Sex Workers could be jailed for working together for safety under new Bill

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) is shocked by Government moves to further increase prison terms for sex workers caught working indoors for safety and those working on the street.

Speaking today from the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, Kate Mc Grew, SWAI Co-ordinator said, “Our Government keep telling us they want to protect the most vulnerable women by criminalising the men that buy sex from them, but under this new legislation a client will not face a prison sentence yet a worker will. The Government has now doubled the fines and doubled the prison sentence for sex workers caught working together in an apartment or house. If it is the Government’s aim to stop prostitution by ending demand, then why are they increasing the penalties and further criminalising workers? ”

The Government is also refusing to consider including a two-year review of the legislation, which would evaluate the impact it is having on the lives and welfare of sex workers. In Sweden, where this law was introduced in 1998, the law is regularly evaluated. If the Irish Government is confident about the outcome of this legislation then a two year review is a sensible safeguard. Many sex workers have spoken out about how laws likes this hurt them. An evaluation would ensure responsible legislating on a complex issue.

Ms. McGrew continued, “The Government have pursued this legislation without conducting any independent research into the impact of criminalisation or without any meaningful consultation with actual sex workers. We have repeatedly told the Minister for Justice and the Irish Government we sex workers do not want criminalisation, we want our human rights and safety protected. The proposed legislation goes against international best practice and advice from expert organisations including Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation and UN AIDS, who advocate instead for a human rights based, harm reduction approach.”

Ms. McGrew continued, “In August Amnesty International voted in favour of developing a decriminalisation policy on sex work. Do the Government and TDs and Senators actually think they know more about the impact and effect of criminalisation on the rights of sex workers than Amnesty International and sex workers themselves? Let’s be clear this Bill does nothing to decriminalise workers. If these changes so blatantly target sex workers, then who is this legislation for? SWAI will have a box of evidence outlining the impact of criminal laws on sex workers at our stand at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis today. If the Government say they want to do the best for vulnerable people then we hope they will come and take it.”