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General News / August 26, 2022

One in five sex workers are sexually exploited by gardaí

Image: Unsplash
General News / August 26, 2022

One in five sex workers are sexually exploited by gardaí

Words: Ellen Kenny

A study into treatment of sex workers in Ireland found that criminalisation has “drastically marganalised” vulnerable groups.

One in five sex workers have been exploited by gardaí, and many more have been approached by gardaí for services despite knowing it was a crime to do so, a new report finds.

On Thursday, the University of Limerick published I Must Be Some Person: Accounts from Street Sex Workers in Ireland. It was funded by the Department of Justice and conducted by UL and GOSHH. The study interviewed 25 sex workers in depth about their work lives, safety, and treatment.

According to the study, “five participants in our sample of 25 disclosed that they had been sexually exploited by gardaí… our data also documented widespread incidents of gardaí harassing and verbally abusing street sex workers.”

The number of sex workers in Ireland is unknown. But this study implies 20 per cent of them have experienced exploitation from gardaí.

Safety of sex workers

Participants interviewed also said they had “a deep mistrust” of An Garda Síochána. They said they felt “discouraged” to report crimes to Gardaí including rape and assault. They also reported a history of trauma inflicted by aggressive Garda tactics from the past among sex workers.

The study found that the criminalisation of sex work “drastically” marginalises vulnerable groups. It fails to make a distinction between “voluntary and consensual” services and human trafficking and sexual exploitation, which has to led to more fear among workers.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 significantly increased penalties for “brothel-keeping”. This is when two or more sex workers operate under the same roof. According to participants interviewed, this penalty removed the ability of groups to “work together” in twos and threes in a single premises to ensure their safety. This was “the most frequently mentioned issue” among interviewees, the report says.

Previous reports on the issue have also found hundreds of incidents where men claiming to be gardaí illicit free services and abuse sex workers using their position.

Recommendations

The study recommended several reforms to the 2017 Act. It recommended a clear distinction between sex work versus sexual exploitation and trafficking, strengthening of services to ensure they have safe working conditions, an end to policing by An Garda Síochána.

The study suggested funds from An Garda Síochána be redirected to sex worker led organisations.

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