Sex workers must not be viewed as victims, says group

 

THE DEBATE on prostitution in Ireland needs to move away from portraying sex workers as victims and towards a realisation that many people choose to work in the sex industry, the co-chairman of Sex Workers’ Alliance of Ireland has said.

The newly established organisation is an alliance of professionals, sex workers, academic researchers, ex-sex workers and other interested individuals and organisations and it aims to promote the health, safety and empowerment of people involved in the sex industry.

Ciarán McKinney said the view is usually that people involved in sex work are outright victims who have been forced by their circumstances, or coerced, into sex work, but many in the industry should not be regarded as victims.

The conference, Sex Work in Ireland: Opening up the Discussion, was hosted by the Sex Workers’ Alliance of Ireland in Dublin Castle.

Mr McKinney, former director of Gay HIV strategies with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said the debate in Ireland around sex work has generally been limited to the idea that it is always about violence against women by men.

But there were many people, both men and women, who choose to sell sex. Mr McKinney said many people go into sex work when in their 20s and older because they see it as a viable way to finance either their studies or other aspects of their lives.

“People in that group are far less likely to have experienced victimhood and should not be regarded as victims,” he said.

Selling sex in Ireland is not illegal, he said, though all of the other activities around it are.

“Our aim is to really broaden the discourse and bring together the various groups of people who for many reasons have an interest in either prostitution or sex work, and to at least begin a dialogue,” he said.

Mr McKinney said there was a sense that some of the services provided to sex workers in Ireland were not interested in nor willing to promote harm reduction, and existed purely to promote abstinence and exiting.

“Operating from a purely abstinence and exiting model is not a useful way to approach the issue of sex work, and is not going to encourage sex workers to engage with services in a truthful way,” he said.

Mr McKinney also said when sex workers approach social and health services, they need a clear message that being a sex worker will not result in you having a less than optimum service.

Also at the conference, Mick Quinlan, manager of the HSE gay men’s health service, highlighted a report that found 5.8 per cent of Irish men had sold sex, while over 6 per cent had bought it.

Pye Jakobsson from Sweden, who described herself as a sex worker for 22 years, said when sex work is discussed, people cannot see past it and all policies are based on workers as victims.

“If you say you are not a victim they say you are suffering from false consciousness and you are such a victim you don’t realise what a victim you are,” she said.