Protection not policing: Irish sex-work laws need an overhaul and here’s one reason why

In 2017, sexual offences under Irish law went through some overdue reform.

Though anyone who has read the Sexual Offences Act 2017 will notice its downfalls (of which there are many), one majorly destructive section has come to light in recent times.

In 2017 Ireland adapted the ‘Nordic Model’ when it came to legislating for sex work. Section 25 criminalises the purchase of sexual services. This means that the customer is breaking the law and not the sex worker. Though this might seem like progress, there are still toxic aspects of the laws that govern sex work in Ireland. One such aspect is so-called ‘brothel keeping’

Brothel Keeping

Though sex work is technically legal in Ireland, sex workers cannot work together. If they do, they can be charged with ‘brothel-keeping’, an offence that was retained from section 11 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993.

Think about this: Working alone, in general, can be unsafe for women in many professions. However, we can all imagine the implications an isolated environment must have on sex work. Here are some of the issues that sex workers face under this law, according to Director of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), Kate McGrew:

‘Working alone makes sex workers vulnerable to criminals who target them precisely because they are on their own.’

However, this is a double-edged sword because if workers do decide to put their safety first and work together despite the law, they are unlikely to call the Gardaí if they are attacked, for fear of being arrested.

The stats speak for themselves:

Just last week, yet another migrant sex-worker pleaded guilty of working with another worker. She will be sentenced this coming January. The woman did not have legal representation, which casts doubt on whether she received due process. The lack of legal representation is a common feature of sex work proceedings.  She also pleaded guilty to possession of an unlawful firearm, namely pepper spray. In other countries in the EU, it is legal to carry pepper spray. Carrying pepper spray is illegal in Ireland, despite the fact that violence against sex workers is on the rise.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (@swaiireland) on

Being prosecuted for working together for safety has devastating effects on the life of a sex worker:

  • A criminal record affects job opportunities in other sectors.
  • A criminal record affects housing security. Sex workers are also affected by the current housing crisis and the impending recession following the pandemic.

The Law Reform Commission is in the process of reviewing the current laws that govern sex work, but this does not mean that the brothel-keeping offence will be reviewed. The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland have been working towards reform for some time and are currently seeking clarification on this dangerous piece of legislation.

Anyone who sells sexual services in Ireland can contact peer-led service SWIA for help and support at info@swai.eu or call 085 824 9305.

With her daughter Evie as her muse, Anna writes about mumhood and all its intersections from mental health to movies, social issues to pop culture. Anna lives in Dublin with her daughter, partner, three younger sisters and parents. She is a dreadful cook, a fair guitar player and thinks caffeine should be given as a yearly vaccine to parents - courtesy of the HSE.

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