Protecting the powerless

Sex trade is violent and exploits vulnerable women

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott

A chara, – I would like to raise an issue with the assertion made by Daan Bauwens, policy officer with Utsopi, a trade union for “sex workers” in Belgium (“Sex workers in Belgium to receive pension contributions and maternity leave under labour overhaul”, Jack Power, Europe Letter, May 16th) .

Mr Bauwens describes the “Swedish” or equality model that decriminalises individuals who sell sex while criminalising those who purchase access to their bodies as “an absolute disgrace… it leads to violence, it leads to risk”.

Ireland adopted this model in 2017 and since then Ruhama has worked with hundreds of women seeking to exit the sex trade having experienced enormous psychological and physical trauma. Not only does the law enable them to come forward to report assault, it also destigmatises the choices they made, often under duress.

It is the sex trade itself that is violent and that exploits vulnerable women and positions them at the mercy of much more physically, economically and socially powerful men. Mr Bauwens goes on to ask who is to say what “women can and can’t do with their own bodies”. This ignores the prevalence of a pornography-soaked culture that grooms women and girls to believe that perhaps the sex trade offers them a way out of poverty or homelessness.


It also overlooks the crime of women being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, who are transported from their homes and families and forced into the sex trade.

Labour laws and the trade union movement have a long and honourable history of righting the wrongs of unbridled capitalism. Any laws, however well-intentioned, that legitimise paid for, non-consensual sex and human trafficking cannot be said to protect the powerless but only serve to facilitate the sexual proclivities of the powerful. – Is mise,


Chief executive,


Dublin 2.