Letter to the Garda Commissioner

Immigrant Council of Ireland Mothers and Daughters Lunch FlyerUglyMugs.ie sent the following letter to the Garda Commissioner today:

Dear Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan,

CC Garda Press Office

We are writing to express our disappointment at the news that you will be guest speaker at the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s Mothers and Daughters Lunch on 26 September 2014.

This news was announced by the Immigrant Council of Ireland via their Twitter account @immigrationIRL at 16:51 on 5 September 2014 with the tweet: “Delighted Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan is guest speaker at our Mothers and Daughters lunch to support victims of sex trafficking RT”

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Immigrant Council of Ireland is running the “Turn Off the Red Light” (TORL) campaign, a lobby of approximately 70 organisations led by the Immigrant Council of Ireland created for the purpose of lobbying the Government to bring in new laws to ‘end prostitution and sex trafficking’ in their own words, most notably a new law to criminalise the purchase of sex between consenting adults.

For the Garda Commissioner to be guest speaker at this €100 a ticket fundraising event suggests she supports the TORL campaign. We feel this is an entirely inappropriate political position for Garda Commissioner to have taken and would ask her to pull out of this event.

We would also like to highlight that the Immigrant Council of Ireland has repeatedly advertised this Mothers and Daughters Lunch as being an event to fundraise for “women and girls who are victims of sex trafficking and prostitution”. Attached is an official flyer for the event to demonstrate this.

We have been unable to confirm that the money raised will indeed be going to such ‘victims’. We suspect the money will actually be going towards the TORL political campaign to further criminalise sex work. Under the Statement of Guiding Principles of Fundraising, fundraisers are required to spend money for the purpose for which it was raised and answer any reasonable questions about their fundraising. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has not responded to our questions re their fundraising here. As guest speaker at this event is the Garda Commissioner able to comment on the fundraising issue, will the money raised be going to ‘victims’ as advertised or will it actually, as we suspect, be going to the Immigrant Council of Ireland and used to further their political lobbying?

We write this letter as an organisation that has recorded 5,565 incidents of abuse or crime against sex workers in Ireland since 2009. Sex worker victims of crime are generally accustomed to receiving no support from An Garda Síochána and it strikes us as markedly inappropriate that the Gardaí’s disinterest in crime against sex workers is matched with such keen support of a political campaign to further criminalise sex work.

Yours sincerely,


Broken Promises to Sex Workers: The Second Commission on the Status of Women

Second Commission on the Status of Women CoverIn 1993 the Second Commission on the Status of Women recommended that sex workers be included in decision-making regarding the type and level of services and support they require. More than twenty years later this promise to sex workers of inclusion has been firmly broken.

The two services funded to support sex workers in Ireland, the HSE Women’s Health Service and Ruhama, totally exclude sex workers and instead of providing any support to sex workers operate as anti sex work organisations.

The Second Commission on the Status of Women was set up in 1990. Its main task was to “consider and make recommendations on the means, administrative and legislative, by which women will be able to participate on equal terms and conditions with men in economic, social, political and cultural life and, to this end, to consider the efficacy and feasibility of positive action measures.” The Commission reported in early 1993, making an extensive list of recommendations covering a wide range of issues including sex work.

The excerpts of this report relating to sex work are reproduced below.

Page 51


1.8.1 Prostitution as a potential public nuisance

The Commission addresses the issue of the health and safety of women engaged in prostitution and possible alternatives available to them in Chapter 5. This section concerns the aspect of public nuisance connected with prostitution.

The laws covering loitering and soliciting, Section 14(ii) of the Dublin Police Act, 1842 and section 16(i) Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935, have become inoperative in recent years due to Court decisions. In particular, the term “common prostitute” has given rise to difficulty because it has been held that the use of that term to so describe any person charged with an offence introduces them to the Court from the start with an antecedent presumption of guilt. However, the Garda Siochana suggest that the prosecution or non-prosecution of prostitutes for loitering seems to make little difference to its incidence.

