Alliance blames law for spate of attacks on sex-workers

Campaign group say criminalising purchase of sex is directly linked to assaults, robberies

Gardaí are urging sex-workers to only meet clients who are known to them.

Gardaí are urging sex-workers to only meet clients who are known to them.


A spate of recent violent attacks on sex-workers was a “direct consequence” of legislation criminalising the purchase of sex, a campaign group has said.

Kate McGrew, director of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI), was speaking as gardaí confirmed they were investigating a series of targeted and “callous” attacks and on sex-workers in the last month.

Detectives working on Operation Quest – a cross-border initiative on organised brothel-keeping and prostitution – are liaising with local detectives in relation to seven attacks which have largely occurred in Dublin.

Each attack followed an online appointment between a worker and “client”. When the the worker arrived at the appointment they were met by a number of men and attacked and robbed. Both male and female sex-workers were targeted. The motive for the attacks is believed to be monetary rather than moralistic or a hate crime.

Gardaí are urging sex-workers to only meet clients who are known to them.

Ms McGrew, who is herself a sex-worker, campaigned with the SWAI against the 2017 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act.

Signed into law in February 2017 it prohibits the purchase of sex and also makes it illegal for sex-workers to work together in apartments or other premises. Though sex-workers say this is the safest way for them to work, the legislation considers this to be brothel-keeping.

“The increased assaults and robberies on sex-workers currently being investigated by gardaí are a direct consequence of the Act,” said Ms McGrew.


“The 2017 law, which is due for review in early 2020, should be scrapped. It should be replaced by legislation that decriminalise sex work and to provide labour law, health and safety guarantees instead.

“Asking sex-workers to only see known clients to them shows the disconnect that the gardaí have from the lived experiences of sex-workers . . . many sex workers are single mothers and on the run up to Christmas, they cannot afford to follow this advice.”

Ms McGrew said there was distrust between sex-workers and the gardaí, adding the alliance had known about gangs attacking sex-workers for several months.

“But workers refuse to contact the Garda because, at best, they fear surveillance of their workplace or clients and [having] their livelihood taken away.

“The law is placing the gardaí in an impossible position. If they encounter a sex-worker living alone it is ‘legal’, but if contacted by sex-workers living together for safety they must prosecute them as criminals,” she said.

She said sex-workers who do work together for safety needed assurances that if they are attacked and report the assault, they will not be prosecuted under brothel-keeping laws.

Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information on the attacks, which they describe as “callous”, to contact the Garda Confidential Number 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.