Sex worker says Ireland’s brothel-keeping laws are putting lives at risk after experiencing brutal assaults and death threats
Sex workers often cite safety as the main reason for working together and Rachel Bloom says the consequences of working alone can be dire
A sex worker who has been assaulted and stalked by clients says Ireland’s brothel-keeping laws are putting people at risk.
Rachel Bloom, 27, who lives and works in Dublin, has been doing sex work for almost five years, beginning while still at college, and says her clients have included members of the Defence Forces, the legal profession and a politician.
“I’d been having health problems and I needed a job where I had flexibility and could make a lot of money in the periods where I could work,” she said.
“Sex work ticked all the boxes and I think that’s something that rescue organisations or anti-sex work organisations don’t take account of, people who make their own decision to do sex work are doing it to manage their own circumstances as best they’re able.”
Due to Ireland’s enforcement of the Nordic model, the criminalisation of the purchase of sex, but not the selling of sex, and legislation prohibiting brothel-keeping, Ms Bloom is forced to work alone, as sharing a property with another worker would be considered a brothel, despite working independently.
“I’ve only lived with another sex worker once, but it made us both really uneasy as we knew it would be considered a brothel even though we didn’t work at the same time, they can stretch that definition incredibly wide,” Ms Bloom added.
“She had a client who came back to the flat demanding money from her for five days, he would turn up every day, staring in the windows.
“It went on and on, he threatened to kill us, he told us he would bring someone with a gun to shoot us both in the head, at one point he told us he was a guard.
“We were both terrified, but we couldn’t go to the guards, we knew they’d raid the flat and arrest us, eventually she was evicted because of complaints about him and anti-social behaviour.
“This is a prime example where workers are left vulnerable, and can’t contact the Gardai liasion officer, despite the fact he was breaking the law threatening to kill us, we were just waiting to see how credible his threats were.”
Sex workers often cite safety as the main reason for working together and Ms Bloom says the consequences of working alone can be dire.
“I prefer working at home, I feel safer, going to someone’s private home or a hotel is so dangerous but that’s the situation sex workers find themselves in,” she said.
“Working on my own has put me in situations against my better judgement, in one case I was raped by a client and I couldn’t call out for help, because there was no-one there to help me.”
A recent study of brothel-keeping convictions in Ireland shows almost all of those convicted are migrant women.
Supporters of the amendment argued that the law would keep women safe from coercion and trafficking, punishing those who exploit women into sex work, rather than the women themselves.
The results show that the vast majority (85%) of those convicted of brothel-keeping are female and most are aged 18-24 (30%) or 25-44 (59%).
All of the sex workers convicted appear to have been non-nationals and in 22 of 82 of the cases (27%) it was stated that one or more of the sex workers being prosecuted was a mother.
Section 27 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 provides that within three years of the law being enacted the Minister for Justice will review the new provisions.
The fine for a first offence for buying sex is around 200 euro (£181) to 500 euro (£453), for comparison the fine for not paying for a TV licence is up to 1000 euro (£906).
The minister will be required to present his review before the Oireachtas by March 2020.
Sex workers are concerned the recent increase of people facing prosecution for paying for sex with a prostitute – twice as many as last year at 14, ahead of the review of the law – is an effort to show the government that the law is working.
“Removing the brothel-keeping legislation isn’t a silver bullet on its own, we’ll still have parts of the law like living off earnings from sex work, which could see workers evicted, but it would definitely be a step in the right direction,” Ms Bloom added.
A spokesman from the Department of Justice said any proposal for an exclusion for the offence of brothel-keeping causes concern it could create a loophole open to abuse by criminal gangs and others who wish to profit from prostitution.
“The (2020) review will include information on the number of arrests and convictions in respect of the offence of payment for sexual activity; as well as an assessment of the impact of the section on the safety and well-being of persons who engage in sexual activity for payment,” he said.