Currently in the Republic of Ireland, minister Frances Fitzgerald is trying to introduce the so-called ‘Swedish Model’ for sex work. This model involves the criminalisation of the ‘purchase of sexual services’ or in other words the criminalisation of the clients of sex workers. But not all is black and white. While the governement claims to be protecting women it has presided over severe cuts to the lone parent allowance and in the last week cuts to the core funding of the Rape Crisis Centre. At a time when crisis calls have increased by 30% these cuts have now forced the closure of the Rape Crisis Centre in Galway. Ireland has laws against human trafficing and agaisnt violence and these laws should be enforced to protect all women and men regardless of the law on the purchase of sex. Adopting the ‘Swedish Model’ in a country with declining social services and none of the exit supports that are available in Sweden is considered inappropriate by many sex workers. But unfortunatley the voice of these workers has too often been left out of the debate. Below is an opinion piece by one such worker:
My name is Christina and I am a sex worker. Like most people I have been affected by the austerity policies of the current and past governments. I guess I am one of the people that Minister Fitzgerald’s bill aims to ‘rescue’. I’ve been homeless many times and I’ve gotten my food out of the bins of supermarkets. However, I turned all this around by working in the sex industry. I don’t love my job (what normal person does?) but my job enables me not to worry as much about money. Rights should never be dependent on how much someone loves their work.
I am opposed to this new bill, firstly because it does not decriminalise sex workers. My fellow workers on the street will still be subject to charges. It also means that I cannot work with another sex worker for safety; otherwise we would face charges of ‘brothel keeping’. Due to the stigma surrounding sex work, my work is already underground. All this new bill will achieve is to push sex workers further underground and further into danger.
There are also no provisions made to provide sex workers with an alternative income or career. Many sex workers are mothers, they are students, they are people who need their work to pay the bills, what are we supposed to do when this new law comes in? Many of my peers (I’m 25) are unemployed, they are on JobBridge schemes, they are in unpaid internships, is Minister Fitzgerald really saying this is the alternative to sex work?
What I and the organisation I belong to (Sex Workers Alliance Ireland) are calling for is the full decriminalisation of sex work. This would allow sex workers to do their job with more safety and allow us to have more control over the clients we do and do not see. We do not need this new bill; we need access to healthcare, housing and social support like any other worker. We want labour rights and the right to work without stigma or fear of violence. If you criminalise our clients we will have to become more concerned with their safety rather than our own. We need the right to social inclusion and autonomy, like all women in Ireland, the right to decide what we do with our bodies.
This new bill is the result of moral outrage, once again the Irish state are seeking to control women’s bodies. (The majority of sex workers in Ireland are women) It will force us into poverty and we will become further marginalised and stigmatised. Make no mistake; this new bill is not about protecting the vulnerable or those who have been trafficked. We can all agree that these people need rights too. If you want sex workers to leave their profession, then there must be an alternative income, housing and support, but also you will find that many enjoy this work and may not want to leave. All choices must be respected.
My name is Christina, I am a sex worker, I am a worker just like you. Don’t take away my rights.