Sunday 23 October 2016

Sex workers' bill 'harmful' and 'violates human rights'

Daire Courtney

Published 04/10/2016 | 16:49

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 is due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 is due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow

A legal expert has found that the bill that criminalises sex workers is 'harmful' and 'violates human rights'.

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A legal opinion released by counsel to the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland has found that part four of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 is likely to be harmful to sex workers.

The bill, due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow, would criminalise the purchase of sex and keep penalties for pimping and loitering, which can affect sex workers working on the street.

The opinion, put together by Senior Counsel Michael Lynn BL, found that sex workers working outside or in groups for safety will not be decriminalised under the bill and that there is little evidence from Sweden or Norway that criminalisation of purchase decreases demand.

The opinion states: “The decriminalisation of sex work is the preferable approach in order to protect the basic, human rights of sex workers, such as the rights to physical safety, bodily integrity and health. Because of the evidence that the Swedish model places sex workers at greater risk, I am of the view that the proposed legislation is likely to violate the human rights of sex workers.”

Mr Lynn stated at the opinion’s release that he was “surprised” at his conclusions, noting that he was unsure if his opinion would help SWAI’s cause when they asked him to provide them with legal advice.

Also speaking at the release, Catherine Murphy, policy advisor to Amnesty International, said: “Our findings in Norway are particularly relevant for Ireland. Rather than making sex workers safer - sex workers continued to be criminalised and punished under the Nordic Model and this prevented them from being able to seek protection from police and increased their risk of harm.”

Proponents of section 4 of the bill have argued that the eradication of demand is necessary to stop the exploitation of women and girls through sex work and especially trafficking.

The bill will also cover issues of online bullying and abuse, child pornography, revenge porn and harassment in its other sections and has been called a ‘groundbreaking’ step in furthering children’s legal rights.

When contacted for comment on the legal opinion, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice said: "The Tánaiste fully expects many of these issues to be raised in the course of the debate on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill."

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