One-in-five sex workers interviewed for a new Government study says they have been sexually abused by Gardaí.
Some 25 sex workers in Dublin and Limerick were interviewed by the University of Limerick for the report.
It notes that the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, introduced five years ago, has drastically affected the lives of street sex workers in Irish cities.
It finds that the new laws have worsened conditions for workers as buyers are forced into secluded areas in fear of being arrested.
Meanwhile sex workers said they do not feel confident reporting incidents of rape, violence, or other crimes to Gardaí.
Report author and University of Limerick Psychology Professor Anca Minescu told Newstalk the findings underline the need for the full decriminalisation of sex work:
“Five out of the 25 people we’ve interviewed actually declared sexual abuse and 80% of them declared all sorts of instances of being humiliated and made to feel ashamed,” she said.
“This is where this deep mistrust come from, you know?
“A quote that says it all from one of the participants is: ‘I would rather see the Gardaí being genuine and looking after us.’”
The 2017 Criminal Law Act made it illegal to buy sex but while the sale of sex remains legal.
Ms Minescu said the purchase of sex should be legalised as soon as possible.
“They want to work and they’re proud of their work,” she said.
“You know, they don’t steal they don’t hurt anybody, they don’t rob places so why are they not allowed to earn a living by selling sex – especially when the law officially allows them to sell sex.
“That is the difficulty I think with their interaction with the Gardai.”
She said her research is important because the voices of street sex workers have largely been silent in the national discussion around Irish sex work laws.
The study interviewed 15 sex workers in Dublin and ten in Limerick and includes direct quotes from some of them.
“We’re actually good people,” said one. “We’re people that are just living every day, and we’re alive.”
“It’s not like working in a shop, but… it’s work. I’m not robbing people. I’m going out and making my own money”.
The report makes five recommendations:
- A clear distinction between sex work versus sexual exploitation and sex trafficking
- A strengthening of services for sex workers to ensure they have safe working conditions
- An end to the policing of sex workers by An Garda Síochána
- Encouraging the redirection of funding from An Garda Síochána to sex worker led organisations
- That the discourse on sex work going forward is actively influenced towards de-stigmatisation of the occupation, humanisation of the workers and the overall concern of the well-being of sex workers