Sex workers in Ireland at risk of violence, finds Amnesty report

According to a new report by Amnesty Ireland, sex workers are being put at risk by prohibitive laws.

Amnesty Ireland have released a report on sex workers in Ireland. The photograph shows members of SWAI (Sex Workers Alliance Ireland) protesting outside the Dail.
Image: @SWAIIreland

A new report released today by Amnesty Ireland finds sex workers are at risk of violence due to legislation aimed at protecting them.

The report was based on interviews conducted between August 2020 and October 2021. In total 30 people were interviewed who are currently or have previously engaged in sex work in Ireland. 

The 2017 amendment to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act was initially introduced to ‘protect’ sex workers by criminalising the purchase of sex, rather than the sex workers themselves.  However, the new report released by Amnesty today, finds that the legislation has left sex workers vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Due to the criminalisation of clients, sex workers maintain that they are being forced to take unnecessary risks. One of the people interviewed stated, “I was down a cul de sac that was discreet so I wasn’t going to be found by the Guards. But I had no escape route if anything went wrong. That was a direct result of Garda targeting of clients”

The Act also prohibits “brothel keeping”, identifying the term as two or more people providing sexual services from the same premises. This means that sex workers are forced to work alone often leaving them in dangerous situations.

The report suggests that “The majority of the sex workers interviewed identified sharing premises with other workers as a useful strategy to limit potential risks of violence”.

Many of the interviewees were also distrustful of Gardaí citing motivating factors as being “lack of trust in the service; fear of violence at the hands of the Gardaí; fear of stigmatisation; their landlord being notified or targeted leading to eviction; homelessness, as well as criminalisation, with particular risks to migrant sex workers mentioned.”

In order to address the issues arising, the report suggests that sex workers should “be meaningfully consulted in the development of laws, policies or programmes that affect them & their human rights.”

It also points out that any participation in the consultation process must include a cross-section of workers including “those from marginalised groups and those facing discrimination.”

In their sex work policy, Transgender Europe (TGEU) states, “TGEU recognises that sex work is a multi-gendered phenomenon and sex workers of all genders in many countries face serious violence and human rights violations. While the majority of sex workers are cisgender women in many contexts, the large number of cisgender men and trans people working in the sex industry needs to be acknowledged.”

Although statistical data is lacking here, it would appear that Ireland follows these trends recognised in TGEU’s report.

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