Should Prostitution be Legal in Ireland?

In an open-minded nation, the protection of sex workers should not be overlooked.

The first time I ever thought about prostitution, I was offered €50 to ‘go on a walk’ with a man I did not know. Soon after, I met up with a friend of mine and told him what happened. He laughed and told me that maybe it was because I was sitting outside a brothel on my own. So, what is the difference between a sex worker and myself?

The difference is I have a legal job where I am guaranteed a pension and I feel safe while working, but why aren’t sex workers allowed the same rights as I am? Many workers aspire for equality within the work force, and sex workers deserve the same rights that all workers have today.

Prostitution is the selling of sex for money. In an RTE Documentary, ‘Sex for Sale’, it was reported that over 700 women are advertised for sale in Ireland every day. In 50 countries worldwide, there is legislation providing some form of protection for sex workers and their right of work. By having these legislations put in place, an opportunity was created to see if prostitute rape decreased, the amount of people with STDs decreased as STD clinics and prevention methods were put in place, and human trafficking was prevented.

Germany is regularly held up as the gold standard model of how to eradicate problems related to prostitution. In 2002, the German government legalised the buying and selling of sex. The idea of the law, passed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat-Green coalition, was to recognise prostitution as a job like any other. Sex workers could now enter into employment contracts, sue for payment and register for health insurance, pension plans and other benefits.

The strengths of a legalised approach became clear once compared to the overall situation of sex workers in Germany with those in many other countries where prostitution isn’t legalised. If rape occurs, sex workers can and will report it. If prostitution isn’t legalised, access to justice is impossible and renders sex workers being even more vulnerable to the arbitrary treatment. Addressing violence against sex workers means creating laws that protect sex workers in every possible instance of violence and abuse; laws that allow sex workers to sue the perpetrator and to receive justice without fear.

Aoife Banks, a 24-year-old feminist, has her own opinion on whether Ireland should legalise prostitution. “I think the law is based on morals and is not realistic. I agree that the sex worker should never be criminalised and I also agree that people who avail of sex work services should be prosecuted. I have a personal belief that sex work is immoral as it allows the purchase and commodification of bodies. However, by continuing to make such practice illegal it allows for massive abuse of workers.” Aoife agrees that if prostitution is legalised in Ireland “there should be proper frameworks in places akin to any other form of employment.” If a sex worker is abused by a client or their pimp they cannot seek legal help. This allows for mass abuse of sex workers. There also is the issue of pay and withholding of pay by pimps. “If prostitution was legalised the worker could receive the money they have earned without fear of abuse or power from their client or pimp”.

Aoife agrees that Germany is a gold standard model of how to eradicate problems related to prostitution. She states: “Germany was slow to introduce laws regarding the safety for sex workers”. She refers to Ireland in this sense. She says if Ireland were to legalise prostitution then laws such as the law which evokes “johns to wear condoms” would need to follow sooner rather than later. She believes if it was legalised rather than decriminalised in Ireland, “then it can be recognised as a valid form of work. Sex workers can form unions and protect themselves from abuses.”

So how does feminism and prostitution correlate? “Sex work is an industry rife with female exploitation. If it was legalised it would allow female sex workers agency over their bodies and stability in their finances.” Aoife believes sex work is a gender-imbalanced industry too, with the majority of pimps being male. “Legalisation would lead to further legislation being passed which would allow female sex workers to avail of basic rights that any other legal employee or worker in the state can avail of.” Aoife “absolutely” believes that we need to put more focus on the legalisation of prostitution to eradicate the abuse of sex workers.

In the world, there are 40 to 42 million prostitutes, according to a report from Fondation Scelles. It also states that 80% of these prostitutes are female.

Victims of Violence released information that child prostitution happens usually between the ages of 11 and 18 years young. The Reporter’s Notebook Italy released an article which heightened the problem of child refugees needing to be welcomed as they had previously been forced into sex trafficking and need to receive the same care offered to EU citizens.

The article stated: “the teenagers you often see on footage being rescued or getting off the ships in Sicily are very possibly victims of forced prostitution. We conducted a series of interviews at the reception centre with teenagers who explained how female traffickers persuaded them to leave their homes in countries like Nigeria by promising them jobs. Once out of the country, they were threatened and forced into prostitution to pay off their debt, the figure invented by the traffickers.” This is worrying, as by simply having prostitution legalised, this trafficking could have been prevented.

So why isn’t a safe practice of prostitution done in Ireland instead of people, like me, being sexualised on the streets who do not want to be involved in the trade? Prostitution is not something we can eradicate, so by legalising it, a safe space is created where crime is prevented and, overall, a more peaceful society with no crime by sexual urges is enhanced. Prostitutes can live a work life like the rest of us, rather than ordinary people getting offered €50 on the streets.

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