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Dublin: 10 °C Monday 17 June, 2019
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Sex workers marched on Leinster House tonight

The group held a vigil to oppose new laws criminalising those who pay for sex.

SEX WORKERS AND their supporters held a vigil outside the gates of Leinster House this evening.

Around 20 people gathered on Kildare Street, holding candles and red umbrellas to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers and to continue the SWAI lobby group’s campaign against measures contained in the government’s planned new legislation, which will criminalise those who pay for sex.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which was published in September, is supported by a range of civil society groups, including the likes of the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama.

17/12/2015.Sex Workers Vigils. Pictured is with Ka Kate McGrew of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland Source: Leah Farrell

Kate McGrew – the US-born sex worker who found fame as part of RTÉ’s Connected documentary series – spoke to the crowd, who were almost outnumbered by photographers, journalists and cameramen.

The sparse turnout shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, she told TheJournal.ie: 

It is an isolating industry inherently, yes – it’s a private thing that we’re doing. A lot of it frankly though is about stigma, about not being able to be ‘out’.

The new laws, McGrew said, would make sex workers “further targets of violence and less likely to report to the gardaí and interact with the gardaí”.

While the legislation is well motivated, she insisted that “the very people that the law is purporting to help will be the ones that will sacrifice the most and it will compromise their safety the most – particularly when people are under-resourced, and don’t have any other options”.

They’re most likely to be more concerned with a client’s safety than their own, and it tips the power dynamic in favour of the client. The client could call the shots about where they’re meeting and they might be dropping their prices or agreeing to acts that they wouldn’t have before.

17/12/2015.Sex Workers Vigils. Pictured (L to R) D Dearbhla Ryan (a community worker with the SWAI), Kate McGrew, and supporters. Source: Leah Farrell

The new laws were the subject of a fierce debate on Claire Byrne Live at the end of last month, in which McGrew participated. That show followed the broadcast of an RTÉ Investigates special exploring whether the planned legislation will do anything to change how the industry operates.

Speaking as the legislation was being published, justice minister Frances Fitzgerald said the laws mirrored the approach taken in Northern Ireland “which have seen a reduction in demand and notably, over time, an increase in support for similar laws”.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland insists the new laws will “wreck the business model for pimps, traffickers and thugs”.

Read: Former sex worker says she saw 13-year-old girl work on Dublin streets >

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