Press release in speech bubble

SWAI wholeheartedly condemn the Department of Justice’s Handling of Sex Work Laws Review

The Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) expresses deep disappointment and frustration regarding the Minister for Justice’s written answer to the parliamentary question put forth by Catherine Connolly on the 22nd February. This follows the Minister’s refusal to engage with SWAI on the processes and setbacks that the review of Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 2017 report has already undergone. 

Mardi Kennedy, director of SWAI said “Sex workers, the primary stakeholders in this review, feel marginalised and unheard. The independent reviewer stepped back recently, and we raised concerns at the time that the knowledge that was gained from the meetings held has been lost. The news that the Department of Justice thinks it can continue this ludicrous process would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.”

Linda Kavanagh spokesperson for SWAI added “I was in attendance during the meeting with Maura Butler and I noted that the meeting wasn’t recorded. We know from consultation with the sex workers who were involved that their meetings were not recorded either. How will the assistant to the independent reviewer be able to convey the vital information that sex workers imparted in these meetings to people who were not present through notes? 

Active sex workers are the most important voices needed in this review. It is of vital importance for sex workers’ voices in shaping policies that impact their lives. Meaningful inclusion of sex worker’s voices in this process was set out in the terms of reference but this has failed. Full engagement of sex workers has not been attempted.”

She continues “Despite numerous requests, SWAI has not received any response regarding the review process, leading us to demand a scrapping and redoing of the review. The Minister’s ongoing refusal to meet is seen as a disregard for the lived experiences and safety concerns of sex workers under the Nordic model of client criminalisation.

Sex workers are questioning whether ideology is prioritised over evidence, research, and the well-being of the community in this process. The recent setback in the review process further raises concerns about the government’s commitment to understanding the impact of the laws on sex workers’ lives. SWAI demands transparency, meaningful engagement, and a thorough review process to restore trust and credibility.

Would it have been acceptable for the Department of Health to conduct the review of the current abortion law, which, we note, was called for later than this review (2019) and was conducted and published last year? Why are only some women’s issues important to this government? Why are only some women listened to about the policies that shape their lives?

This past year has been especially devastating, marked by the tragic murder of a sex worker in Limerick, low trust in Gardaí, and the annual raids disguised as welfare checks that sex workers regularly endure. SWAI urges the government to address the pressing issues faced by sex workers and to prioritise their safety, well-being, and rights by decriminalising sex work in Ireland.

As we approach the first anniversary of the murer of Geila Ibram, SWAI reiterates its call for the decriminalisation of sex work as a crucial step towards ensuring the safety, rights, and dignity of sex workers in Ireland. SWAI also highlights the impact of criminalisation on sex workers’ mental health, emphasising the need for decriminalisation to address the stigma and structural inequalities that contribute to stress and poor mental health among sex workers. The ongoing harassment campaign, phishing scams, and threats of violence against sex workers underscore the urgency of addressing the harmful effects of criminalisation. 

We want to thank Catherine Connolly for her ongoing dedication to ensuring this process comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

Yellow siren

The murder of a sex worker is the grim but obvious result of a law that disregards the voices and safety of sex workers. 

Linda Kavanagh, communications manager of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says “When this law was being debated in 2015 and 2016 sex workers and allies warned that the law would increase violence against sex workers. Since that time mountains of research, as well as the lived experiences of sex workers, have shown us to be correct.”

She continues “Everywhere the so-called Nordic Model has been passed, sex workers have been murdered. It has happened in France, it has happened in Sweden in the country of its origin, and now it has happened here.

Client criminalisation laws reduce the number of clients while doing nothing to address the economic need which drives people to do sex work in the first place. Despite the misguided promises of those who support the law, the client now has the upper hand in negotiation – he is the one at risk of criminal prosecution. To get the client’s money, a sex worker needs to make him feel safe and deprioritise their own safety. This may result in risk-taking behaviour like not using a condom, or taking on clients that a worker would normally turn down. The industry is pushed underground, away from services that can help a worker in an exploitative situation. 

In 2017 the law also increased fines and added a jail sentence for so-called brothel keeping, where two or more sex workers share accommodation. Almost all sex workers we speak to want to work with another worker. Sex work is a cash business and working alone makes sex workers targets for criminals. Working safely and working legally are now incompatible. 

The laws surrounding sex work have made criminals of consenting adults and have done nothing to stem the rising tide of violence against women in Ireland. Those at the forefront of the fight against violence against women vocally support our misguided laws. They refuse to listen to sex workers when they say they want sex work to be decriminalised.

When we hear of sex workers being murdered our immediate concern is the safety of the sex work community. What systems are in place for when something of this magnitude happens? It became clear to those of us in direct contact with sex workers day in and day out that there was not a Garda system in place. It was Ugly Mugs, advertiser sites and the community ourselves who spread the information about the attack and warned sex workers. A description of the possible perpetrator was given to the media before it was given to the community. Without organisations that constantly get called “the Pimp Lobby”, get refused funding, get shut out of policy decisions, and have our data and research ridiculed and laughed at (genuinely) the community would not know what was going on. 

Another migrant woman has been killed in our country, because of our laws. It is time for people in Ireland to demand the end to laws that put women, migrants, gender-diverse and marginalised people in harm’s way. We deserve better than a country that pushes people into sex work through the continuing housing crisis, lack of drug reform, lack of legal migration paths, the cost of living crisis etc and then puts people in danger when they chose to do sex work. People are desperate because of these concurrent crises. Violence like this is not inevitable, but the dehumanising language used around sex work contributes to it. We need to fully decriminalise sex work as a first step towards the safety of sex workers. 

Our thoughts are with her and her family.

#DecrimforSafety #SupportSafeSexWork