REACH – What is it?

REACH advert in Belfast Central Station

Last week many sex workers learnt for the first time of REACH, what appeared to be a new support organisation for sex workers in Ireland. REACH isn’t actually new, but it only came to mass attention last week when it launched a new high profile all island advertising campaign.

I first heard of REACH a year ago. I wrote to the EU in March 2014 requesting information about the project. However the EU replied that they had no record of REACH. Last month I wrote to the EU again, asking them to check their records once more, and today I received a reply confirming that they did award the REACH project a grant of €284.302 in November 2013. The EU say the REACH project began in December 2013 and is set to last 2 years. The beneficiaries are the Irish Department of Justice and Equality and Ruhama. Associate partners are the Northern Irish Department of Justice and the Irish Health Service Executive and Child and Family Support Agency.

I’ve spoken to a number of sex workers about REACH since the REACH advertising campaign launched.

One sex worker told me she contacted REACH seeking assistance last week by email. Yesterday she got a reply by email stating that she’d need to telephone instead. Another sex worker who contacted REACH last week told me she did get a swifter response. She’d asked for help re housing, problems she was having with her landlord. However the response she got offered no help, just a suggestion that she contact a housing charity instead. Another sex worker who asked about safety support got a response suggesting she visit the REACH or Ruhama websites, and, very surprisingly to me, it was also suggested she visit I’ve never before had a sex worker tell me Ruhama has recommended to her, but that is what she reported to me. A further sex worker told me she was just advised to read the REACH and Ruhama websites for advice.

The above four sex workers all contacted REACH in the Republic of Ireland. Sex workers in Northern Ireland told me that it was actually impossible to contact REACH in Northern Ireland, both the phone number and email address did not work. I checked the phone number myself and asked others to check it too and can confirm texting REACH to 0808 802 1414 does not work, this phone number is set up to reject all SMS messages.

So what is REACH? It doesn’t appear to be able to offer any support to sex workers North or South. It seems it is just yet more public money into the coffers of anti sex work campaigners. I expect most of the €284.302 is going to Ireland's greediest anti sex work organisation of them all, Ruhama.

Prostitution Policy of UK Police Forces

In December 2014 / January 2015 all UK police forces were asked under FOI:
(a) Is your force following the 2011 ACPO Strategy & Supporting Operational Guidance for Policing Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and the Home Office's 2011 A Review of Effective Practice in Responding to Prostitution.
(b) Do you have any policy document(s) on adult prostitution, and if so could you please provide copies?

The following table outlines the responses of all UK police forces:

Police ForceFollowing ACPO / Home Office Guidance?Force Policy Documents?Link to FOI
Avon and Somerset ConstabularyNot a clear yesNoFOI
Bedfordshire PoliceYesNoFOI
Cambridgeshire ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Cheshire ConstabularyYesNoFOI
City of London PoliceNoNoFOI
Cleveland PoliceYesNoFOI
Cumbria ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Derbyshire ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Devon & Cornwall PoliceNo answerNoFOI
Dorset PoliceYesNoFOI
Durham ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Dyfed-Powys PoliceYesNoFOI
Essex PoliceRefused to answerNoFOI
Gloucestershire ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Greater Manchester PoliceNo answer givenYes, link to force policy and link to additional brothel visit guidance.FOI
Gwent PoliceNot a clear yesNoFOI
Hampshire ConstabularyYesNoFOI
Hertfordshire ConstabularyNot a clear yesNoFOI
Humberside PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Kent PoliceNot a clear yesNoFOI
Lancashire ConstabularyNo answerYes, link to force policyFOI
Leicestershire PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Lincolnshire PoliceYesNoFOI
Merseyside PoliceYesYes, but declined to supply a copy.FOI
Metropolitan Police ServiceRefused to answerFOI
Norfolk ConstabularyNot a clear yesYes, link to force policyFOI
North Wales PoliceYesNoFOI
North Yorkshire PoliceYesYes, but refused to supply a copy.FOI
Northamptonshire PoliceYesNoFOI
Northumbria PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Nottinghamshire PoliceYesNoFOI
Police ScotlandNoNoFOI
Police Service of Northern IrelandNot a clear yesNoFOI
South Wales PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
South Yorkshire PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Staffordshire PoliceYesNoFOI
Suffolk ConstabularyYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Surrey PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Sussex PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Thames Valley PoliceNot a clear yesNoFOI
Warwickshire PoliceYesNoFOI
West Mercia PoliceYesNoFOI
West Midlands PoliceNot a clear yesNoFOI
West Yorkshire PoliceYesYes, link to force policyFOI
Wiltshire PoliceYesNoFOI