In certain areas of our cities, any woman may be approached on the erroneous assumption that she may be a prostitute. This gives rise to considerable distress and fear on the part of women so approached. It may also be a nuisance to local residents, especially those with young children. In addressing the public nuisance problem caused by soliciting there should be an even-handed policy in line with that set out in the Law Reform Commission Report on Vagrancy and Related Offences (LRC-11-1985), so that the person soliciting and the client are open to the same sanctions.

The Commission recommends that the same sanctions should be applied to persons soliciting and to their clients, regardless of sex.

Pages 181-4


(See also Chapter 1.)

5.9.1 Incidence of prostitution

Because prostitution in Ireland is largely undocumented, it is very difficult to form a reliable estimate of the numbers of women involved. However, it is clear from the testimonies which do exist and from research carried out elsewhere, that the lives of prostitutes are characterised by a sense of powerlessness, few opportunities, no voice in society, no choices in life and very little hope.

The Commission received one submission on the situation of women involved in prostitution in the Dublin area from an order of religious sisters who provide support in a low-key, practical way over a long time horizon to women involved in prostitution. This submission urged the adoption of strategies which recognise the dignity of all women irrespective of their condition, based on women’s right to choice, self-determination, non-stigmatisation and non-victimisation.

Case studies of over 200 women involved in prostitution in Dublin suggest that women often suffer sexual and physical abuse, resulting not only in physical injury but also in emotional pain and low self-esteem. In some cases, this impression is reinforced by Court evidence. Financial pressures, unemployment, a lack of education and poor housing were also shared common experiences. A quotation from Lyn: A Story of Prostitution, which deals with the lives of Dublin prostitutes conveys the isolation and risk of casual violence graphically:

“My jaws would clench and I would take a deep breath as I took up my position on the path. Then I’d look to my left, then my right, across the road: ‘Is that someone hiding in the garden over there? Who’s that in the parked car? Are there two or three men in it?’ Then I’d turn and peer into the bushes along the banks of the Canal. ‘Looks OK. No, did that bush move? What’s that noise? Coulda swore I saw someone lurking behind that tree or was it an optical illusion?’

Getting into a car was even more scary. Your heart raced as you assessed the client. And as you got in the car, you check that it had a door handle on the inside and a window catch, in case you had to get out in a hurry. The silent ones were the worst. ‘Why doesn’t he speak?’ So you small-talked, and I mean small-talk. And if your client was the silent type your palms were sweating with fear and you heard yourself asking inane things in an effort to get him to say something so you could hear the tone of his voice. Was there any kindness in it? If he made any sudden moves you jumped out of your skin even though he was only reaching for his wallet.”

(Levine, June and Madden, Lyn, Lyn: A Story of Prostitution, Attic Press, Dublin, 1987.)

5.9.2 A strategy to tackle problems

We make the point in Chapter 1 that any prosecution which might be taken for prostitution should be even-handed, as between the prostitute and the man. In this section, we are concerned with health and social supports for the women involved. This strategy must be based on recognition of the dignity of the women concerned. That the term “common prostitute” has fallen into disuse is a welcome development. Fundamentally, a strategy devised to assist women involved in prostitution must be based on practical assistance measures, support and initiatives geared to reintegration into society, e.g. through training for work. This is not easy to do. Whilst it is possible to train women in skills with which they might earn a living it cannot be easy for them to find work when most of their past must, in effect, remain a closed book. The most useful approach might be development of a cooperative or cooperatives and training for legitimate forms of self-employment. It would make sense in developing an intervention strategy to build on the goodwill, experience and resources of voluntary bodies already active in providing assistance, and on the experiences of the women themselves and on their sense of solidarity.

We do not underestimate the scope of the problem. Prostitutes can have very complex problems deriving from a mix of socio-economic disadvantages exacerbated by violence and drug-taking. The question we have to ask ourselves as a society is whether we are content to see women remain as part of this underclass without opportunities either to leave it or to improve their existence.

