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18th September 2020, 17:24:56 UTC

Amnesty International Ireland has made a submission today under the three-year review of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which criminalised those purchasing sexual services.

The submission (full submission here) outlines how a law whose stated aim was to protect sex workers may actually be putting them at risk. International evidence increasingly demonstrates that criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services puts sex workers at greater harm of human rights violations and abuses, including at the hands of clients. The submission urges that the review assess how this law has impacted on the human rights of sex workers in Ireland, including those who are male and transgender, and the particular consequences for migrant sex workers.

“A law aimed at protecting sex workers has to actually do that. While criminalising the purchase of sex may have intended to shift police focus away from sex workers themselves, the reality is that it can actually force them to take even more risks,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“A recent study which analysed two years before and after the law was introduced showed sex workers reporting 92% more violent crime. Last year the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland confirmed its own similar law did not decrease demand but did increase stigma and abuse against sex workers.

“The review has to be broader than just looking at the sex purchase offence. The 2017 Act increased the penalty for ‘brothel-keeping’ instead of abolishing this offence, despite it having been used against sex workers simply working together for safety. This targeting has continued as predicted. And of course sex workers themselves need to have the opportunity to speak about their lived experiences of these laws and that be reflected in the outcomes.

“There is also a harmful conflation between consensual sex work, and trafficking and exploitation, which are offences under pre-existing laws. We continue to be concerned at the lack of trafficking convictions and other effective measures to tackle this horrific abuse. This review has to look at why this is, and if the 2017 Act is helping to prevent violence and exploitation.”


  • Amnesty International uses the term ‘sex work’ or ‘sex workers’ only for consensual exchanges between adults.
  • The 2017 Act criminalises the buyers of consensual adult sexual services by amending section 7 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993.
    Section 27 of the 2017 Act provides for a review of the operation of Part 4 within three years of coming into force, and that it include information on the number of arrests and convictions in respect of the new offences, and “an assessment of the impact of the operation of that section on the safety and well-being of persons who engage in sexual activity for payment”.
  • Under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 and the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Act 2013 ,it is an offence to traffic in adults or children including for the purpose of their sexual or labour exploitation
  • Under section 9 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, it is an offence if a person “coerces or compels a person to be a prostitute”
    Ugly Mugs, “Crime has almost doubled in the two years since new law came in”, 26 March 2019, https://uglymugs.ie/wp-content/uploads/um-statement-26-mar-2019.pdf
  • The Northern Ireland Department of Justice press release “Report published on impact of sex purchase offence”, 18 September 2019, available at www.justice-ni.gov.uk/news/report-published-impact-sex-purchase-offence. The Department had commissioned Queen’s University Belfast to conduct an impact assessment of the law; it and the Department’s own assessment report are available at www.justice-ni.gov.uk/publications/assessment-impact-criminalisation-purchasing-sexual-services