Ireland is a safer place thanks to sex workers coming forward

“When sex workers work together with Gardaí we can make society better,” says Kate McGrew, current sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) commenting on two court cases involving attacks on sex workers which were reported on today.

She continues “In the case in Tralee the judge warned the accused to not contact any sex workers. Was this warning extended to sex workers in the area? There are currently at least 13 workers working in Kerry who may in danger. As the only frontline, sex worker-led organisation in Ireland we could be a help to the Gardaí in warning workers about this predator.

We were pleased to see the prosecution of Ioan Galben today. It is all too rare for a sex worker’s report to be taken seriously enough to lead to a conviction. Violent crime against sex work has risen by 92% since the purchase of sex was criminalised while the likelihood of sex workers reporting to Gardaí has fallen. We want to emphasise the bravery of the workers in both these cases for coming forward, against the odds.

The reality in Ireland is that sex workers want to work with Gardaí. Criminalising parts of sex work such as the purchase of sex distances us from Gardaí, thereby losing us as the best-placed actors on the ground in the fight against trafficking, exploitation and violence. Nobody wants a safer industry more than sex workers ourselves. 

Sex work must be decriminalised to make us safer. Instead, people already on the margins, who do sex work as the best or only option to survive are forced to do so on a black market, where exploiters are poised ready to take advantage of our lack of options. In this quasi-illegal environment, these people offer us assistance and can exploit or abuse us, knowing we are unlikely to report.

This criminal law was passed without listening to what sex workers ourselves need to make our lives better. The government needs to offer viable alternatives for income so that those who do not want to do sex work can work elsewhere. During the pandemic, we created a hardship fund to ensure that sex workers were taken care of, instead of falling through the cracks, which raised over €25,000. Currently, we can only rely on ourselves and our community to keep us safe. The next government needs to decriminalize our work, name and officially recognise us in society, so that next time there is a pandemic, recession, or climate crisis, this population will not be left to face risking our health or experience deeper precarity, as we have during this time.”