Irish government failing to protect sex workers from violence, SWAI says

SWAI demands change as sex workers remain vulnerable to violence from clients, police, and society at large.

Several people stand with Sex Workers Alliance sign on the International Day to end violence against sex workers.
Image: Twitter @SWAIIreland

This year, to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) is demanding that sex workers’ needs are heard and supported.

In 2022, the sex worker community continues to fight for safety and recognition in a climate that fails to protect them. Leah Butler, Chair of the Board, insists laws be improved to centre the experiences of sex workers instead of making them more vulnerable to violence.

Mardi Kennedy, Coordinator of SWAI explains that, unfortunately, “…since we marked this day last year there has been a notable shift in attitudes against sex workers in Ireland.” And alarming data from the Department of Justice indicates that 1 in 5 street sex workers in Ireland has been sexually exploited by Gardaí. Furthermore, the organisation claims that authorities have lied to sex workers by pretending to be clients, only to take the names of their landlords under the guise of a welfare check. 

Linda Kavanagh, Communication Manager for SWAI, also revealed that a sex worker recently had their earnings seized at Belfast International Airport, sharing, “Selling sex is supposed to be legal on the island of Ireland and yet this worker had her name published online and her earnings stolen by the police. Under what law have her earnings been seized?”

While the cost of living crisis has contributed to an increase in sex work, sex workers remain vulnerable to violence from clients, the police, healthcare professionals, landlords, and society at large. Many of these crimes are unreported because less than 1% of sex workers feel safe reporting crimes against them to Gardaí. 

SWAI is actively working to better understand and centre the experiences of sex workers. They employ staff members who are sex workers and allies, send vouchers to support sex workers who are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and host monthly meet-ups for sex workers in Ireland to connect and bolster the diverse community. The organisation listens to sex workers whose stories have historically been silenced.

Occurring on December 17, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was established in 2003 to raise awareness of crime against sex workers, empower sex workers, and prevent further violence and discrimination by addressing stigmas and encouraging people to report violence.

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