Irish laws criminalising purchase of sex facilitating abuse of sex workers - Amnesty

Sex workers need to be consulted about any changes to the law, according to report

Irish laws criminalising the purchase of sex and harsher penalties for brothel keeping are putting sex workers in a more vulnerable position, according to a new report by Amnesty International Ireland.

Since 2017, Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act has criminalised the purchase of sex and significantly increased the penalties for brothel keeping. Two or more sex workers selling sexual services from the same premises can face a €5,000 fine, or a jail term of up to 12 months.

In the five years since this law was passed, it has facilitated the “targeting and abuse of sex workers”, the Amnesty report states.

These laws are forcing sex workers to take more risks as they try to avoid gardaí, according to the report.

“Laws intended to protect sex workers are putting them at higher risk of abuse and violence, including rape and physical attacks,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“This is what sex workers are telling us about the actual impact of the 2017 law, and the Irish government needs to start listening to them.”

Mr O’Gorman said that penalising brothel keeping is preventing sex workers from working together to ensure their own safety.

The report comprised of interviews with 30 people who have engaged in sex work. The majority wanted sex work fully decriminalised in Ireland, including the purchase of sex.

They also wanted to be allowed to share a premises with other sex workers. “One-to-one, a woman with a man, we don’t stand a chance. We need another girl. She can hear what’s happening…But to be alone, it’s very dangerous,” said one person who took part in the study.

The overwhelming majority of sex workers who were interviewed said they experienced violence while working, but they were fearful of reporting these crimes.

Interviewees expressed a lack of trust in gardaí and a belief that no action would be taken.

“It has to be 100% decriminalised. When it’s not, I’m scared to report to cops or others. In every other business, if there are bad clients, if anything happens to you, you can call the police…It’s more about creating a safer environment for us,” said one interviewee.

Migrant sex workers also feared contacting gardaí because of their immigration status, and they were worried it would affect their chance of getting Irish citizenship.

One migrant sex worker told Amnesty International that the only time they would call gardaí would be if they were dying on the floor.

The Government is currently conducting a review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, and Amnesty International called upon the Government to consult sex workers as part of this process.