5.9.3 Recommendations on prostitutes

The Commission recommends that:
(a) an integrated approach involving the Departments of Health, Education, Social Welfare, and Justice and interested voluntary organisations should be adopted in order to provide health and welfare services and information to women involved in prostitution. Every effort should be made to encourage women involved in prostitution to participate in decision-making regarding the type and level of service they require and in designing “social rehabilitation” programmes;
(b) as a first step in this strategy the setting up of a drop-in centre or centres should be funded. The services provided would include short-term accommodation as well as opportunities for self-help and building self-esteem, along with relief from isolation, informal education and advice, medical and social assistance; these services could usefully be provided in association with voluntary bodies already engaged in helping women in prostitution;
(c) A rehabilitation centre should he established for women who want to get out of prostitution. The development and operation of this centre should draw on the experiences derived from the implementation of recommendations (a) and (b) above and the Centre should provide counselling and training for future employment.


(1) Reorientation of expenditure or no additional cost (2) Existing commitment entailing expenditure (3) Commission recommendation entailing expenditure (4) Non-exchequer expenditure
9. Recommendations on prostitutes (paragraph 5.9.3) (a) ✓*
(c) not possible to cost
(b) 60,000

* The costing at recommendation (b) is estimated as the minimum running costs of a drop-in centre incorporating a non-resident rehabilitation programme. A rehabilitation centre would give rise to greater costs but it should be possible to look for European Social Fund support for re-training.

(The only order of religious sisters listed as having made a submission to the Commission is the Good Shepherd Provincialate, who now use the name ‘Ruhama’ in relation to their anti sex work campaigning.)

Public Lecture, Queen’s University Belfast, 1st September, All Welcome

The following event is taking place at Queen’s University Belfast on Monday 1st September 2014 at 4pm. The venue is QUB School of Law, 27 University Square, Room 27.101. All welcome.

No (Commercial) Sex Please, They’re Suburbanites: Regulating the (Sub)Urban Sexscape

Dr Paul Maginn
University of Western Australia

Transactional forms of sex (sex work/prostitution and stripping/lap-dancing) and commercial sex venues such as sex shops, adult theatres, strip clubs, BDSM dungeons, and brothels tend to be associated with the ‘inner-city’; what Parksian human ecologists referred to as the ‘zone of transition’. In many respects, this marginalized space was indeed the ‘natural area’ for commercial sex to take place as it was arguably the only space such activities could take root in the emerging modern metropolis. Relatedly, the zone of transition and commercial sex venues and spaces were generally located adjacent to male dominated spaces–the CBD and industrial areas—thereby offering a ready supply of customers and clients. This geography was no accident. History shows that efforts to regulate the ‘sex industry’ range from spatial containment to prohibition and eradication. In short, political and bureaucratic regulators have sought to prevent commercialized forms of sex invading the suburbs and subsequently contaminating suburbanites. A major reason for this is that the suburbs hold a special place in the heteronormative hearts and minds of politicians and bureaucrats. Suburbia has been framed not only in political but also popular cultural discourses as a heterosexual space, a space of domesticity and monogamy and a safe haven for women and children.

This presentation traces the broad historical, sociological, geographical and regulatory contours surrounding the ‘sex industry’ in western liberal democracies by drawing on examples in my forthcoming co-edited book, (Sub)Urban Sexscapes: Geographies and Regulation of the Sex Industry. It is contended that contemporary efforts to eradicate sex work/prostitution by ending demand and over-regulating other forms of commercial sex (e.g. pornography, lap-dancing) are misplaced and doomed to fail in their primary objectives. Policymakers can achieve greater regulatory success if they adopt a pragmatic approach and base their decisions on evidence as opposed to moral panics and involvement of the sex industry in decision-making processes.

(Upcoming book, (Sub)Urban Sexscapes, Geographies and Regulation of the Sex Industry.)

The 2nd International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health

Lucy Smith, UglyMugs.ie, will be speaking on Sex workers & police: working together against abuses at The 2nd International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health as part of the Sex work and Mega-events session. This session takes place on Wednesday 8 October 2014 from 14:00 to 15.30 at Building 1, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam. The session will be chaired by Marieke Ridder, Soa AIDS, Nederlands and the other speakers are Janine Ewen and representatives from the Prostitution Observatory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the Davida Prostitutes Rights Network.

RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

Lucy Smith, UglyMugs.ie, will be speaking on Modern sex work: Understanding and utilising the technology at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014 as part of the session Researching Sexed Spaces: (Re)Imagining the Researcher and (Re)Discovering the ‘Other’ in Understanding Experiences of Exclusion (2).  This session takes place on Thursday 28 August 2014 from 16:50 to 18:30 at Room 060a, Skempton Building, Imperial College London, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2AZ. Prior to this session Researching Sexed Spaces: (Re)Imagining the Researcher and (Re)Discovering the ‘Other’ in Understanding Experiences of Exclusion (1) takes place from 14:40 to 16:20 at the same location.

Letter to the PSNI

On 17 February we wrote the PSNI (Northern Irish Police) regards policing of sex work.

The letter is here and attached recommendations are here. You can also read the letter and recommendations on Laura Lee’s blog.

We are seeking individuals and organisations to support our Proposed PSNI Indoor Adult Sex Work Policing Guidelines. We hope to get support from those interested in improving policing for both sex workers and sex trafficking victims. If you are willing to support please email info@uglymugs.ie. Thank you.

UglyMugs.ie submission to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Defence and Equality looking at domestic and sexual violence

The UglyMugs.ie scheme is a free service for Irish sex workers operated by Safe IQ Ltd, registered in England & Wales No. 08640270. (The UglyMugs.ie scheme was previously operated by E Designers Ltd, registered in England & Wales No. 4923492 and E Designers remains an important partner.)

Ugly Mug schemes facilitate the sharing of safety information between sex workers in a sex working community, and aim to improve the safety of sex workers, and reduce crimes committed against them, by alerting them to dangerous individuals. UglyMugs.ie was launched in its current format on 23 September 2009, though earlier schemes had been operated since 2007.

UglyMugs.ie is a free service available to all Irish sex workers. It is a closed service and access is restricted to sex workers working in Ireland only.

Some features of UglyMugs.ie are:

• Full web-based service available 24/7 on computer or smartphone
• Android app that automatically screens incoming and outgoing calls and text messages, and alerts the sex worker if they have contact with a number that is in the Ugly Mugs database.
• Basic by-SMS service for times when the sex worker doesn’t have Internet access
• Confidentially reporting of bad clients or other dangers for sex workers
• Reports are reviewed by staff and a warning to all sex workers is published
• Option for sex workers to subscribe to receive new reports by email and/or SMS alerts
• Private discussion forums and chat room where sex workers can talk with other sex workers about safety, health, legal, accommodation and other issues
• Safety advice, legal information and industry news
• Staff support available 7 days a week online or by phone/SMS
• Referrals to specialist support services for sex workers
• Service available in 16 languages, English, Bulgarian, Czech, Chinese, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Ukrainian

Many different categories of incidents are reported to UglyMugs.ie. Over 4,000 incidents have been reported to UglyMugs.ie to date. UglyMugs.ie is widely used by sex workers in Ireland.

Sexual violence against persons selling sex in Ireland is a serious problem.

We would have prepared some detailed statistics about sexual violence against sex workers for our submission, but we only found out the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Defence and Equality looking at domestic and sexual violence is seeking submissions on this issue yesterday. This information was not made public and UglyMugs.ie was not written to by the Committee about this, as other organisations were.

A fundamental problem in Ireland is the almost total lack of support services for sex workers in Ireland. Support services for sex workers who are the victims of sexual assaults do not appear to exist in reality. We do our best in the sex working community to make up for the lack of support services, Irish sex workers are fantastic at helping each other, but it is a far from ideal situation.

Another serious problem is that the sex work community is excluded from public debate on sex work in Ireland. Public debate on sex work is instead dominated by anti-sex work rhetoric that actively encourages a culture of violence against sex workers. The message repeatedly sent out is that sex workers are there to be abused, not that it is not ok to abuse sex workers.