CSO Prostitution Statistics 2003-2012

Republic of Ireland crime statistics. Data provided by the CSO (Central Statistics Office) on 04/12/14 in response to a PQ (Parliamentary Question) by Joan Collins TD. FAQ about CSO recorded crime statistics available here.

Incidents of offences recorded, detected, with relevant proceedings and court outcomes 2003-2012

Brothel keeping

 RecordedDetectedWith relevant proceedingsCourt proceedings commencedConvictionPendingNon-conviction

Organisation of prostitution

 RecordedDetectedWith relevant proceedingsCourt proceedings commencedConvictionPendingNon-conviction

Prostitution, including soliciting etc.

 RecordedDetectedWith relevant proceedingsCourt proceedings commencedConvictionPendingNon-conviction

Press Release: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Northern Ireland

December 16, 2014




On Wednesday December 17th 2014 Northern Irish sex workers and their allies will stand in solidarity with sex workers in the Republic of Ireland and around the world to call for an end to violence against sex workers. The 17th December is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a day to call attention to the hate crimes committed against sex workers, and the need to remove the stigma and criminalisation that contributes to violence against sex workers.

Solidarity Federation Belfast Local and the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland have arranged a demonstration at 5pm at Belfast City Hall and are calling on Stormont to scrap Clause 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sex, and will come into force on 1st June 2015. This law was passed despite independent research commissioned by the Department of Justice showing only 2% of sex workers supported criminalisation of clients and 61% of sex workers thought it would make them less safe.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have rejected legislation criminalising the purchase of sex. There is great concern that the result of Clause 15 will be sex work driven further underground and increased violence against sex workers. Despite promises of decriminalisation, sex workers will remain liable to be prosecuted for brothel keeping if they do not work alone.

So far this year Northern Ireland based sex workers have reported 179 incidents of abuse to 69 of these incidents were deemed to be crimes and include assaults, exploitation, fraud, harassment, impersonating police, robberies, sexual assaults, threatening behaviour and vandalism. 20 of these criminal incidents involved physical violence against the sex worker. Only 5 (7.2%) of these 69 crime incidents were also reported to the PSNI.

Lucy Smith of said “It is vital that the PSNI now improve their response to crime against sex workers. The ‘Merseyside Model’ of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and providing sex work liaison officers, as recommended by ACPO, should be adopted immediately.”

“In regard to enforcement the PSNI must now adopt a strategy that prioritises sex worker safety. Clause 15 has created a situation where the PSNI are now compelled to look again at their policing around sex work. We hope there will be engagement with sex workers on these issues shortly.”

Sex workers, supporters and media welcome outside Belfast City Hall 5-6pm, Wednesday December 17th 2014. Masks will be available for privacy if desired.


For further information, please contact:
Lucy Smith, /

Update on NI Legislation for sex workers

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice

For sex workers wondering what happened in NI today, the Further Consideration Stage of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill took place.

The purchase of sex is set to be criminalised by this Bill. We learnt that in October. The Clause criminalising the purchase of sex was previously known as "Clause 6" but it is now "Clause 15".

We learnt today that Clause 15 is set to come into effect on 1st June 2015. That means from 1st June 2015 persons buying sexual services will be committing a criminal offence.

This Bill will only criminalise 'sexual services' where the buyer is physically in the presence of the seller, i.e. it will not criminalise the buying of remote services like phone sex or webcam sex.

'Sexual services' are described in this Bill as sexual touching, either you - the sex worker - sexually touching the client or the client sexually touching you.

