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On Friday, May 3rd 2013 Deputy Thomas Pringle put forward the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013 in the Dail. In his response to the Bill, Mick urges the Government not to adopt the Bill as it will go further towards putting sex workers at risk of violence and health issues. The Bill is based on the Swedish model, the effectiveness of which is questionable Mick argues. You can read his response below or watch it here.

In a 2010 report, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Graver, who I have quoted in this House before, made the following recommendation to states about sex work, calling upon them, "to repeal all laws criminalizing sex work and practices around it, and to establish appropriate regulatory frameworks within which sex workers can enjoy the safe working conditions to which they are entitled". He recommends that "states implement programmes and educational initiatives to allow sex workers access to appropriate, quality health services". In his report, Mr Graver stated:

Sex workers remain subject to stigma and marginalization, and are at significant risk of experiencing violence in the course of their work, often as a result of criminalization. As with other criminalized practices, the sex-work sector invariably restructures itself so that those involved may evade punishment. In doing so, access to health services is impeded and occupational risk increases. Basic rights afforded to other workers are also denied to sex workers because of criminalization, as illegal work does not afford the protections that legal work requires, such as occupational health and safety standards.

In the context of the legislation we are currently debating and the widespread support for the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, this next point is particularly important. The report states:

The trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of any person is abhorrent, and undoubtedly merits criminal prohibition. However, the conflation of consensual sex work and sex trafficking in such legislation leads to, at best, the implementation of inappropriate responses that fail to assist either of these groups in realizing their rights and, at worst, to violence and oppression.

The current legal position in Ireland, where the sale or purchase of sex is permissible but all associated activities are prohibited, puts sex workers at risk because it prevents women from working together, which would be safer for them. Advocates for sex worker rights in Ireland have called for a change in the law to exempt premises shared by sex workers where there is no third party involvement from the definition of "brothel".

The Bill is based on the approach to prostitution in Sweden, but the effectiveness of the Swedish model is questionable. The Swedish Government's ten-year evaluation of its law, the well-known Skarhed report, admits that it has no idea how many are involved in indoor prostitution. Its focus is on street prostitution which makes up a very small percentage of total prostitution.

A 2007 report by the Swedish Health and Welfare Board stated:

It is also difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question. At most, we can discern that street prostitution is slowly returning, after swiftly disappearing in the wake of the law against purchasing sexual services. But as said, that refers to street prostitution, which is the most obvious manifestation. With regard to increases and decreases in other areas of prostitution - the 'hidden prostitution' - we are even less able to make any statements.

Importantly, the Report of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work, published in 2011, is very critical of methods such as the Swedish model, stating:

Stigma and discrimination within society results in repressive laws, policies and practices against sex work, and the economic disempowerment of sex workers. Policies and programmes to reduce the demand for sex work ... ignoring the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including increased HIV risk and vulnerability for sex workers and their clients, and diverting attention from protecting sex workers' rights. The frequent failure of policy-makers, religious leaders and society to distinguish sex work from human trafficking has sometimes led to involuntary displacement, harassment or detention of sex workers.

Referring specifically to the Swedish model, the report notes:

In Sweden and Norway, the buying of sex is criminalised, an approach based on the idea that the client may merit punishment, but the sex worker is a 'victim'. There is very little evidence to suggest that any criminal laws related to sex work reduce demand for sex or the number of sex workers. Rather, all of them create an environment of fear and marginalisation for sex workers, who often have to work in remote and unsafe locations to avoid arrest of themselves or their clients. These laws can undermine sex workers' ability to work together to identify potentially violent clients and their capacity to demand condom use of clients. The approach of criminalising the client has been shown to backfire on sex workers. In Sweden, sex workers who were unable to work indoors were left on the street with the most dangerous clients and little choice but to accept them.

Instead of eliminating prostitution, the unintended consequences of adopting the Swedish model in Ireland will be to drive sex work further underground, increasing risks for the women and men who sell sex and making it more difficult for them to access health services.

For many, sex work is their only source of income and their means of providing for their families. Criminalising their clients will put these sex workers at increased risk of poverty, and lead to further stigmatisation and marginalisation. For these reasons, I would not be able supporting the Bill.

 

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