• Clodagh Meaney

Current laws are failing sex workers say Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland ahead of review

The organisation say that struggles sex workers faced during the COVID-19 lockdown further highlight failings in the law.

Current laws are failing sex workers, that's according to Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland.

A review of the law is due under Section 27 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which states that the the Minister for Justice and Equality must present a report to the Oireachtas this year.

The report must outline the number of buyers arrested and convicted of purchasing sex in the last three years, as well as an assessment of the safety and wellbeing of sex workers.

Kate McGrew, sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says that sex workers are experts in how the law has affected their health and safety, and they need to be central to the review.

"Currently working sex workers in Ireland are central to the review of the law. We are the experts in how this law has affected the health and safety of sex workers in Ireland."

"The voice of SWAI, the only frontline, sex worker-led organisation in Ireland, was largely excluded when this law was debated in 2017. This was unacceptable."

The organisation say that struggles sex workers faced during the COVID-19 lockdown further highlight failings in the law.

Previous Minister for Justice, Charles Flanagan, refused to engage with the organisation unless they referred to sex work as "gender based violence" instead of an economic activity.

"Without help from the state, sex workers - already on the margins -  were forced to risk their health by continuing to work for survival."

"SWAI was faced with doing the work of crowdfunding a hardship fund to successfully give small grants of €100 to over 150 female, male and trans sex workers in Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic to help flatten the curve."

The organisation say that they hope the new Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, who campaigned for the repeal of the 8th amendment, will advocate for the bodily autonomy of sex workers.

"Bodily autonomy is not just about abortion and we are the next in line to see the effect of a more progressive, caring Ireland who is moving away from its dark past," they said.

The review will also focus on whether or not the law achieved its aims, something SWAI say will show how the current law has failed sex workers.

"It has succeeded in prosecuting young migrant sex workers working together for safety. It has failed to lead to the arrests of traffickers," they explained.

"It has succeeded in increasing violence against sex workers by 92%. It has failed to decrease the number of people sex work."

"It has succeeded distancing sex workers from supports including Gardaí. It has failed to increase sex workers trust in the Gardaí," they said, adding: "It has not made Ireland a safer place for sex workers. It has failed. "

Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland welcome the news that Maura Butler, chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and their representative at the European Women’s Lobby, has been appointed to over see the review of the law.

However, they have highlighted that "both of these organisations have a strong stance against sex work," and that NWCI have refused SWAI membership for the last three years, something they deem "an unacceptable exclusion of a key population of vulnerable women."

The review is due to be presented within the next three months.

© 2020 by EMPWR

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