Sex workers' group denied funding by Department of Justice

Sex workers' group denied funding by Department of Justice
File Image. PA Photo: Paul Barker

A leading sex workers rights group was told it could not access government funding unless it accepted that "prostitution is inherently exploitative of vulnerable people".

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland enquired about emergency funding from the Department of Justice after it gave similar funding to the leading "End Demand" advocate organisation in Ireland.

In reply to its inquiry, a Department spokesperson said: "I want to make it clear that funding is not available for NGOs whose objectives and philosophy is opposed to these values and principles.

"If your organisation considers that you do share our understanding of prostitution as inherently exploitative of vulnerable people, then it is of course open to you to submit a formal application for funding.”

The group says "this culturally entrenched position" from the government has "no place in decision-making within the DoJ in regards to policy-making".

The decision from the department also flies in the face of The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has advised the inclusion of sex workers in the development and implementation of health measures during Covid-19.

Ireland adopted the “Nordic Model” on March 27 2017, criminalising the purchase of sex, not the selling of sex, which the Government says is aimed at tackling trafficking and protecting vulnerable people in prostitution.

Sex worker organisations have railed against the change since it was implemented, saying the laws make workers more vulnerable.

SWAI says more than 160 new sex workers have come to its group for support this year alone.

The group says street work increased during this time, but for some, demand did decrease significantly.

Half of the workers SWAI spoke to were still taking clients, with 80% still getting requests from clients, who were sometimes offering twice the amount in rates to try and cajole workers out, other times threatening that if they didn't give a booking the client wouldn't see them after lockdown.

"We were the one place sex workers got financial assistance during the pandemic, as sex workers were explicitly excluded from DoJ funding and from PUP payments," said Coordinator Kate McGrew.

"This is what it looks like when the economic activity you rely on for survival is refused to being recognized as work. The pandemic gave us a dry run for what as close to "end demand" as possible would look like.

"Though even a global pandemic could not eradicate the sex industry when some workers faced a decrease in clients, there was no support whatsoever from the state.
"We were forced to crowdfund during this emergency, to help workers with small payments to help flatten the curve and to cushion the financial blow of lockdown, so that sex workers didn't have to risk their health by going back to work."

The concerns from SWAI comes as the terms of reference for the review of Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was published by the Department of Justice last month. 

SWAI say they have had little response from the department on their submissions, and despite not being contacted, have been told the review is "well underway".

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "Funding is made available for projects that are aligned with wider Government policies.

"The Department’s understanding of organised prostitution in Ireland is also informed by strong evidence from An Garda Síochána that this activity is inextricably linked with organised crime involved in human trafficking."

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