We are pleased to welcome this Guest Post from Laura Lee, a sex worker, award-winning blogger and sex workers’ rights campaigner. Laura tweets at @GlasgaeLauraLee.
The recent recommendations from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to paid sex are as worrying as they are unworkable.
From the very beginning, the campaign by Turn Off the Red Light has been impressively coordinated and orchestrated, but any legislative change should give due regard to those it is purporting to protect, the sex workers themselves. As an Irish sex worker with some twenty years experience, I asked to have access to the committee hearings but was ignored. Further, I appealed to Alan Shatter via the Irish media to talk to me about what could potentially be a very dangerous change to Irish law. Again, I had no response.
The basis of the current proposals would appear to be that the vast majority of sex workers are coerced, trafficked or under age. I know this to be false. The ‘rescue’ industry is big business, and as such, the continuity of age old myths around the sex industry is essential to ensure public support, but more importantly, funding. I believe that if the vast majority of Irish people were aware that the same order of nuns responsible for the Magdalene Laundries outrage are behind one of the most vocal anti sex work protagonists in the ROI, then perhaps their views would alter.
Turning to the proposals themselves, the most pertinent suggestion is the introduction of the Swedish model. In short, we know that in terms of protecting sex workers, the Swedish model fails. It creates a vast rift between sex workers and the police, not to mention outreach services. Sex workers are less likely to report attacks because they fear that their address will be targeted by police in the future, to arrest clients. Street based sex workers will work further away from detection, to avoid arrest. This leads to less time available to assess a client and a marked increase in assaults and sex offences.
If there are sex workers who are working under coercion or duress and who appear frightened, the door should be left firmly open so that the clients can report what they have seen without fear of arrest. It is not unheard of for clients to contact Crimestoppers and indeed I have done a report on several occasions on a client’s behalf. As the clients are often the only people who will come into contact with these sex workers, then to implement a law which will drive that very group away from the Gardai is nonsensical.
The proposal to remove the phones of those suspected to be involved in the industry is downright dangerous. With the launch of Uglymugs.ie, now more than ever it is essential that sex workers have access to their phones, as Ugly Mugs not only send out details of dangerous clients by email but also by text message. One missed message could cost a life. The further proposal of ‘recklessly permitting a premises to be used for the purposes of prostitution’ is also problematic. Landlords in fear of prosecution will render women homeless, even where there is no concrete evidence that they are sex workers. Also, to conflate the accessing of sites which advertise consensual sex between adults with sites which advertise child pornography is breath taking.
The single biggest hurdle to be overcome in Ireland with regard to the sex industry is stigma, and we have a long way to go with that, but the implementation of the Swedish model will only make that stigma worse. The recent tragic death of Petite Jasmine in Sweden is concrete proof that stigma kills. It’s time that Ireland recognises that sex work is a form of labour like any other and that sex workers deserve the protection of the law, not persecution.
When the UN-backed Global Commission on HIV and the Law has called for sex work to be decriminalised on foot of evidence from around the world, is this the Ireland we envision ? Homeless women with no phones ? It’s time to recognise that whilst abuses happen, they are nowhere near as prevalent as those in favour of abolition would suggest and that the way forward is to tackle those abusers, not those of us who engage in paid consensual sex to support our families.