Anniversary of Geila Ibram’s Murder Highlights Continued Neglect of Sex Workers’ Safety by Irish Government

As we approach the first anniversary of the tragic murder of Geila Ibram, a sex worker in Limerick, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) berates the Gardaí for continued lack of contact, while violent offenders prey on this community.

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for SWAI said “We recently learned through the media that another predator is preying on sex workers in Ireland. We have had no contact with the Gardaí about this, despite our attempts to open up lines of communication recently. We can confirm that Ugly Mugs, a safety app used by sex workers, was also not warned. Outdoor workers, such as street workers, are sitting ducks while the Gardaí refuse to use what little safety networks sex workers have to keep them safe. Gardaí pose as clients and lie to sex workers to get access to them, under the guise of so-called welfare checks, but refuse to warn them of dangerous attackers operating in the area. No wonder less than 1% of sex workers report crimes against them to the Gardaí, compared to 81% of the general population who have trust in Gardaí.

Mardi Kennedy, Coordinator of SWAI condemns the Irish government’s continued neglect of sex workers’ safety and well-being. “Geila’s murder stands as a grim reminder of the dangers faced by sex workers under the Nordic Model of client criminalisation, which prioritises ideology over evidence and endangers the lives of those it claims to protect.

Despite repeated warnings from sex workers and allies during the debates surrounding the introduction of the Nordic Model in 2015-2016, the government has failed to acknowledge the real consequences of this legislation. The Nordic Model, implemented in 2017, has only exacerbated violence against sex workers, as evidenced by Geila Ibram’s tragic death and the ongoing harassment, threats, and violence faced by sex workers across Ireland.”

SWAI demands immediate action from the government to address the urgent concerns facing sex workers in Ireland. Ministerial refusal to engage with SWAI and other stakeholders, coupled with the farcical review process of sex work laws conducted by the Department of Justice, reflects a blatant disregard for the voices and safety of sex workers. The delay, lack of transparency, and failure to include active sex workers in the review process raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to understanding the impact of these laws. 

Mardi continues “In areas where reform is needed, the government has a strong track record of bringing in independent experts, and these experts have produced groundbreaking and change-making reports. As a matter of principle and in the pursuit of good governance, we demand that the Department of Justice reverse its decision to finalise the sex work law review in-house. It sets an alarming precedent that will have disturbing effects for many other marginalised groups.” 

Linda added “The government’s refusal to listen to sex workers and its prioritisation of ideology over evidence and research is both unfathomable and dangerous. Geila Ibram’s murder should have been a wake-up call, but instead, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. How many more sex workers must suffer or die before the government takes meaningful action and decriminalises sex work?”

In addition to the ongoing threats and violence faced by sex workers, the criminalisation of sex work exacerbates mental health challenges, housing insecurity, financial precarity, and isolation within the sex worker community. SWAI calls for the decriminalisation of sex work as a crucial step towards ensuring the safety, rights, and dignity of sex workers in Ireland.

As we mark the anniversary of Geila Ibram, SWAI urges the Irish government to prioritise the safety, well-being, and rights of sex workers by ending the harmful criminalisation of sex work and engaging meaningfully with sex workers in policy decisions that impact their lives.

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.

Megaphone saying Press relelase

The Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) is deeply disappointed and frustrated with the Minister for Justice’s refusal to meet with them to discuss Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) 2017 report.

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for SWAI says “Sex workers are the primary stakeholders in this review. SWAI’s role in Irish society is to ensure sex workers’ voices get heard in the policies that affect their lives. No one wants to see laws and policies that keep sex workers safe more than sex workers themselves. 

Despite repeated requests, SWAI has never received any response regarding the review process. The review has been delayed several times, and the independent reviewer in charge of the report has recently stepped back. SWAI demands that the review be scrapped and redone as they believe that the sex workers’ voices have not been heard.

The email from the Minister’s office stated “Unfortunately, due to heavy work schedules, it is not possible to facilitate a meeting.” We too have busy schedules dealing with the fallout of this extremely damaging law, such as evictions, homelessness and suicidality, to name a few. 

There were many media opportunities recently involving the Minister regarding the issue of crime in Dublin city, despite evidence that crime is actually down this year. We’re asking for engagement on the myriad of evidence that shows that the Nordic model of client criminalisation is actively harming sex workers. What kind of trust can we have in the Department of Justice when ideology is prioritised over lived experience, evidence and research? We have to ask whether the Minister thinks she is above meeting us. 

SWAI is appalled to learn through the media that the Department of Justice plans to include the sex-for-rent law in this review. This is not the purpose of the review process, and it should not be rushed to accommodate the Department of Justice’s timeline. The review process was built into the law when it passed.

SWAI does not support sex-for-rent laws and firmly believes that the best way to tackle exploitation in both the housing crisis and sex work is to address the lack of affordable housing, alleviate poverty, and end inequality. The current government has failed to make significant changes by addressing pertinent issues. Instead, they have opted to pass superficial laws that do not address the root cause of the problem.

This year has been a devastating one for sex workers in Ireland. In April we learned of a sex worker being murdering Limerick, trust in Gardaí remains incredibly low and we are steeling ourselves for the inevitable raids dressed up as welfare checks that come every November. 

