Sex workers and the law

Sir, – The Criminal Law Sexual Offences Bill 2015 is a worthwhile piece of legislation insofar as it sets in place many measures designed to protect children from sexual offences. For this our lawmakers should receive kudos. However, other elements of this Bill, specifically Article 20, which criminalise for the first time the act of purchasing sex, seems to me inexplicable, something which serves little useful purpose and which indeed may well have a negative societal impact overall.

The criminalising of the buyer and not the seller may be viewed by some as a laudable attempt to reduce the amount of persons offering the service and therefore the market overall as a result of decreasing the numbers of potential customers. However, this thinking is skewed and naive and will likely lead, as with any practice which is criminalised, to it going “underground”, with all the murky aspects this involves and may result in leaving sex workers even more vulnerable and exposed. If legislators really believe a fine and the potential of being unfairly labelled a criminal will deter men who need, for whatever reason, to purchase sex then they are even more naive.

The problem of persons being trafficked for the sex industry is often advanced as a rationale for this criminalisation. However, this seems to me to be a red herring as legislation already exists which criminalises trafficking. I can’t see what Article 20 brings to the table to assist in this matter. As regards the issue of assaults on sex workers, ample legislation already exists to prevent this too.

It seems that this Bill is effectively legislating on morals, something I hoped had died out in Ireland. Given that the majority of prostitutes are women, it may be argued that, provided she is operating without any coercion, then the woman should have autonomy over her own body.


Ironically, it’s precisely this rationale that forms the cornerstone of the argument for the proposed repeal of the Eighth Amendment in relation to abortion and which purports to be about respecting a woman’s bodily integrity.

If protection of those in the sex industry were paramount in the minds of the legislators then the logical thing would have been to have done the opposite to what was done which would have been to have made the entire business fully legal and legitimate with those selling sex, like any seller, paying tax thereby protected by functioning within the system rather than the margins and for the future perhaps becoming even more marginalised and with less protection than before as a result of this Bill. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.