The first ever wide-scale survey of indoor sex workers in Ireland has revealed a far more complex picture of who does sex work, and why, than is commonly portrayed in the Irish media, which is dominated by claims from anti-sex worker organisations - with links to the Catholic Church and the notorious Magdalene laundries. They claim that all sex work is exploitative and all those who engage in sex work are victims.
In contrast to those claims, this survey reveals that sex workers experience their jobs as work, albeit work that is more dangerous due to the legal context that forces them to work alone, and the social context whereby stigma means they're less likely to report violence, and less likely to be believed if they do.
The 195 sex workers - of all genders - who took part in the survey, were from twenty-nine different countrues, including Romania and Spain. Over half had worked as sex workers prior to coming to Ireland. 97% were self-employed, although 33% had worked for a third party - such as an agency - in the past. Only one survey-participant was under the age of eighteen.
41% of the participants reported working with someone else as one of the safety measures they took, demonstrating how damaging the laws are, that force sex workers to choose between working illegally, and working safely. The study also showed that the main source of help for sex workers was other sex workers, and that sex workers are unwilling to use services that don't recognise the term sex work.
Ugly Mugs.ie, who ran the survey, noted that the media have a lot of responsibility for normalising violence against sex workers. They said, "to portray sex workers as people with no rights, no choices, helpless victims who can't say no - that sends dangerous message to offenders". They added, criticising the prevailing Irish discourse, "instead of asking sex workers about their lives, we ask anti-prostitution campaigners". Their survey demonstrates the futility of that approach - sex workers can speak for themselves.
Proposals to further criminalise sex work in Ireland include measures to cut off sex workers' phone without warning - with obvious implications for safety - and a clause that would directly criminalise sex workers themselves, by making accessing online adverts for sexual services legally akin to accessing images of child abuse. This would also criminalise outreach workers, trying to contact sex workers who advertise online.