Sex workers and the law

 

Sir, – The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is the only front-line, sex worker-led organisation to give voice to active sex workers in Ireland, a view that is missing from Irish society. We are in contact with active sex workers every day. We wish to express our profound disappointment at the editorial stance taken by The Irish Times (“The Irish Times view on prostitution in Ireland: signs of a cultural shift”, Editorial, November 22nd).

We appreciate that The Irish Times acknowledges that sex workers were not interviewed in the Sexual Exploitation Research Programme report because this is the crux of the issue. The report in question centred the opinions of service providers and the Garda Síochána and not the key population.

Successful policy cannot be measured by the number of arrests and to claim otherwise is ludicrous. Success can only be measured in terms of the welfare of the population, and we have seen a dramatic decline in the safety and wellbeing of sex workers across Ireland since these laws were introduced. This report compounds these harms by silencing those at the very heart of the debate.

The report and the editorial ignored or obscured the very real increase in violence that sex workers have felt since the change in the law in 2017. To understand a population you must talk to them. Look to HIV Ireland’s report Sex Worker Lives under the Law and the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe report Undeserving Victims? Community Report on Access to Justice for Migrant Sex Workers to see how language, literacy and translation were not an obstacle to conducting sex worker-inclusive research. The deliberate silencing of a vulnerable population is a tradition we should be moving away from in Ireland.

We strongly dispute the claim made by The Irish Times that there are signs of a cultural shift in enforcement around prostitution in Ireland. An Garda Síochána have made clear its intention to increase raids this year, disrupting and dispersing workplaces, and taking income away from a precarious demographic.

The editorial fails to mention that the law since 2017 also increased criminalisation of any worker sharing a premises, forcing us to work alone. The last three years has seen the vast majority of enforcement around sex work as prosecutions and sentences for this “brothel-keeping”, including for the first time custodial sentences.

Research and data collection which includes the key demographic is vitally important.

A real cultural shift would need to include meaningful engagement with the key population to gain better insight into our needs and concerns, and providing viable alternatives to prostitution. – Yours, etc,

KATE McGREW,

Dublin 1.