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Where ROSA and the Socialist Party get it wrong on sex work (part 1, maybe)

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A response to this

First of all, I have to acknowledge that ROSA and the SP have moved a good way on this issue since the last time we wrote about them here at Feminist Ire – back when they were still supporting the Turn Off The Red Light campaign and refusing to use the term “sex worker”. I don’t know whether it’s a case of minds being changed after looking at the evidence, or just of sounder party members winning the internal policy debate, but it’s still a significant step forward for them and this deserves to be recognised (and hopefully followed by certain other parties on the left).

But it’s still not good enough – for a few reasons. We hope to have a guest post soon from an actual sex worker explaining some of them, but for now I’ll highlight a ROSA/SP position that would continue to leave sex workers extremely vulnerable: their support for broad “anti-pimping” laws.

The problem with these laws is twofold. Firstly, as currently written in Ireland, they don’t only criminalise “pimps”. The offence of living on the earnings of (another person’s) prostitution is not only committed when a sex worker works for someone else – it’s also committed when someone else works for a sex worker. This means that a sex worker cannot hire someone to do security for her, screen her calls, drive her to and from outcalls, etc, otherwise that person will be as liable for this offence as if they were the one in the “employer” position. No less than the brothel-keeping laws, the over-application of these laws forces sex workers to work on their own, without anyone else who could help ensure their safety.

The second problem is they seek to force sex workers into a particular business model – the sole trader – whether they want it or not. In sex work no less than in every other industry, mine included, not everybody is ready or willing to be their own boss! A lot of women start out working for agencies or in parlours or saunas etc, and then go out on their own once they’re experienced and comfortable enough; others simply prefer not being the one that has to deal with things like advertising and security and so on. And others go back and forth as their circumstances dictate. This is a reality in the industry, and criminalising “pimping” doesn’t stop it. It just means that the sex workers who do have bosses can only – by definition – have bosses who operate outside the law. It’s fair to say that these guys aren’t losing sleep over the possibility of WRC complaints.

In this article ROSA/SP draw a comparison with coal, saying “we oppose the filthy profiteers of that industry“. And that’s fair enough. But they’re not calling for criminalisation of everyone who employs someone else in the coal industry, are they? They’re not insisting that everyone who goes to work in that industry should have to navigate it – and its dangers – all on their own.

With a predictable reference to Germany – which, for the zillionth time, has a legalisation model that literally nobody in the sex workers’ rights movement advocates – they make the point that a legal industry isn’t necessarily an industry that looks after its workers. This is not actually a point that needed to be made; in fact it’s one of the reasons sex worker groups favour decriminalisation over legalisation in the first place. But if only the worker herself is decriminalised, how can she possibly access the available remedies for breaches of labour and health and safety law? The answer is she can’t, because her employment is illegal anyway.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Socialist Party are a socialist party – or at least that’s what it says on the tin. They make a big deal about their policy being derived from their socialist principles. Yet ironically, it’s a policy that protects only petty bourgeois sex workers, while throwing the wage-earners under the bus.

And while this should go without saying, I’ve been having these debates long enough to know I need to spell these things out, so for the record: this is not about supporting “pimps”, or some non-existent concept like “pimps’ rights” or something. It’s about not putting sex workers who are already being exploited (I mean that in the Marxist sense, though quite often it’s also in other ways) in an even more precarious position by relegating them eternally to the shadow economy. Nor does it preclude the possibility of penalising those sex industry bosses who are particularly exploitative. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

Whenever I’ve seen ROSA/SP get all defensive about this subject, they’re very insistent that they support sex workers. But I’m not sure which sex workers they’re taking their cue from. Where is the sex workers’ movement that is advocating for decriminalisation of the worker and her client, but not for any third parties? To me this reads more like an internal compromise sort of position, aimed at placating the wing of the party that had them on board with the Swedish model just a few years ago.

Notably, their writing on the topic is absent any reference to the New Zealand model (except for this five-year-old piece which, um, seems not to know what the New Zealand model is). Given that this is the most widely-supported model within the sex workers’ rights movement – and also has a decent track record of actually protecting sex workers’ labour rights – you’d expect them to take an interest in it, if they really wanted to support sex workers. If they have examined and decided to reject that model then fair enough, but I’d like to know their reasoning (and especially how they think any problems they may have identified with it can be overcome in a system where there is no regulation of the managed sector).

