December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers are a marginalised and highly stigmatised group. They are often the target of violence by police and members of the public because of their criminalised status. Ugly Mugs statistics show us that sex workers in Ireland only report 3% of crimes perpetrated against them. This statistic clearly illustrates the lack of trust workers have in An Garda Síochána and the Justice system to protect them. Many sex workers fear they will be criminalised themselves when attempting to report crime.
The Irish Government intends to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services – the “Swedish Model”. The motivation behind this move is to send an empty message that buying sex is not acceptable in this country. Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland (SWAI) believes this legislation will do the exact opposite and result in an increase in violence and stigma towards sex workers, and even less reporting of crimes. The intention of the Swedish Model is to abolish prostitution. As part of this model the state treats all sex workers as victims who need to be saved. It believes those resisting rescue are suffering from false consciousness.
Petite Jasmine was one such victim of violence as a result of this “Swedish Model”. Jasmine lost custody of her children because the Swedish authorities believed, as a sex worker, she was an unfit parent. Her children were placed with their father despite his history of abuse and violence towards her. The authorities told Jasmine she didn’t know what was good for her. They told her she was “romanticising” prostitution and did not understand, as a sex worker, she was self-harming. The father of her children threatened and stalked Jasmine on numerous occasions yet she was never offered any protection. Jasmine fought the system through four trials and finally started seeing her children again. In July 2013 Jasmine was brutally stabbed by the father of her children. Stigma kills.
The Swedish government thinks that increasing the stigma of sex work is a positive thing, even if it means more violence against sex workers and a reduction in the reporting of crime. At a recent meeting, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald agreed that more stigma is good, as it will prevent people from joining the industry. This view worries SWAI, that a government would rather see violence inflicted on sex workers as a preventative measure, rather than keep sex workers safe. The government needs to base its laws on creating safety for sex workers, not on a moralistic ideology, which will make sex workers more vulnerable to violence.
Since 1979 at least eight sex workers have been murdered in Ireland. Sex workers remain at risk of violence and will continue to unless the Government recognizes the need for a rights based and harm reduction approach to sex work.
We will have a Vigil at the Dáil on Wednesday December 17th at 6pm, where we will remember those sex workers who have suffered violence or been killed, often as a result of criminalisation and stigma. We ask for the members of the public and other sex workers to join us. There will be masks available for those concerned about their identity.
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