Frequently asked questions

Q).Who is your membership?
Anybody can join SWAI provided they agree with the mission statement and objectives. We do not keep a membership base. We are simply volunteers who advocate for the right of sex workers to work; we do not receive funding from any source.

Q).What is your main role?
Our main role is to act as advocates; SWAI has submitted reports to the Review of Legislation on Prostitution Submission to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality (August 2012), and to the Review of Committee study of Sexual and Domestic Violence; engaged in debates, given papers and presentations at conferences, conducted interviews with the media (newspapers, radio and television). SWAI has a Facebook page and is on Twitter. Communication is through emails. Where is SWAI based? SWAI is based in Outhouse, 105 Capel Street, Dublin, 1.

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?
Exchanging money for sexual services 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. According to Ward (2010) The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1935 criminalised the prostitute, through the crime of being a common prostitute . The 1993 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act amended this act and removed the category of common prostitute from the statute books but introduced new crimes such as kerb crawling, managing prostitution, living off the earnings of prostitution. The relevant sections of the Act are sections 7 - 11 Section 7 extended soliciting, loitering and importuning in a public place to cover men as well as women. This section is gender neutral in that it applies to both male and female prostitutes and applies to all parties including clients. Section 8 gave police powers to direct a person to leave a public place or street where soliciting or importuning is believed to be taking place and to charge that person should he or she not move on. Sections 9 - 11 criminalised, respectively, of the organisation of prostitution, living on the earnings of prostitution and brothel keeping. In all cases fines for each crime were increased in the Act. The Criminal Law (Public Order) Act 1994 (Section 23) prohibits the advertising or distribution of advertising for brothels or of the service of prostitution to include material posted on the Internet (Ward, 2013).

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 also 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 have paid sex with other men. 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: 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%).

Q. Are male sex workers also subject to stigma?
The Irish report Such a Taboo (2001) 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)

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 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 report from the National Advisory Committtee on Drugs (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 often criminals engaging in violent assaults specifically targeting sex workers.

SWAI recommends that scarce Garda resources be targeted at serious crime such as violent punters who attack men and women sex workers and that the Department of Justice should consider redefining attacks on sex workers as hate crimes and implement initiatives such as those pioneered by the Liverpool police force.

Q). Do sex workers choose their line of work?
Not all sex workers are the same; some choose this line of work while others 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. For the most part, sex work is part of the informal economy which makes it a risky occupation. In countries with inadequate welfare benefits, many are driven into prostitution through extreme poverty.

Q). Are most sex workers independent or working for someone else??
The most recent research on escorts working in Ireland was conducted by (www.uglymugs.ie). 195 indoor sex workers (female, male and transgender persons) responded to the survey. They came from 29 different countries including Ireland (12.6%); the biggest groups came from Romania and the UK. Before coming to Ireland, they had worked in other countries. The vast majority (97%) was self-employed (and not controlled by an outsider); the others had worked for another party such as an escort agency.

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. 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 and ancient Greek and Roman Civilisations. It also existed in ancient Irish society during the Brehon Law times. At the turn of the 20th century, Dublin had a 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 from 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.

Ireland has strong legislation to combat human trafficking (Criminal Law Human Trafficking Act was enacted in Ireland in 2008) and the Department of Justice and Equality has an Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Ireland (2009-2010); it acknowledges that the scale of trafficking into Ireland is unknown. It notes the lack of a common definition of trafficking and states that this has implications in terms of providing a reliable estimate a very broad definition of trafficking inflates the number of those understood as being trafficked (2009: 32).

The alleged link between legalisation and sex trafficking has been contradicted by international evidence. Germany has recorded a decrease in sex trafficking since sex work was decriminalised, while Swedish police report that rather than deter traffickers, the law has simply caused them to change how they operate.

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. SWAI strongly opposes current proposals to introduce the Swedish Model of criminalising the clients of sex work. The purchase and sale of sex should remain legal for consenting adults. Criminalising those who buy sex has adverse consequences for those who sell sex in that it eliminates their source of income and increases their poverty and marginalization. It will make them more vulnerable because it will deter the respectable purchasers and may increase the violent ones. With the loss of Garda protection, sex workers will have to turn to pimps and protectors to protect them from violent clients. It would also result in sex workers being driven further underground, which not only increases their vulnerability but also makes it harder for outreach workers to access them, and for them to access adequate health and social care services.

Q. What does the UNAIDS say about the spread of HIV and criminalising sex work?
The UNAIDS 2010 report states that policies and programmes aimed to reduce the demand for sex work, which ignore the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including increased HIV risk and vulnerability for sex workers and their clients. It calls for an end to demand for unprotected sex. The report also states that demonising the clients/purchasers are approaches that create major barriers to the uptake of effective HIV prevention programmes by sex workers. To increase the effectiveness of HIV strategies and to respect human rights, this report states that countries should now take action to decriminalize sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men and transgender people, and reform other laws that block effective responses to HIV (UNAIDS, 2010: 137). In terms of gender equality, it advocates specific interventions to address violence against women because there is a clear association between violence against women and the spread of HIV (UNAIDS, 2010: 137) (Whitaker, 2014).

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: prostitution.procon.org

Q) Does SWAI recommend changing the law?
SWAI recommends that the judiciary redefine the concept of brothel-keeping. Although brothel is not defined in Irish law, the courts have followed the English common law definition; this applies to any place where more than one person sells sexual services. In the interest of safety women are better off working together rather than working alone. This denial of access to a safe working environment breaches the right to occupational health and safety, which applies to sex workers no less than to workers in any other sector. SWAI therefore calls for the law to be amended to exempt premises shared by sex workers, with no third-party involvement, from the definition of brothel.

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 a pimp. That said, in some cases vulnerable women and men may be forced into giving their earnings from sex work to a pimp. Interventions and supports are needed to help the sex worker extricate themselves from this harmful and dangerous situation. Those who have been coerced into sex work to pay off a drug debt (for example) need support to exit prostitution. 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.

Q) What about street workers or those using illicit drugs?
Those who work on the streets require greater access to harm reduction materials such as condoms, lubricants etc. Drug users who engage in prostitution to fund a drug habit require easier access to methadone maintenance, needle exchange programmes, rehabilitation and detoxification.

Q) What do you mean by a Human Rights approach to sex work?
A persons human rights should be at the forefront of any debate on prostitution. In 2005, 120 sex workers and 80 allies from 30 countries participated in the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Law and Migration in Brussels. From this conference, two documents were published: Sex Workers in Europe Manifesto and Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (Garofolo, 2010). There is now a global network of sex work projects. Some see sex workers as similar to many other low skilled workers and believe that sex workers should enjoy their full human and labour rights under the law (Bindman, 1997). The Human Rights Caucus representing the International Human Rights Law Group and the Asian Women's Human Rights Council advocates for the analysis of sex work as labour (Koken, 2010). UNAIDs uses both a rights based perspective and also has the goal to reduce the transmission of HIV in sex work (Hope Ditmore, 2010). This human rights approach was verified in a recent UNAIDS report (UNAIDS, 2012) (Whitaker, 2014). sexworkeurope.org