Sex workers protest ‘devastating’ new legislation



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New legislation intended to reduce demand for sex work could force vulnerable women to work in more dangerous circumstances, according to Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI).

The organisation, which is an ”alliance of sex workers, ex-sex workers, health and social service providers and researchers” who promote the importance of harm reduction in approaching sex work, said the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 did not take their views into account.

The new bill, facilitating “wide ranging reform” of existing sex crime laws, was published yesterday by justice minister Frances Fitzgerald and introduces two new offences related to paying for sexual activity.

The first is a general offence of paying to engage in sexual activity, while the second is the more serious offence of paying to engage in such sexual activity with a person who has been trafficked.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “The proposal I am announcing today mirrors the approach adopted in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions which have seen a reduction in demand and notably, over time, an increase in support for similar laws.”

However, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland criticised the new offences created in section 20 of the bill.

Kate McGrew, a sex worker and ICRSE board member, said: “If section 20 of the bill is not removed it will have devastating effects on the lives of vulnerable people. It will impact on health and safely and increasing the risk of violence. It is a step backwards.”

She added: “This bill is intended to protect women. If passed however it will do the opposite and force us to work in more dangerous and hidden places away from Gardaí protection or support services.

“If the State truly wanted to protect us why does it not decriminalise me or people who sell sexual services? Section 20 of the bill actually reinforces vulnerability and particularly the vulnerability of street workers. This section is nothing short of tokenism which will actually make things worse.”