Frequently asked questions

Q. Why do you use the term sex worker rather than prostitute?
The term sex worker is used because when sex workers are asked about their activity they describe what they do as �work� or �working�. Moreover, the term sex work is also used by the World Health Organisation (WHO 2001; WHO 2005) and the United Nations (UN 2006; UNAIDS 2002). The term sex worker refers to a woman or man who exchanges or trades sexual acts for money. The term sex work is also less stigmatising and has fewer moral connotations.

Q. Is sex work or prostitution illegal in Ireland?
Selling sex is not illegal in Ireland however, soliciting, living off the earnings of prostitution and organising prostitution are illegal as set out in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993. Children are protected from prostitution under the Children Act 2001; in relation to child sexual abuse, for the purposes of the criminal law, the age of consent to sexual intercourse is 17 years.

Q. How many sex workers are working in Ireland?
Due to the clandestine, often illegal and hidden nature of prostitution, there is no accurate or reliable estimate of the number of sex workers in Ireland. This is true internationally; sex workers are reluctant to admit their involvement in sex work due to stigma, shame, embarrassment and fear of exposure. Additionally, many sex workers work occasionally, opportunistically or part-time, and may never come to the attention of services (police, health, social welfare).

Q. Do many Irish men use the services of female sex workers?
A representative national survey (n=7,441) in Ireland (Layte, et al. 2006) found that 6 per cent of Irish men between the ages of 18 and 64 have �ever� paid for sex with a woman, and 3 per cent paid for sex in the last five years.

Q. Are there male sex workers in Ireland?
Yes, there are male sex workers in Ireland who usually have paid sex with other men. The Irish report from 2001 �Such a Taboo� highlighted that there is a huge stigma attached to male prostitution both among the males involved in the industry and by society in general. A significant percentage of male sex workers are heterosexual and may have a female partner. Like female or transgender sex workers the repercussions of disclosure would impact on their lives and relationships in a lot of different ways. There is also an unwillingness to access the services that they may require because of the legal implications. Homophobia, along with negative attitudes to sex work, have added to the taboo about the subject and have complicated an adequate response to the service needs of male sex workers. (Such A Taboo INMP EACHB 2001)

Q. How many male sex workers in Ireland ?
Like female sex workers the number is unknown. In an all Ireland survey of gay men (n=771) respondents were asked about their experience of paying for sex and being paid for sex (Real Lives, Devine et al. 2006 (www.ghn.ie) The findings revealed that:

Being paid money for sex
Of the 771 respondents just over one in twenty men (5.8%) said that they had been paid money for sex with a man in the last year, with the highest proportion living in Northern Ireland (6.9%) and the lowest living in Dublin (4.3%). There were significant differences according to the age of the respondent. While 1.8% of men aged in their 40s had been paid for sex, 15.6% of those aged less than 20 years had. While one third of men had been paid for sex with a man just once, a quarter had been paid five or more times. The most frequently identified location for finding the men who paid for sex was gay web-sites (personals/profiles/chat), gay bars and clubs and public spaces. Fewer sources were identified by men living in Dublin than living in other areas, for example, public spaces (e.g. street/cruising ground arcades) were not identified by any men living in Dublin.

Paying for sex
In the same survey 51 men (6.5%) said that they had paid money for sex with a man in the last year, with slightly more men in Dublin having done so (7.6%); three quarters (78.4%) had done so between one and four times. Older men were more likely to have paid for sex in the previous year than younger men.The most frequently identified way of finding the men who took payment for sex was via gay web-sites (personals/profiles/chat), also escort/masseur web-sites �followed by gay bars and clubs. Saunas were identified by one third of men living in the Republic of Ireland outside Dublin, but much less so by those living in Dublin or Northern Ireland.

Other research on male sex workers in Ireland
In 1997 the GMHP Eastern Health Board published a report on males in prostitution based on an interview with 27 male sex workers. This study found most were polydrug users. Men entered prostitution through a variety of routes, including homelessness and being on the streets, through friends who were doing it, and for the money. Service providers were also surveyed and the recommendations highlighted the needs of male sex workers (MSW) (Quinlan, M. and Wyse, D. 1997 EHB/HSE) Since the first Irish study on males in prostitution in 1997 by the Gay Men�s Health Project EHB efforts have been made to highlight the issues and needs concerning male sex workers. Both through Irish and European networks this is continuing now via SWAI and the Correlation European Network [Establishing a network report: link] www.correlation-net.org

Q. What type of services do sex workers need?
Like all other workers, sex workers need access to the full range of services that are targeted at the general population including housing, health and social support services. Unlike other workers, they need labour rights, and the right to work in an environment free from violence, harassment or intimidation. They also need equality, social inclusion and the right to self determination and the right to legal protection as workers. If they are drug users they need easy access to methadone treatment and needle exchanges in order to reduce their chances of contracting blood borne viruses. The recent NACD report (2009) recommended adequate funding of drug and specialist (sex work) outreach services be provided to ensure their ability to carry out outreach work in the evenings, at night and at weekends in particular. These outreach services should target existing and developing street sex markets and peer networks of drug users and sex workers rather than individuals. They should also distribute sterile injecting equipment, paraphernalia, condoms, lubricants, etc.

