Sex workers are increasingly being sent to prison in the Republic of Ireland since the launch of the Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) campaign to further criminalise sex work in 2011.
In 2011 the now disbanded TORL opposition campaign, Turn Off the Blue Light (TOBL), carried out research which found that the brothel keeping laws were being used almost exclusively to criminalise sex workers, rather than the owners or managers of brothels. TOBL identified 55 persons convicted of brothel keeping offences from 2008 – 2011 (to 27 July) via media reports and found that 91% appeared to be sex workers, not owners or managers of brothels who had sex workers working for them. Further 93% were women and 98% were non nationals.
Looking at the punishments given to the 55 persons convicted of brothel keeping in the TOBL study, only three persons received jail sentences that were not suspended, and, only one of these was a sex worker who had no other sex workers working for him/her. That was the 2010 case of 35 year old Romanian woman, F.P., who was jailed for 3 months by a judge in Monaghan after she could not find the €1,000 bail surety which would have resulted in her receiving a suspended sentence. The Irish Independent reported at the time that F.P. asked the judge: “Who is going to look after my nine-year-old child?” to which he replied “That is not my problem.”
In the three years since the TOBL research was published the number of sex workers being sent to prison for brothel keeping offences appears to have increased significantly. Media research identifies five further cases of sex workers, who appeared to have no other sex workers working for them, jailed for brothel keeping, as follows:
Galway, March 2012: M.C., Romanian, female, age 34, sentenced to three months in prison
Kildare, December 2012: R.D.S.O., female, age 28 and K.C.S., female, age 57, both sentenced to four months in prison
Leitrim, September 2013: E.C., Romanian, female and D.H., Romanian, female, both sentenced to four months in prison
TORL organisations often financially profit from the criminalisation of sex workers. For example in the Leitrim case above the judge ordered that the money seized from the two sex workers he jailed be donated to Ruhama.
Additionally sex workers who appear to have no other sex workers working for them are being sent to jail under other laws. In February 2013 the Clare People reported on a case of two Romanian women jailed for 10 weeks each for knowingly living in whole or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person and aiding and abetting that prostitution. The women’s solicitor said they had co-operated completely with the gardaí and had only become involved in prostitution in order to get money to send home to their families who lived in “dire poverty” in Romania. The judge accepted they were not part of a criminal organisation, but clearly this did not deter him from jailing them.
Although TORL frequently puts out the soundbite that it wants to “criminalise the buyer and decriminalise the seller” in reality TORL has only ever sought to ensure that the laws used to criminalise indoor sex workers remain in place.