Hundreds of reports of men claiming to be gardaí attacking sex workers 

Hundreds of reports of men claiming to be gardaí attacking sex workers 

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland says its organisation regularly receives reports from sex workers of gardaí or people impersonating gardaí harassing sex workers.

Gardaí have been given hundreds of reports of men claiming to be members of the force and abusing and harassing sex workers.

The incidents brought to gardaí by Ugly Mugs Ireland, an online safety platform to protect sex workers, include men violently attacking, robbing, and sexually assaulting their mainly female victims, from 2016 up until as recently as last month.

Ugly Mugs, which says it is in touch with an estimated 1,000 sex workers in Ireland, met with the Garda inspectorate in 2019. 

It appealed to investigating officers to brief Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on the number of people abusing sex workers while claiming to be either a garda or have friends in the force.

The reports, seen by the Irish Examiner, range from demanding free sex “or else they will arrest” the worker, to violent abuse, including rape, choking, and assault.

One woman was robbed in a Dublin hotel when three men who claimed to be gardaí arrived and stole her money and phone. 

Another woman reported that a client showed her a Garda badge and threatened her “to get out of his town or he will be back with his mates”.

She said he demanded oral sex, before leaving when she called out for help.

Men alleging to be gardaí

There have been at least two reports that men alleging to be gardaí produced handcuffs and attempted to restrain the women against their will.

There have been numerous reports about one such alleged garda officer, operating in the Midlands, who targets foreign sex workers due to their particular vulnerability and demands free services in order to save them from deportation.

The Irish Examiner has seen notification of the Garda Commissioner’s office receiving such reports. 

Gardaí have confirmed that correspondence received by the commissioner was examined by the Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB), which is responsible for the policing of sex work and sex trafficking. 

“No formal complaints were made by any individual complainants. An Garda Síochána cannot investigate anecdotal or anonymised reports,” a garda spokesman said adding that anyone who believes they have been subject of any criminal or inappropriate activity by a member of the force can make a complaint to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

He also pointed out that in 2021, the force published an Anti-Corruption Policy which included a specific policy on ‘Professional Boundaries and Abuse of Power for Sexual Gain’.

Ireland’s laws on selling sex changed in 2017, making paying for sexual services a criminal offence, but not the sale of sex. 

The law was designed to protect human trafficking victims and sex workers from exploitation but an Amnesty International Ireland report last year found the law is facilitating the targeting and abuse of sex workers, and the state is failing to protect them from violence.

Rise in crime against sex workers

While there are no official statistics available, Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) says its own reporting has found crimes against the workers have risen by 92% since the law change.

Ugly Mugs, versions of which operate all over the world, has stopped working with the GNPSB, due to what it claims are ongoing issues around the harassment of workers.

SWAI has confirmed its organisation “regularly” receives reports from sex workers of gardaí or people impersonating gardaí harassing sex workers.

Its spokeswoman, Linda Kavanagh confirmed an incident as recently as April 18.

“Is there any wonder there is a culture of fear within the sex worker community when sex workers are harassed by Gardaí, or people impersonating them, and when they try to report through a third party this is dismissed?” she said.

In 2021 gardaí established the Organised Prostitution Investigation Unit (OPIU). A spokesman said as well as regularly meeting with those in the sex trade and carrying out safeguarding, wellbeing and exploitation checks, the unit provides contact numbers, advice and assistance to those involved.

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