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(en) wsm.ie: Sex Workers Say "No" To The Sexual Offences Bill by Amadeus Harte

Date Sat, 13 Feb 2016 12:40:20 +0200

he Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill published in November 2015 contains proposed measures to criminalise the purchase of sex, an approach inspired by legislation undertaken by countries such as Sweden, Norway, Iceland and in Northern Ireland which frames itself as a “progressive” move, often referred to as the “Swedish Model”. ---- Minister of state Aodhan O Riordan claims that removing those selling sex from the 1993 criminalisation act will help vulnerable workers to report violence and misconduct and thus stay safer at work. Yet according to sex workers themselves, only 2% agreed that criminalising clients is a good idea (as interviewed for the Queen’s University Belfast report, 2014). ---- Evidence from the Swedish government report which evaluated the effect of the legislation between 1999- 2008 provided no data or evidence to prove that levels of sex work had fluctuated, showing us that the law had failed in its stated mission.

A Swedish press release in 2010 revealed that organised crime surrounding sex work has in fact increased, and information from the Norwegian ministry of Justice shows that the Swedish model leaves sex workers exposed to more dangerous clients, violence, and STDs such as AIDS and HIV because safer clients are deterred by the prospect of criminalisation.

Kate McGrew, co-ordinator from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) asks “Do the Government and TDs and Senators actually think they know more about the impact and effect of criminalisation on the rights of sex workers than sex workers themselves? .Let’s be clear, this Bill does nothing to decriminalise workers. If these changes so blatantly target sex workers, then who is this legislation for?”

In order to target the client, garda will need either need testimony from sex workers, reports from others or to catch a couple in the act. In countries which support the Swedish model, sex workers have reported that they have been subject to police raids aimed to target the client, which involve sex workers being harassed, intimidated, refused to be allowed to dress, having video footage recorded of them and having their names and IDs taken.

The same laws that claim not to target sex workers are responsible for the imposition of structural violence through the crudely named “Operation Homeless” in Norway, where police are known to target landlords of sex workers in order to forcibly displace them from their homes. Police are lying when they say they don’t target sex workers, and the state sponsored harassment of workers highlights this falsity.

In Sweden, the tenancy rights of sex workers are subjected to revocation if payment for sexual services has been recorded. Where sex workers have been identified by police, they have been barred from hotels which makes it more difficult to find safe places to work, thus putting themselves at a higher risk of unsafe clientele due to laws which criminalise the buyer.

It is clear that these laws make it more difficult for sex workers to report violence and they disproportionately effect the most marginalised of sex workers such as street workers. Racist ideologies are also exposed when migrant sex workers risk getting deported if they present a claim to police, whilst workers with children become targets for social services intervention leading to loss of custody.

Most pertinently, politicians who claim that this bill will decriminalise sex work have shrouded the current state of affairs in a veil of disguise: claims of the decriminalising the sale of sex are in fact false according to an amendment of the criminal justice public order act 1994, which allows garda to arrest anyone whom they deem to be acting in accordance with paragraph c): “[who] is acting in a manner which consists of loitering in a public place for the purpose of offering his or her services as a prostitute.” The risk of a criminal charge thus acts as an inhibitor to sex workers in reporting crimes committed against them.

Kate Mc Grew speaking at the Fine Gael ard fheis claims, “Our government keeps telling us that they want to protect the most vulnerable women by criminalising the men that buy sex from them, but under this new legislation a client will not face a prison sentence but a worker will. The government has now doubled the fine and doubled the prison sentence for sex workers caught working together in an apartment or house. If this is the governments aim to stop prostitution by ending the demand, then why are they increasing the penalties and further criminalising workers?”

The Dail is also refusing a 2 year review of the bill which would evaluate its effectiveness with recourse to the experiences of the sex workers who are implicated in it. Pursuing this legislation without consulting those who are effected by it, the voices of sex workers themselves, echoes a state of affairs in which governmental legitimacy is conferred on its own terms rather than on the terms of the people. Political consensus on the matter is hence confirmed by silencing discursive opposition.

The ideological motivation which underlies this stance on sex work is one of abolitionism, in which sex work is situated in a world where patriarchal social relations leads it to be considered a social ill that must be eradicated.

Accordingly, sex workers are constructed as victims whose choices regarding their bodily autonomy do not signify genuine consent, and rather the financial incentive involved is said to exemplify a form of coercion in which sex workers are constructed as a passive objects of patriarchal violence. Whilst this view claims to be genuinely concerned with the welfare of women, it erases the voices and agency of sex workers whose choices are seen as misguided manifestations of “false consciousness”.

The Swedish model thus masks the real impact of criminalising the client and legitimises this condescending construction of sex workers whilst also erasing the fact that people who operate as sex workers are also other genders.

WORDS: Amadeus Harte

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