Waterford woman charged with 'brothel-keeping' was trying to work safely says SWAI

SWAI has released a statement, having learned of charges brought against the migrant woman in Waterford, calling for the decriminalisation of sex work.

SWAI protesters hold placards. One reads
Image: juno mac

On Friday, October 9, a migrant woman pled guilty to brothel-keeping charges in Waterford. Having learned of the news, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) released a statement condemning the charges.

Kate McGrew, active sex worker and director of the SWAI said, “The crime of so-called brothel-keeping punishes sex workers for working together for safety. If a worker shares a space with another worker she is breaking the law. This law has been almost exclusively used to prosecute young, migrant sex workers.

“Sex work is legal in Ireland but only if you work alone. A sex worker cannot work legally and work with a friend for safety. What other job or economic activity requires you to work alone to be legal? Working alone makes sex workers vulnerable to criminals who target them precisely because they are on their own.

“Sharing a space with another worker for safety may also make those workers vulnerable to attack as sex workers fear that they will be arrested, not the assaulter, should they call the Gardaí. As highlighted by the recently published reports by HIV Ireland, the law has made sex workers less likely to report to the Gardaí even when they have been raped.”

McGrew continued: “Violent crime against sex workers is up 92% since the Nordic Model was introduced in Ireland in 2017 which may explain why the sex worker involved in this case was in possession of pepper spray. Pepper spray is legal to carry in other countries in the EU.

“SWAI understands that the woman did not have legal representation in court which casts doubt on whether she received due process. The lack of legal representation is a common and concerning feature of prosecutions of sex workers.

“Being prosecuted for working together for safety can have devastating effects on a sex worker’s life. A criminal record can affect other job opportunities or housing security. Sex workers are also affected by our current housing crisis and impending recession and during the pandemic, many were not able to give up working. Sex workers need better protections, not just policing.

“A review of the laws governing sex work is currently underway. Despite several attempts at getting clarification from the Department of Justice SWAI are still unsure as to whether the brothel-keeping laws will be examined under this review. Legal avenues for co-working with another worker for safety is just one way in which the lives and safety of sex workers could be improved.

“SWAI calls for the decriminalisation of sex work as a matter of urgency so that we can be safe and heard about the reality of our lives.”

The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is a peer-led service for anyone who sells sexual services in Ireland. Please contact us at [email protected] or 085 824 9305 if you are a sex worker and need our help.

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