Yellow sirenToday 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. 

#DecrimforSafety #SupportSafeSexWork

*Real name not given 

Sex Workers Want Rights Not Rescueess releasem

Kate McGrew, director of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says “This man was caught procuring sex during a raid on a so-called brothel, when two or more workers work together. This case yet against highlights how the law is being used against workers who may want to work together for safety reasons. This man was collateral damage in an ill-fated war to end demand. He was not the intended target of the raid, the workers were.” 

She continues “As a result of this prosecution workers will be forced to work alone, which increases their vulnerability. Working or living with another sex worker is illegal in Ireland. Penalties doubled for workers working in pairs or groups when the law change and this change in law happened quietly, but it is an extremely dangerous piece of legislation. The Nordic model purportedly is meant to target the client but by this law, but if we want to work legally here we are forced to work alone. Violent attacks specifically increased on us 77% in the first year of the law being introduced. This is not a coincidence.” 

“This is the first prosecution of a client under the laws brought in in 2017, but from statistics we go from the Central Statistics office we know 55 people have been arrested. We can only conclude that the rest of those prosecuted under brothel keeping laws are the workers themselves. Is this really what this law was introduced for?” 

“For sex workers the police are vectors of violence, not of safety or harm reduction. Many migrant sex workers, already on the margins of society, are offered the choice of leaving the country or face prosecution and possibly deportation. When anti-sex work organisations speak about all sex work being violence, including the consensual transactions, what recourse do we have when we are actually assaulted?”

“No one is asking about the sex workers who have been caught in this raid. We hope they are safe and getting the support they need and we would like to remind them and all other sex workers that we are here for peer-led, non judgemental support for all sex workers”