Again, I do accept that their position has improved over the past year or two and it is no longer really fair to describe them as SWERFy – at least in terms of their overall party position (though I admit I still have my doubts about some of their leading activists). But they still don’t seem to be really listening to sex workers; they still seem to be overly concerned with adhering to a rigidly dogmatic ideological view of the sex industry. As long as that remains the case, they’ll continue to be criticised for holding an anti-sex worker position – and, at least when it comes to sex workers that don’t work the way ROSA/SP thinks they should, that criticism will continue to be justified.

About Wendy Lyon

Fighting a lonely battle for evidence-based policy and the proper use of apostrophes.

24 responses »

  1. If these lefties can’t figure out that they need to first listen to sex workers then how about … Don’t apply restrictions & models on one group of workers that you wouldn’t apply on others!!

  2. SWAI do not offer any exit strategies or exit support for sex workers/the prostituted. This is completely at odds with the number of women and girls who want to leave this commercial trade where their sex is the product. SWAI claims to represent and fully support sex workers. They do neither.

    • What’s that got to do with the post?

      • You asked the question ‘why are SWAI not included?’ I just gave you the answer. SWAI do not include the opinions of current sex workers/ prostituted who want to EXIT prostitution (a majority according to the seminal research of Melissa Farley, nor do they include the opinions of ex sex workers/prostituted who like myself advocate for exit strategies and exit supports on top of condoms (useful), and safety tips (varying shades of usefulness when there is no safe space in prostitution).

        Neither do they accept the opinions of non-prostituted women and girls who do not want to be targeted by pimps, sex buyers or another generation of men who believe that all/ most females can hypothetically be purchased by them or other men for their sexual gratification, and that money can be substituted for enthusiastic consent (rape as theft).
        So, why on earth would SWAI be included in public consultation? They do not represent a cross section of sex workers/prostitutes past or current and should be de-funded on that basis in the same way as they have de-legitimatised themselves.

        • “You asked the question ‘why are SWAI not included?’”

          There is literally nothing about SWAI in this post. This post is about the Socialist Party and ROSA.

          Do you have any comments to make on the actual content of the post?

      • apologies went on wrong article please feel free to delete

    • Would you want somebody to walk into your workplace & tell you how you should leave? Even if you wanted to leave that job, shouldn’t the how & when be your decision to make? So why not respect that same right for sex workers, instead of insisting out of apparent ignorance that SWAI ought to do things the way you think they should?

      • Ignorance can only come if you have no experience or education; I have both so quit with the ad hominem.
        If you claim to represent sex workers then you represent them all not just the ones you like or agree with. Do you think unions just handle recruitment (here procurement by pimps), pay and conditions (both impossible in prostitution) but not the outgoing workers…gross misconduct, disciplinary procedures, unfair dismissals, trafficking of labour, compensation for workplace harassment or injury and unsafe working conditions (bitter lol), when SWAI do not even accept that trafficking for prostitution is a real issue in Ireland or that sex workers would often want to leave and should have assistance by an agency claiming to represent and support them? Because that is what SWAI is, a private agency and lobby group. It is not a union, nor an institution or even an association with open membership.

  3. Regarding this post (not the NCWI one, apologies) it should be noted that Holbeck in Leeds and The Netherlands are both the decriminalised model not the legal model, and neither are working.

    Holbeck is a now literal hell on earth and the Netherlands is now a leading destination for human trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of prostitution (Source : US Gov State Dept.) and the authorities say that 63% of Prostitution there is controlled by criminal gangs, hence the attempt to wrest de Wallen back.

    With regard to prostitution and socialism/Marxism I find Jonah Mix very eloquent:
    View at

    • Neither Leeds nor the Netherlands have decriminalisation. In both places there are set rules for how a sex worker can operate and they can be criminalised for working outside the rules. Criminalisation is the opposite of decriminalisation.

      As for Jonah Mix, ah yes, the pig who invaded a hashtag started by and for sex workers to flood it with triggering “dead whore” photos. Excellent praxis comrade. Read Morgane Meirteuil instead, she’s both better informed on the subject and a better Marxist.

      • The Nordic Model is the only model that decriminalizes the prostituted only. The decriminalization and legal models that SWAI promote, also decriminalise pimps and sex-buyers, (you know the people doing all the murdering and maiming), and yes, these models often continue with the criminalisation of the prostituted because they are inherently misogynistic.

        Just about any writer in the socialist paper Morning Star can quickly disavow you from your belief/mantra that ‘sex work is work’. I always find it hilarious when the sex lobby claim to be socialist when they are the opposite. SWAI is not a ‘union’, pro-prostitution lobby groups are not ‘socialist’, they make a mockery of both.