A new amendment was passed today which will criminalise the purchase of a person sexually touching themselves in the purchaser's presence. The purchase of services like lap dancing and stripping could also be criminal following this amendment. There are currently differing legal opinions on whether this amendment will criminalise the purchase of services like lap dancing and stripping.

Unfortunately there were no amendments put forward to remove the brothel laws sometimes used to criminalise sex workers.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Belfast & Dublin, 17th December 2014

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Belfast

December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This annual event was first marked in 2003 by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. Since then sex workers and allies around the world have come together on this date to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers, and the need to remove the stigma and criminalisation that contributes to violence against sex workers.

This year there will be events in Belfast and Dublin to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The Belfast event is to be held at 5pm on 17th December 2014 at Belfast City Hall. This demonstration has been called by the Solidarity Federation Belfast Local and Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. The Facebook event page is here.

The Dublin event is to be held at 6pm on 17th December 2014 at the Dáil. This vigil has been called by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. The Facebook event page is here.

More sex workers being sent to prison since TORL campaign

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.

Persecution of sex worker goes unnoticed

Current Enniskillen case highlights hateful Northern Irish sex work policy.

On 16th October the PSNI Fermanagh Twitter account announced ‘Brothel raided by Police in Enniskillen in the Cornagrade area last night. A number of persons arrested as a result.‘ The following week the front page of the Fermanagh Herald newspaper revealed that the result of this operation was the arrest of a 35 year old woman on suspicion of brothel keeping.

In the meantime the DoJ had published independent research into sex work and the NI Assembly had promptly disregarded this research and passed Clause 6 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which will criminalise the purchase of sex. Despite claims to the contrary from both the DUP and Sinn Féin, sex workers are not to be decriminalised under this legislation, the brothel laws that can be used to criminalise indoor sex workers remain.

It is generally accepted that indoor sex workers working alone are not breaking any laws, as a premises is not a ‘brothel’ unless two or more sex workers are working there. In England and Wales CPS guidance further advises against using the brothel laws to prosecute sex workers at all, outlining that charging practice should focus on "The need to penalise those who organise prostitutes and make a living from their earnings". But in Northern Ireland there appears to be no PSNI policy on sex work and the PPS issues no guidance. Therefore we do see the PSNI using the brothel keeping laws to criminalise indoor sex workers.

In this recent Enniskillen case, the PSNI appear to be attempting to use the brothel keeping laws against a sex worker who was working alone, which is even more severe than usually seen. The basis of the case is believed to be that, although the sex worker was working alone, a different sex worker worked at the same premises previously. (It can be argued that a premises can be legally classified as a brothel where it has been used by more than one person for the purpose of prostitution at different times.)

PSNI Inspector Roy Robinson gave the Fermanagh Herald a number of quotes on this Enniskillen case, describing it as a ‘positive’ police operation and saying “I think any sort of neighbours in the area would be pleased with the police action and response.” He goes on to say “These are girls who don’t want to be in the trade, they come here under false pretences probably and people are holding on to their passports and these people are slaves to those who are controlling them.” He finishes by encouraging people to ring Crimestoppers or the PSNI to report similar cases they may be aware of saying of the PSNI “we’re more than happy to investigate.” Left to devise his own sex work strategy in Enniskillen, Inspector Robinson appears to believe that all sex workers are victims of trafficking and the best way of dealing with this is arresting and prosecuting these victims of trafficking.

Yesterday the woman accused of brothel keeping in Enniskillen appeared in court. The case will continue in December. The front page of today’s ‘Impartial Reporter’ is apparently an article naming and shaming her. Where is the outcry about the treatment of this sex worker, or sex trafficking victim, if PSNI Inspector Robinson's views on her situation are to be believed? One thing Inspector Robinson is apparently correct about is that the lady's passport has been taken from her by a third party. However understands that it is the PSNI who have taken the lady's passport from her, not a trafficker as the PSNI comments to the media suggest.

Update 03/12/14: Today this case was concluded in a manner satisfactory for the sex worker :)