Sex workers and supporters hold vigil at Dail to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) call on Minister for Justice not to introduce laws criminalising the purchase of sex.

Today (December 17th) sex workers and supporters will hold candlelit vigils outside Leinster House in Dublin at 6pm and outside City Hall, Belfast at 7pm to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

Although it is legal to sell sexual services in Ireland, almost all other aspects of sex work are criminalised. Sex workers risk arrest simply by working with another person for safety.

Kate McGrew, sex worker and SWAI Coordinator, stated “Irish laws are already putting our lives at risk, and this proposed new legislation will only further endanger the most vulnerable. We gather today to remember sex workers who have been the victims of violence, and to tell the Minister for Justice that it is unacceptable to sacrifice sex workers’ safety for a moral crusade. Our lives are worth more.”

Criminalisation is a legal strategy which purports to ‘end demand’ for sexual services in order to abolish sex work entirely. This approach, commonly referred to as the ’Swedish Model’ has been heavily criticised by sex workers, support workers, medical professionals (the Lancet) and international organisations such as UN AIDS and the World Health Organisation for increasing the marginalisation and victimisation of sex workers. Due to their clients’ risk of arrest, sex workers are pushed further into isolation and away from support services and protection. This law has been rejected in other Nordic countries such as Denmark and Finland and was rejected in France and the UK.

Kate McGrew, continued, “The Minister says she wants to decriminalise sex workers but just last Friday in the Seanad the Government sought to strengthen the Public Order Act to target people suspected of selling sexual services. The Government has no intention of decriminalising workers and is doing exactly the opposite by actually strengthen laws which will target us. Irish laws will continue to criminalise, isolate and punish workers instead of protecting or supporting us. The most marginalised will suffer the most”.

Ella, sex worker, said “I am so sad about this law. Why did no one ask me?. I live a normal life. I am a working mother. Why do I have to be scared?”.

As a highly-stigmatised group, sex workers are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Since 1979, at least 8 sex workers have been murdered in Ireland. Many sex workers, due to a fear of being criminalised and stigmatised, do not report crime or seek support from state run services.

Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland (SWAI) firmly believes criminalisation will only cause further harm and violence to sex workers in Ireland and advocates for a harm reduction and decriminalisation approach as taken in New Zealand. This approach sees the focus of policy responses on the human rights, safety, welfare and occupational health of sex workers

Criminalising the purchase of sexual services harms sex workers, marginalises the most vulnerable, and simply doesn’t work. SWAI calls on the Minister for Justice to look again at the indisputable evidence from Amnesty International, the WHO, UN AIDS, HIV Ireland, Pro Sentret, Norway and the Rose Alliance, Sweden. Sex workers suffer more when the purchase of their services is criminalised.