        • ” … the only model that decriminalizes the prostituted only.” Uh, no, doesn’t even do that. First of all, a sex worker could still be arrested & prosecuted for working with another sex worker in the same apartment or other location, for “brothel-keeping”; secondly, the experience of sex workers in Sweden, Norway & other countries is that they are constantly harassed by police & other authorities, the latest tactic being to have the banks go after them by denying them access to accounts (or eve to have one), which makes life impossible.

          Obviously you haven’t looked at the models in New Zealand & some states/territories of Australia, which is what SWAI & other sex worker rights groups favor. They decriminalize exchanging money for sexual services, or being a third-party associate of a sex worker, but they do not decriminalize the violence you’re talking about; in fact, they empower sex workers to address issues of violence & abuse, even to work with police.

          But, you wouldn’t know that, would you? Because it’s clear you still haven’t actually talked with a sex worker, hm?

        • ‘Uh’ actually Ricki, I speak from experience,hm.
          I have spoken out against untrained or possibly misogynistic police misusing the law in Ireland to arrest two prostituted persons on the same premises. (After all, they cannot both be pimping each other?).
          The murders in Germany, The Netherlands and New Zealand compared to ZERO deaths in Sweden at the hands of pimps or sex buyers shows me that the Nordic model works. The human trafficking to DE, NH & NZ show me that the Nordic Model works. The crime gangs major involvement, including the Hells Angels in NZ/AUS show me the Nordic Model works.
          Agitating for rights within the institution of prostitution is the same as agitating for rights within slavery; it is an oxymoron. A prostituted class of women and children (and minority of men) exploited exclusively by males to use, not the labour of the hands or minds, but the orifices of their bodies is ’empowerment’ to you?

          I knew it wasn’t empowerment. Not when first a lover-boy and then a regular pimp tried to recruit me, then used my friends to trick me in; not when men I knew socially found out where I ‘worked’ and battered the door down to get in; not when I was sexually abused on the job, ridiculous as it is I must clarify it was without consent, I thought ‘occupational hazard, tough tits’…no, it was the day a small girl came to the door of the brothel crying and asking for her daddy who had left her alone in the car, and I let her in to wait for him to finish. I couldn’t turn her back out onto the busy street, I didn’t even contemplate leaving, and I was afraid that if I interrupted her father he would punish her or worse. The madam who spent her days telling us how normal and liberating our (not her) ‘job’ was, lost her shit. My crime was identifying with the small child alone as I had been when my father returned to the car with talcum powder up his neck.That’s the day I knew the whole thing was bullshit.

        • So your “evidence” to defend your point of view is your own anecdotal experience, which is like saying that one person’s experience with drug use justifies an approach which actual empirical research shows produces more harm than benefit.

          I don’t mean to dismiss the experiences you describe, but I’ve also read stories from people who were trafficked, initially supported the “Nordic Model” then saw that they were being used by their “rescuers” and even persuaded to exaggerate (“reframe”) their experiences. Jill Brenneman is one such individual, you can begin reading an interview of her here, then follow-up Q&A here. Considering what she discloses here, can you see why I & others would be taking what any advocate of your position says with a rather large grain of salt?

          Meanwhile, sex worker rights activists do not claim that decrim would eliminate violence, but would provide greater recourse (such as civil suits against harassment. And just where are you getting statistics of “zero deaths in Sweden”? Again, you’re merely making a claim without evidence.

          So cut out the rhetoric, the unsubstantiated claims, and the horror stories, and show us some solid evidence. And while you’re at it, you could address the racism behind the implementation of this model you so dearly love (<a href=""as discussed here).

        • Your first two paragraphs are absolute nonsense and typical of the pro-pimp lobby. What it actually means is ‘listen to sex workers, just not the ones who escaped (the majority), or the ones we don’t agree with. Instead, listen to the anecdotal statement of Jill Brenneman because she supports our narrative.’ I don’t know whodafuck she is or who you are for that matter, so I go by my lived experience and the lived experience of 5 of my friends, including Rachel Moran, and a dozen associates. Because I escaped from the cult that is prostitution, I don’t have to put up with the delusions and group -think that comes with it.

          “Civil suits against harassment”? Oh my dear child, your naivete is hilarious. You think that women, girls, children are going to expose themselves further, when the fact is out of nearly half a million prostituted persons in Germany, a mere handful signed up for benefits from the state-as-pimp model? Why do you think they couldn’t access benefits during Covid?
          Incidentally, how do you actually prove rape in a brothel or escort situation if there is no extenuating circumstances such as battery, recorded threats or witnesses? You do realise that prostituted women are raped and murdered by strangers in hotel rooms the world over and it is known to be the most lethal profession/oppression for women because it is inherently dangerous?

