• Clodagh Meaney

International Sex Workers Day: Irish government continue to fail sex workers says SWAI

June 2nd 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the Occupation of Saint-Nizier

By Clodagh Meaney

Today marks International Sex Workers Day, a day which recognises the often exploited working conditions of sex workers.

During the 1970s, French police officers were putting increased pressure on sex workers, forcing them to be even more secretive about their work. As a result, protection of sex workers decreased, which led to more and more violence to be perpetrated against them.

Following the murder of three workers, and the French governments unwillingness to engage in actions to protect them, on June 2nd 1975, one hundred sex workers began a ten day occupation of Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France grabbing national and international headlines.

The women demanded the end of police harassment and the release of ten other workers who had been imprisioned for soliciting sex in the days before the occupation began.

During their historic occupation, locals supported the workers by providing food and clothing.

Eight days later, police stormed the building and removed the women.

Similar occupations took place across France in Paris, Marseille, Grenoble, Saint-Étienne and Montpellier, all in solidarity with the workers.

This protest sparked the international campaign for sex workers rights.

Occupation of Saint-Nizier | Source: Twitter

Today, 45 years later, sex worker and director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says that the global Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how the Irish Government continues to fail sex workers.

"Over half of the workers who we in the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, the only frontline sex worker-led organisation in Ireland, are in touch with, have been contacted by clients requesting in-person sexual services," she explained.

"In fact, some workers have not seen a reduction in the number of clients at all. In some instances clients are offering double the workers’ rates, in an attempt to get them to come out of quarantine."

"Clients are also threatening workers by saying if they don’t see them now, during the pandemic, they will not hear from them when it all blows over," she said.

"Desperate workers cannot afford to lose what little future income they can expect."

Kate continued by explaining how the Nordic Model, a law which SWAI say harms sex workers rather than protecting them, has meant that the government has failed to protect vulnerable workers.

"This virus exposes one of the great fallacies of the Nordic Model and lays bare the state’s abandonment of so many vulnerable people."

"Providing structural and economic supports and safety nets are what really reduces the number of sex workers and ensures that those who don’t want to do sex work aren’t. Criminal laws are not the answer, and they never were," Kate explained.

"Unless proper financial support for everyone, including undocumented people and those traditionally unwilling to engage with the state, are explicitly offered support with no barriers or strings attached, we are about to see a lot more harm. These supports cannot solely be tied to exiting strategies if we want them to succeed."

SWAI | Source: Twitter

Media campaigns by anti-sex work NGOs have used vital money that could have provided support for sex workers but instead has been squandered.

"Their campaigns to pressure financial platforms to ban sex workers has resulted in sex workers being unable to receive emergency funds, forcing people back to work."

In 2017, Ireland adapted a law to criminalise the purchase of sex meaning that workers are forced underground, further stigmatising their work.

"The government’s refusal to recognise our means of survival as work has left sex workers overwhelmingly excluded from emergency payments. 

As the pandemic continues, rent, bills and other fees still need to be paid, children need to be fed and families need to be cared for. As it stands, one-third of workers in contact with SWAI have not been able to give up selling sex during the pandemic.

"This desperation will exacerbate an already existing problem; the laws have created a buyers’ market where clients can demand more risky behaviours such a no-condom use and workers will comply because they need the money more than the client needs the sex."

"Everyone deserves to be safe and as healthy as they can be," Kate continued.

"The criminalisation of the purchase of sex is not going to achieve that. We need a social safety net, affordable childcare, a health system that works for everyone and focuses on harm reduction, affordable third-level education, affordable and secure housing and legal avenues for migration," she said calling for the government to take action.

For further information you can visit Sex Workers Alliance Ireland's website here.

© 2020 by EMPWR

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