UglyMugs.ie was excluded from the recent Justice Committee Review of Prostitution Legislation. Indeed the safety and well-being of sex workers was not considered by the Committee at all. We specifically note that the UK Network of Sex Work Projects (UKNSWP) National Ugly Mugs and the Merseyside Model (where crimes against sex workers are defined as hate crimes) were not looked at either.

In regard to sexual violence against sex workers, we would like to see support services for sex workers who experience sexual assault, a Garda Sex Worker Liaison Office, and anonymity for sex worker victims and witnesses in all criminal cases, like the anonymity already offered to all victims of sexual assault, so that sex workers can engage with the justice system without being “exposed” by the media as sex workers in the process.

The recent Justice Committee review of prostitution legislation recommended a raft of measures that will increase abuse in the sex industry, including the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, despite the international body of evidence that this model harms sex workers.

In addition to recommending the purchase or attempted purchase of sex be criminalised, the Justice Committee has made other recommendations that will clearly impact on the safety of sex workers.

To date sex workers have been able to work indoors legally provided they work alone, and landlords have been able to rent to single sex workers, but the Justice Committee has now recommended a new criminal offence of allowing a premises to be used for prostitution, which will prevent sex workers being able to rent accommodation. Further the Justice Committee has recommended that Gardai and charities have the power to shut down phone numbers being used for prostitution and that accessing prostitution websites be treated the same in law as accessing child porn websites.

These recommendations are clearly designed to try to take away sex workers’ access to accommodation and phones and the Internet and force them out of the safety of working indoors and onto the streets. These proposed measures happen to be exactly what the Magdalene laundry order groups that so dominate public debate on sex work in Ireland want.

It is a matter of great shame the Justice Committee review of prostitution legislation chose not to consider the already poor safety situation for sex workers, the lack of any useful support services for sex workers, or any of the measures that could improve sex worker safety, and has instead proposed a raft of new laws which would clearly make the safety situation of sex workers vastly worse.

As the operator of UglyMugs.ie, the main sex worker safety scheme in Ireland, we are acutely aware of the devastating consequences for sex worker safety these proposed laws, designed to strip them of accommodation and the ability to communicate with each other, could have. Of course, sex workers being unable to access phones or the Internet, is also designed to prevent their use of Ugly Mugs schemes like UglyMugs.ie and moreover stop them being able to network with each other and help and support each other, which is the only positive safety tool sex workers in Ireland have currently.

We fully expect to not be invited to give evidence to the Justice Committee on Justice Defence and Equality looking at domestic and sexual violence, and specifically at sexual violence against sex workers. It is clear we were not intended to even have the opportunity to make a submission. However we remain available to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice Defence and Equality looking at domestic and sexual violence, specifically at violence against sex workers.

(Our full contact details)

First ever survey of Irish indoor sex workers

For the first time men and women selling sex indoors in Ireland have been asked about their lives, and the findings harshly contradict the popular media image of sex workers in Ireland.

UglyMugs.ie invited Irish indoor sex workers to take part in the research, which aimed to learn more about escorts in Ireland and particularly about their experiences of crime and abuse. This is the first ever survey of indoor sex workers in Ireland and 195 female, male and trans* escorts took part. Although the survey cannot be considered representative of all persons selling sex in Ireland, 195 participants is a very significant proportion of the Irish sex worker population.

The escorts who took part in the survey were from 29 different countries. Most were aged in their 20s or 30s and highly educated. Just over half had worked in sex work in another country prior to becoming an escort in Ireland. 97.3% were self-employed independent escorts, though 33.3% had experience of working for a third party, e.g. an escort agency, in Ireland or elsewhere in the past.

Despite it being popularly reported in the media that children are involved in prostitution, there was no evidence of the involvement of any under 16s and only one participant was aged under 18.

Participants reported low alcohol and drug use, high condom use, and taking a number of security measures whilst working as an escort, the top ones being not getting in cars with clients (65.3%), taking more precautions when it is a new client (58.1%) and not working alone (41.1%) despite the laws in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland that force escorts to work alone if they want to work legally.

