Sex workers believe that criminalising the buying of sex will stigmatise them and make them more vulnerable to violence at the hands of clients.
A candlelit vigil was held outside the Dail last night to mark International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.
The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) said the introduction of laws to criminalise buying sex would put them at greater risk of abuse.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said she is examining the current legislation.
SWAI spokesperson Catriona O’Brien said criminalisation will endanger sex workers.
“In Sweden and Norway, where the law has been imposed, sex workers have been more exposed to violence as a result,” she said.
“The UN programme on HIV and Aids, UNAIDS, has brought out a guidance note on sex work that says criminalisation has only caused further marginalisation and stigmatisation and exposed sex workers to more violence.
“We are calling for decriminalisation, which will move it from criminal to civil and labour law.”
Ms O’Brien said that decriminalisation would help to protect sex workers and encourage them to report crimes to gardai.
“They have already done this in New Zealand where it has led to great collaboration between sex workers and the police,” she said.
“Evidence from New Zealand shows it has created better working conditions because they don’t feel they’re being criminalised.”
Those who were most vulnerable to violence felt they were then able to talk to the police, she said.
“We are not considered a real part of society but we are mothers or sisters to people. We have a lot of sex workers that are mothers,” she added.