• Clodagh Meaney

SWAI call for decriminalisation of sex work as Ireland is placed on human trafficking watch list

The Irish government have been criticised for their treatment of human trafficking victims

By Clodagh Meaney



Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) have once again called for the decriminalisation of sex work.

It comes following news that Ireland has been placed on a watch list over the decline in standards fighting human trafficking.


The annual, Trafficking in Persons report published last week by the US Department of State have downgraded Ireland to their tier two watch list, meaning that they will be continuously monitored for their breach of recommendations.

Kate Mc Grew, director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) and current sex worker said: “Globally, sex work prohibitionists have been successful in conflating all sex work as trafficking."

"This, combined with the fact that other forms of labour draw more trafficking victims into Ireland, has meant that resources are being misspent on a strategy of criminalising the purchase of sex that has not been proven to stop trafficking," she said.


"This conflation has also meant that consenting sex workers working together for safety have been caught up in so-called brothel raids."

"In fact, the only people who have been arrested for brothel-keeping in Ireland have been young, migrant women. The Sexual Offences law 2017 is being applied in a racist way, which has been noted by IHREC," she highlighted.

"The crime of sex trafficking is despicable and we in SWAI condemn it in the strongest way."


"It’s unhelpful to separate out sex trafficking from other forms of labour trafficking. Central to anti-trafficking strategies in other sectors are workers ability to organise, unionise and report," she continued.


Sex purchase laws have driven sex work underground and according to SWAI it moves victims of sex trafficking away from agencies that can help them.


"Data shows that sex workers are extremely unlikely to report to the Gardaí after being victims of a crime, despite violent crimes increasing against us by 92%," she explained, adding: "Other avenues of reporting and identification should be available to trafficking victims as recommended by this report."


Kate said that a firewall is needed between immigration and sex crimes in order for undocumented people to feel safe enough to report crimes against them without the fear of deportation.


"Decriminalisation of sex work is key and is a stance supported by PICUM Members (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, International Labour Organization and The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)," Kate added.


"It does not decriminalise the crime of trafficking or coercion, but it moves sex work out of its quasi-legal state and empowers sex workers with labour rights and pathways to justice."


"Sex workers want to be allies," she explained, "and we are best placed to do so."


"But the law does not respond to the circumstances of deep poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, and drug mis-use that lead some to becoming susceptible to trafficking," she concluded.


If you have been affected by any of the themes in this article, please reach out.

Immigration Council of Ireland helpline: 01 6740200

Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland

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