Kate McGrew, current sex worker and spokesperson for the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland(SWAI) said “The criminalisation of client law was brought in with great fanfare over 2 years ago but, as yet, has only seen two men prosecuted for the purchase of sex in Ireland. It is unclear at this time that any of the 38 people questioned will be prosecuted.”
She continues “In early 2020 there will be a review of the impact of the law so we are not surprised that there has been an increase in the questioning of those who seek the service of sex workers. But we know from figures gleaned from Ugly Mugs, an app sex workers use to keep ourselves safe, that over the past 2 years the laws have seen sex workers being deported, arrested or forced to leave the country to avoid prosecution for working together for safety. We also know that there has been a marked increase in violent crimes against sex workers here in Ireland, an increase of 92%. As far as we know everyone who has been prosecuted of so-call brothel-keeping in Ireland has been a migrant. All of this begs the question, who is truly being affected by the law, who are the vulnerable persons the Garda say they are protecting and who are we trying to keep safe?
With closures of Gardaí stations around the country we know that the Gardaí’s resources would be better served investigating other crimes. We’ve seen from the report released last week, commissioned by the Department of Justice Northern Ireland that the law does not reduce demand or, indeed, trafficking.
We don’t know anything about the workers who were caught up in these actions. We don’t know if they were consenting workers or part of the minority of those who have been trafficked into Ireland for sex work. These actions have not addressed the root causes of sex work, such as austerity, poverty, lack of childcare. These actions have not provided the supports on exiting sex work, should people want to exit, which were promised with the introduction of the law.
This year we have seen the results of sex workers working with Gardaí which led to the conviction of a serial rapist of sex workers. But we are afraid that actions such as those reported on today will result in a decrease in trust in the Gardaí. We know that less than 1% of crimes committed against sex workers are reported to the Gardaí. We would like to see Garda efforts focus on actually helping sex workers when they are the victims of a crime, instead of meddling with their means of survival.”
SWAI is the only front-line, sex worker-led organisation in Ireland and we want to see sex work fully decriminalised. These laws make clients more fearful, which impacts the safety of sex workers. One of the many reasons we want sex work decriminalised is so that sex workers can work with the Gardaí to combat trafficking and exploitation in the industry. We only have to look at New Zealand and New South Wales in Australia to see how full decriminalisation has led to cooperation between workers and the police. If we truly want to combat trafficking the Gardaí should work with their best allies, sex workers, instead of targetting them and their livelihood. We ask that misinformed politicians listen to us, the very people who are materially affected by these laws. Who are these laws helping? Sex workers want to be safe, like everyone else.