Q. Are sex workers victims of violence?
Sadly in some instances they are victims of violence, those who work on the street are most vulnerable and this is true for both female and male sex workers. Studies show that there is less likelihood of violence from regular customers. Due to stigma and fear of prosecution, sex workers are often reluctant to report incidences of violence to the Gardai. It is also worth remembering that people who are violent towards sex workers are not always clients but are criminals engaging in violent assaults specifically targeting sex workers. In Liverpool crimes against sex workers are defined as hate crimes.

Q. Do sex workers choose their line of work?
Not all sex workers are the same; some enjoy this line of work while others would prefer to do something else, although may have limited options when it comes to earning an income. Many sex workers work part time, attracted by the flexible working hours and the autonomy and freedom it offers them. Others report that they like being their own boss.

Q. Where do sex workers work?
The sex industry is subject to local contexts and circumstances. There are a myriad of ways in which the seller and buyer come into contact with each other. Whilst, some work on the streets, which is considered the most dangerous work setting, others may work in brothels or as agency workers; they may set themselves up in flats; they may advertise on the internet and work independently.

Q. Who becomes involved in sex work?
Women, men and transgendered people from a wide range of backgrounds become involved in sex work for a wide variety of reasons. They work for the same reason as other people, in order to earn money. Services are reporting that there is an increase in the number of students who are selling sex to fund themselves through college.

Q. Are issues for male sex workers different that those for women?
If those involved in sex work are marginalised they have the same needs e.g. housing, health services etc. However, there are specific separate issues for males, namely addressing homophobia and hetero-sexism within service provision and the recognition that not all males involved in sex work are gay.

Q. Is sex work new to society?
Studies indicate that sex work has existed and continues to exist in all societies at all times. It is mentioned in the Bible and existed in Byzantine. It also existed in ancient Irish society during the Brehon Law times. At the turn of the 20th century, Dublin had a thriving red light district called �Monto�.

Q. Are all foreign sex workers in Ireland trafficked into the sex industry?
Human trafficking is the practice of deceiving, coercing or otherwise removing people from their home or their countries and forcing them to work for little or no compensation in situations of exploitation. Trafficking is not synonymous with sex work and victims of human trafficking may be forced to work in industries such as agriculture, domestic service as well as the sex industry. It is critical to distinguish human trafficking, which is a violation of human rights, from voluntary migration. A distinction also needs to be made between migrant workers who voluntarily sell sex and those who are victims of international trafficking criminal gangs who force people to work as sex workers. It has also been reported that migrant sex workers may pay an agency to bring them into another country or they may have networks of friends and family who facilitate their move from one country to another. SWAI does not support human trafficking in any form. We suggest that more effort and resources be deployed to pursue these international criminal gangs, rather than wasting valuable and finite resources by targeting consenting adults who voluntarily engage in commercial sexual activity.

Q. What about criminalising clients?
Legislation was enacted in Sweden in 1999, which criminalises the clients of sex workers. Essentially it makes it illegal to buy sex but not to sell sex; it is based on the premise that all prostitution is exploitation of women. The feedback from Swedish sex workers and organisations is that sex work still exists but is rendered more dangerous because they have to take more risks and also because sex work is driven underground making it much harder to engage these groups in health and support services. The risks are increased for those just starting out in sex work as they are much more likely to be alienated from experienced workers and services and not have access to good advice which, means there is more chance of engaging in unsafe practices.

Q. In regard to the law, what are the other options?
There is the option of de-criminalisation, which is the situation in New Zealand, and means that no aspect of being a sex worker is illegal. Like any other work, it is governed by existing employment law. Decriminalisation supports occupational health and safety and workplace issues through existing legal and workplace mechanisms. Or sex work can be legalised, this means that it is legal to sell and buy sex as long as it is done in the way described and prescribed by law. Laws may relate to locations of the business, safety measures and paying tax and there can be harsh penalties for sex industry businesses that operate outside the legal framework. Countries which have legalised sex work include parts of Australia; Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Greece and Turkey. To see a full list of countries policies log onto: Prosititution ProCon

Q. What is the biggest issue facing sex workers in relation to their work?
If you ask sex workers they will say it is the stigma and discrimination they face. Sex workers also worry about violence, and fear of disclosure. They worry that their friends or family may find out about them; they worry about their activities being reported to the Gardai resulting in court action. Many do not follow through with attending court because they are afraid their name will appear in a newspaper. They sometimes don�t seek medical treatment after they have been violently attacked or report the incident to the Gardai for the same reasons.

Q. Where do pimps fit into the picture?
In Ireland, most sex workers don�t appear to have pimps. In some cases vulnerable women and men may be forced into giving their earnings from sex work to a pimp. However, when they manage to extricate themselves from the pimp they continue to sex work and retain their earnings. There is a distinction between a pimp and a partner. Sex workers like other workers may have partners, their partners may or may not know that they are involved in this type of work, and they both may be living off the proceeds of their work.