Ireland’s sex worker population overwhelmingly works indoors with access to phones and the Internet, which is safe conditions, in comparison to outdoor sex working. However, many of the participants reported experiences of a wide range of crime and abuses. It is also clear that a wide range of persons commit crime against sex workers in Ireland, not only clients.

66.7% of participants who had been a victim of crime whilst working as an escort in Ireland did not report to the police. The high level of stigma associated with being an escort being the primary barrier to engaging with police.

Participants said that other escorts were the biggest source of help to them after experiencing crime. The research confirmed that currently there are no useful support services for escorts in Ireland, but escorts would welcome the establishment of a variety of sex worker support services.

Fear of media exposure amongst escorts in Ireland is very high, even higher than fear of crime, with 74.6% of participants worried or very worried about being exposed as an escort in the newspapers or other media.

Recommendations include further research, a review of laws and policies that put sex workers at risk, tackling media abuse of sex workers and the provision of police sex worker liaison services and general advice, legal advice, health services and exiting services for sex workers.

The full report outlines that a number of factors put escort at risk of violence and abuse. The lack of support services and good relations with police, mean offenders specifically target escorts, in the belief that they are people in society without any help, who offenders can abuse with a very low risk of facing any consequences as a result. The media portrayal of escorts as people with no rights, no choices, helpless victims who can’t say no to anything or anybody, is also sending a very dangerous message to offenders.

UglyMugs.ie is a scheme that aims to improve the safety of sex workers in Ireland and reduce crimes committed against them, by bringing sex workers together to share information about potential dangers.

Commenting on the research, UglyMugs.ie said:

There has never been any independent research into indoor sex work in Ireland. Instead of asking sex workers about their lives, we ask anti-prostitution campaigners. As our initial research here has shown, the Irish public are being grossly misled. Proper independent research must now be carried out now to establish the reality of indoor sex work in Ireland, so sensible legislation can be put in place.

The full report, Crime and Abuse Experienced by Sex Workers in Ireland, 2013 Victimisation Survey, can be downloaded at:

Safe IQ launches Ugly Mugs for Android in Ireland

Get it on Google Play

User Guide

Video Demo

Safety app warns Irish sex workers of dangerous individuals

Ugly Mugs for Android is a new mobile phone app that automatically screens incoming and outgoing calls and text messages and alerts the phone user if they have contact with a number that is listed in the UglyMugs.ie database of individuals who pose a risk to sex workers.

Sex workers are far more likely to be victims of violence and other crimes and abuses than non sex workers, and sex workers are also far less likely to report crime than non sex workers. Whilst prostitution is legal in Ireland, laws criminalising activities around prostitution mean sex workers must work alone and in private in order to work legally. Isolated, partially criminalised, stigmatised, marginalised, and without access to support services, the vulnerability of sex workers in Ireland is obvious. Some offenders deliberately target sex workers because of this vulnerability.

Ugly mug schemes allow sex workers to share information about dangers with each other. When a sex worker encounters a dangerous person, they can report the incident to the ugly mug scheme, and a warning will be made available to all sex workers.

Most sex work in Ireland is arranged via the Internet and mobile phones, and UglyMugs.ie integrates with the main escort website, Escort-Ireland.com, making it easy to access for sex workers. The advantage of Ugly Mugs for Android is that sex workers can install it once on their Android phone and from then on it will automatically check each number they have contact with against UglyMugs.ie and warn them if there is a match. It means sex workers don’t have to manually check numbers against the UglyMugs.ie database, which many do, but equally many do not always do.

Ugly mug schemes have long been established in many parts of the world as being really useful in warning sex workers about dangerous people and situations. The digital age brings many opportunities to further develop ugly mug schemes. Ugly Mugs for Android will complement the existing UglyMugs.ie service and make the lives of sex workers safer.

Ugly Mugs for Android is free and available to sex workers at www.UglyMugs.ie


Note to editors: Established in August 2013, Safe IQ develops safety products and services for sex workers, carries out research into sex worker safety and raises awareness of the need for sex workers to have the same protections as other workers. For more information or comment please email info@safeiq.com or call +44 7934 706203.