'Irish law does nothing to eliminate violence against sex workers, it is, in fact, the cause', says SWAI

SWAI chairperson, Catriona, explains how the laws introduced in 2017 have failed sex workers and only increased incidences of violence towards them

People in attendance at sex workers vigil wearing masks, holding red umbrellas and lit candles

Today, Tuesday, December 17, is International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Sex Workers. The day was originally created as a memorial of the victims if the Green River Killer in Seatle, Washington, but since has evolved into an international day calling for attention and action to end violence against sex workers. As well as attempting to eliminate hate crimes against sex workers, the day also seeks to eradicate the social stigma around sex work and discrimination both within communities and in law which contributes to the level of violence faced by sex workers. 

In 2017, laws surrounding sex work in Ireland changed with detrimental effects. Catriona, current sex worker and chairperson of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) said that “the lives, health and safety of sex workers have been put in danger” due to these amendments. Since the time they were put in place, violence against sex workers increased by 92%. Catriona explained that on top of this increase in violence, “sex workers have less trust in the Gardaí than ever and less than 1% will contact the Gardaí if they are a victim of a crime” meaning the vast majority of these cases are not event reported.

Catriona continued to say that these laws were a “failed experiment” that waste Gardaí resources and that it is young migrant women who bear the brunt of the laws and not pimps or traffickers. She explained that these so-called brothel-keeping laws make it, so sex workers are forced to work alone in order to work legally, and criminals know this, making them vulnerable to attacks. She explained; “If workers work together for safety, they are breaking the law. Criminals know this and attack them because they know the workers will not risk arrest by reporting.”

Due to this, sex workers are wary of the Gardaí, with trust in the guards at an all-time low within the community. Catriona discussed this further stating; “This year we (the SWAI) have received data from several sources, including the Minister for Justice that the people who are arrested under the so-called brothel-keeping laws in Ireland are migrant workers, not traffickers, not pimps but the women who the laws were purported to keep safe. 100% of the workers we speak to want to work together for safety. The law is failing and is being applied in a racist way. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Network report to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination drew attention to this fact.”

2019 will see the last International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Sex Workers before the review in 2020. The SWAI are concerned about the invisibility of sex workers voices and fear they will be yet again overlooked in the review. Catriona emphasises, “We in SWAI are not speaking over or for sex workers we ARE sex workers, and we need to be heard in the review of policies that affect our lives. We deserve to be listened to.”

This evening the SWAI will be hosting a candlelit vigil at the Department of Justice at 6.30 PM and will also be attending a sex worker only event in Belfast. Furthermore, the organisation are hosting a multidisciplinary art event on December 22 in The Sound House with works curated exclusively by sex workers

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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