SWAI warned the government that violence would increase under the Nordic Model of client criminalisation. Sex workers in Ireland already feel ignored and outcast due to stigma and shame, refusing to meet with SWAI compounds this stigmatisation. When we are being murdered, attacked, robbed and lied to by Gardaí, what does it take for us to be listened to?

Press release in speech bubble

Today the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) learned that the long overdue review of the sex work laws in Ireland has hit another stumbling block, as the independent reviewer heading up the report has stepped back.

Linda Kavanagh, comms manager of SWAI said “ As usual, there was no contact made with SWAI and other stakeholders to let us know of yet another issue with this independent review. We are grateful to have learned this through a question asked by Catherine Connolly, who has been persistent in her enquiries as the timeframe for this report became longer and longer.”

She continued “A mandatory review of the law was built into the change in Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 to occur 3 years after the law was passed. Despite numerous requests for information on the process, the report’s mechanisms remained opaque. We note that the abortion law review was called for later than this review (2019) and was conducted and published earlier this year. We have now been waiting 3.5 years to be heard.” 

Mardi Kennedy, coordinator of SWAI said “We have been troubled by the lack of transparency about this review since it began. We worry that the time elapsed since we participated in the review means the data is out of date. We are concerned that the independent reviewer, the person who talked with sex workers directly, is now no longer involved and any person who steps into the role now will lack that meaningful engagement.” 

Linda said of the review “We have become increasingly frustrated with the statements made by the various Ministers for Justice during this time. If there was an issue with the time taken for the femicide report, as described in 2020, why has that issue persisted into mid-2023? We have reached out to the Minister for Justice to request a meeting.

While the review has taken up considerable time and resources for our organisation, and the mental capacity of the sex workers who engaged in the process, we would rather see this process started again and done properly. This review is vitally important, lives are at stake. We have already seen a young woman, Geila Ibram murdered under these laws, sex workers jailed for so-called brothel keeping, and increased and violent attacks. How can sex workers have faith in this process with so many delays and changes?”

Amber*, a sex worker based in Ireland said “The Government failed us when the laws were introduced. They are again failing us by denying us an opportunity to inform them on how these laws are impacting our lives!”.

Leea Berry, Chair of SWAI and current sex worker, stated “The lack of importance shown toward the review of this law is concerning. The current law has already murdered one sex worker and continues to harm us. How many more must suffer or die before we can have the review we were promised?”


Review image

Sex workers must be listened to in the review of the sex work law 

Currently working sex workers in Ireland are central to the review of the law, says Kate McGrew, sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI). We are the experts in how this law has affected the health and safety of sex workers in Ireland. The voice of SWAI, the only frontline, sex worker-led organisation in Ireland, was largely excluded when this law was debated in 2017. This was unacceptable. 


In response to enquiring about other organisations receiving government funding during the pandemic, the Department of Justice, under the previous Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan, refused SWAI explicitly for as long as we refer to all sex work not as gender-based violence but as an economic activity. Without help from the state, sex workers – already on the margins –  were forced to risk their health by continuing to work for survival. SWAI was faced with doing the work of crowdfunding a hardship fund to successfully give small grants of €100 to over 150 female, male and trans sex workers in Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic to help flatten the curve.

SWAI exists to fight exploitation and to empower people in the sex industry via the labour rights other workers rely on and by removing stigma and criminal laws that have proven to leave sex workers with only illegal avenues, creating barriers to reporting crime and violence, and providing no viable alternatives to working. 

We hope that the new Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who was so active on the repeal of the 8th amendment, remembers how it is essential to centre those with lived experience when discussing the law that affects their lives. Bodily autonomy is not just about abortion and we are the next in line to see the effect of a more progressive, caring Ireland who is moving away from its dark past. 

We welcome that the review will focus on the impact the law has had on the health and wellbeing of currently working sex workers. We do not speak over sex workers, we ARE sex workers and we know that this law has failed in its ambitions. 

The review will also focus on how the law has achieved and not achieved its aims. It has succeeded in prosecuting young migrant sex workers working together for safety. It has failed to lead to the arrests of traffickers. It has succeeded in increasing violence against sex workers by 92%. It has failed to decrease the number of people sex work. Its has succeeded distancing sex workers from supports including Gardai. It has failed to increase sex workers trust in the Gardaí, there was a near 20% decrease in workers who wished their reports of crime or violence would be passed on to Gardai. It has not made Ireland a safer place for sex workers. It has failed. 

We welcome the news that Maura Butler has been appointed to oversee the review of the Sexual Offences Law (2017). We note her many years of experience in the legal field, her academic record and her clear commitment to equality. We also note that she has been chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and their representative at the European Women’s Lobby (EWL). Both of these organisations have a strong stance against sex work and SWAI has been refused membership of the NWCI for 3 years, an unacceptable exclusion of a key population of vulnerable women.

Government policy should be based on outcomes, not morality. We need to get real about sex work in Ireland and work towards a law that means that sex workers are safe, as healthy as they can be and have laws that protect us. We welcome the review of this law and the opportunity to finally be heard.