Sex workers in Ireland are “continuously ignored” by Government while current laws “perpetuate violence”, according to several spokespeople.
Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) is calling to be involved in drafting new legislation about criminalisation.
Speaking today on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, SWAI coordinator Mardi Kennedy said 2023 “has been devastating for Irish sex workers”.
“[It was] marked by a murder in Limerick, raids disguised as welfare checks and an ongoing campaign of harassment targeting sex workers, including phishing scams and threats of violence,” she said.
27-year-old Geila Ibram was stabbed to death in Limerick last April.
Ms Kennedy criticised the ‘Nordic model’ of criminalisation, which persecutes brothels and the purchasing of sex workers’ service but not individual providers.
“The tragic murder of Geila Ibram underscores the consequences of laws disregarding sex workers' voices and safety,” she said.
“We reiterate that warnings from [the SWAI] and allies during the 2015-2016 Nordic Model debates have been validated by extensive research and lived experiences worldwide.
“How the Government chooses to continuously ignore sex workers and research is both unfathomable and confusing”.
Exploitation of sex workers
SWAI spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said laws against brothels have prioritised “the safety and well-being of the client” and has pushed the industry “underground”.
“The criminalisation of consenting adults has failed to curb exploitation and trafficking in Ireland and disregards their calls for decriminalisation,” she said.
"They are real people, coerced into solitary work for legality, only to be shunned by rape and assault services and denied mental health aid, branding their economic activity as self-harm.
“In this hostile landscape of criminalisation, shame and stigma, threats and harassment loom large. The violence isn't from clients but from men emboldened by the law's dehumanising rhetoric.”
Lack of trust in Gardaí
Ms Kavanagh claimed only 1% of sex workers report crimes against to Gardaí due to lack of trust.
“This lack of trust in the police is caused by all-island brothel raids disguised as welfare checks,” she said.
“The Gardaí, disguising themselves as clients, shamelessly deceive sex workers to gain access to them. These intrusive checks, coupled with their mass texts, have inflicted terror upon them.”
The spokesperson said workers “need to be prioritised and have a say in the policies that affect their lives”.
A review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was due, but in July Justice Minister Helen McEntee confirmed the individual in charge of the review had resigned.
SWAI said the Department of Justice did not inform them and are concerned much of the data is now out of date.
Main image: A poster by the SWAI against the current system of criminalisation in Ireland. Image: SWAI