Today the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) learned that two sex workers working together for safety were attacked precisely because they were, in the eyes of the law, working illegally.
Two workers were sharing a premises in Limerick when a client refused to shower properly. When he was requested to shower thoroughly he lost his temper and threw objects at the worker. She politely asked him to leave and when he reacted badly again she asked the other worker on the premises for help. He attacked them, and in the worker’s own words “He treats us with violence”. The workers involved want to warn any other sex workers in the area.
Barbara*, the sex worker involved said “This is why it has to be legal to share a flat with another worker. I can’t imagine what would have happened to her if she was here alone. One of the things that he screamed at us was “its two of you! It’s a brothel. I’ll end you!”
Kate McGrew, active sex worker and director of SWAI said “Incidences like this are the reason that sex workers work together for safety and risk breaking the law by so-called brothel-keeping. Who knows what would have happened if the worker was on her own when the client assaulted her? We need policymakers, politicians and sex work prohibitionists to understand that this is what happens when you criminalise one part of transactional sex.”
She continued “Sex workers warned that the End Demand model, brought in with great fanfare in 2017, would mean increased violence for sex workers. In fact, violent crime against sex workers has increased by 92%! The law prohibited the purchase of sex and increased penalties and added a jail sentence for workers sharing a premises. Decent clients disappeared and it became necessary to take on clients with nothing to lose, more dangerous clients to make ends meet. This is evidenced also by the fact that even in a pandemic the client refused to shower thoroughly, showing scant regard for the sex worker’s health.
Sex work is an economic activity and until it is understood as such and our needs are met in other ways sex workers will continue working. Sex workers have been forced to return to work as they have been out of work for over 7 months. Would you be able to survive without an income for that amount of time?
It is extremely unlikely that these workers will report to the Gardaí as they themselves risk arrest for breaking the law. No exploitation was involved, these women were working together for safety but, as evidenced by the HIV Ireland report published recently, sex workers are at pains to avoid interaction with the Gardaí. The so-called brothel-keeping laws have been almost exclusively used to prosecute young, migrant sex workers. Today’s incident comes on the back of the news that another migrant was prosecuted last week for brothel-keeping. These are not hypothetical scenarios, these are very real concerns of a population who are already extremely marginalised.
Sex workers look out for each other because no one else will. We have been marginalised even in discussions that affect our lives and livelihood. We need to decriminalise sex work in Ireland so that we can work with another worker legally and we can report crimes against us without fear. We all deserve to be safe in our job.
The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is a peer-led service for anyone who sells sexual services in Ireland. Please contact us at [email protected] or 085 824 9305 if you are a sex worker and need our help.
*Real name not given