safe sex or get tested has a detrimental effect on an already vulnerable population.

Misguided politicians have been led to believe that our laws save sex workers, but instead, they put them in harm’s way. SWAI is the only sex workers rights group in Ireland that puts sex workers at the centre of their policy. We join many other sex workers rights groups in calling for full decriminalisation of sex work, including clients so that workers can have healthy and safe lives free from stigma.”