The jailing of two sex workers in Kildare last week for keeping or being in charge of a brothel proves that Irish laws around prostitution are "not fit for purpose", the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) has said.
Two women, including one who is pregnant, were jailed for nine months last Thursday following a hearing at Naas District Court. Adrina Podaru (25) and Ana Tomascu (20), both from Romania, were charged with keeping or being in charge of a brothel in Newbridge which was raided by gardaí in November 2018. They were also working as prostitutes in the brothel.
The court heard there were no clients present at the time of the raid and that no significant money was found at the scene. The judge rejected the women’s offer that they pay a sum of money to charity, saying “they weren’t forced into this position”.
SWAI, which represents women and supports sex workers, says the arrests prove that Ireland’s prostitution laws, based on the “Nordic model”, do not protect those selling sex.
“The change in law in 2017 was heralded as a law that would protect sex workers but we cannot understand how jailing two young migrant women will protect or rescue them in any way,” said Katie McGrew, current sex worker and SWAI director. “Their crime, for working together for safety, is not a violent crime and there are no victims.”
Ms McGrew accused “misinformed politicians and policymakers” of ignoring how sex workers who operate together for safety reasons had faced increased penalties since the introduction of the law. “We repeat: the Nordic model does not decriminalise sex workers. This is not justice gone wrong, this is how the law was designed to work.”
She warned that jailing the two women in Newbridge had eroded “the already precarious trust that workers have in State service” and called for the full decriminalisation of sex workers in the upcoming review of the 2017 Act.
A spokeswoman for Ruhama, which supports women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking, said the charity was appalled by the sentencing of the women and that it "strongly opposed" the use of existing legislation against individuals working in prostitution themselves.
Legislation against brothel-keeping, which has been in Ireland for decades, should be used to target the organisers and criminal gangs who are controlling the bulk of the sex trade in Ireland, she said. “Laws tackling buyers, organisers and profiteers of prostitution in Ireland must be used positively and effectively with the ultimate aim of preventing and reducing commercial sexual exploitation and protecting individuals in the sex trade.”
The objective of the 2017 Act, which Ruhama supports, was the decriminalisation of individuals in prostitutions and “the criminalisation of all those who exploit them”, she added.
The 2017 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act criminalises the purchase of sex and doubles the penalties for running a brothel. Supporters argue it protects sex workers while reducing the demand for their services by targeting customers. However, critics say it makes the work more dangerous as it forces women to work alone or on the street for fear of being caught in a brothel. Only one person has been convicted of paying for sex since the law was introduced; a 65-year-old Meath man who was fined €200 in January.
Green party justice spokesperson Cllr Roderic O’Gorman said the jailing of the women was “a completely inappropriate use of the law” which was designed to target the people who run brothels and control the profits. The prosecution, part of the ongoing Garda Operation Quest, shows prostitutes “still face the brunt of the law” and are targeted by the authorities, said Cllr O’Gorman who called for the Minister for Justice to bring forward the examination of the 2017 legislation.