          We know that men who buy sex are more likely to rape so why let them loose on a prostituted class of women? Why reinforce their view that women in general are objects to be bought and sold for use as a sexual object by men? Because a handful of dingbats in the west believe it is their right to be sold? There are 42 million prostituted persons on the planet, 20% are children/minors of both sexes. The overwhelming majority are female (90%) and the outright majority of buyers are male, so it is a gendered oppression.
          It is also a racist entity precisely because the sex trade inherently has an sweet spot for the disenfranchised; minorities and those who are economically challenged. We can see this in some American cities where afro-americans make up 4% of the population and 15-20% of the prostituted; gender segregated data paints and even worse picture. Look at the language used in adverts in the sex trade for women of colour, they would make your skin crawl. Look at the reviews by those ‘ever so respectful’ sex-buyers. The scum make it plain what they think of them and the prostituted they use and abuse in general.
          Get off your high horse, go take an internship at a selection of New Zealand brothels and come back and talk. You should get a high price and marginally better treatment (for a while) amongst all the Asian women trafficked in. Be sure and check behind the fake walls for your sisters as they have been found living 24/7/365 hidden in the brothels in NZ/AUS ,because that’s the kind of egalitarian trade it is.

          As to proving there were no deaths of prostituted persons at the hands of pimps or sex-buyers in Sweden since the Nordic model, you cannot prove a negative.
          To help you out I can tell you that there was one death associated with prostitution there in that time period…one prostituted woman was murdered by her partner who was not involved in the sex trade.

          #sexindustrykills will show you that the majority of deaths occur outside Nordic Model countries/ countries that have embarked upon but not yet achieved the model due to lack of implementation.

        • Here is your ‘non-racist’ prostitution in NZ. Don’t bother with my horror stories, read theirs:

          Chinese sex workers are being shunned:

          …and local sex workers say the mainly trafficked women are ‘robbing the government ‘:

        • “Oh, my dear child”?!?!? You really think talking down to somebody who, for all you know, is older than you, has corresponded with groups & individuals on both sides of the issue, etc., is going to persuade them?????

          You show all the characteristics of a religious fanatic: closed logic, cherry-picking whatever supports your dogma while treating any who disagree with you with patronizing language, even demanding that I do an internship in a brothel bfor speaking any further.

          Fortunately, there’s some age-old wisdom for how to deal with fanatics: Shake the dust from your shoes … and walk away!

        • So you agree that the women who are actually working under a particular law are the ones who we should listen to about it?

      • Morgane Meirteuil is not a marxist, lol.

  4. You are misunderstanding the law, Lynda. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are “pimping each other” – the offence is simply using or allowing the premises to be used as a brothel, and if more than one person is selling sex out of it, it’s legally a brothel. Furthermore it is not a misuse of the law – it’s exactly how the law was intended to be used. The Oireachtas debates make that clear.

    You’re notably silent about all the murders in France, Canada, and Norway by the way.

    • Considering the fact that only a handful of men (< 5 ) had been arrested and none prosecuted when I made a FOI request in 2019/20, I have no doubt that the law is being applied incorrectly. The fact that the Irish police are one of the only police forces in Europe not directly covered by FOI is a disgrace and this information had to come second hand via special request to the CSO. Shortly afterwards I saw two foreign nationals, one pregnant prosecuted for brothel-keeping, whilst none of the men who came and went during the police stake-out were, hence my they were not pimping each other comment. I note that SWAI supporters claim that the police view these men as 'witnesses' to potential trafficking rather than the criminals and abusers they are and that this is a 'good' thing. Foxes guarding the hen house.

      In October last Brid Smith (socialist supporter of the Sexual Offences Act 2017) stated in the Oireachtas that there were 20 known charges of brothel-keeping (majority F) and apparently none of sex-buying (M). So yes, the law is being misapplied by a male-dominated police force with a toxic male culture, that tolerates and supports the 'right' of men to purchase other human beings for sex. Discretion could be applied to brothel-keeping as it is in Canada but they choose not to, and people like Brid and many others are holding them to account for that…All the discretion is for the men as per prostitution culture. Any law is nothing without correct implementation, review and actual data.

      Speaking of which, I would like to see your data on murders of prostituted persons before and after the Nordic Model versus Legalisation/Full decriminalisation of all third parties. Because the data I have seen does not support your whataboutery.

      The bill passing the sex-buyers law in France was passed by a majority of socialist MP's in the national assembly btw. Actual socialists, not pretend ones.

      • Brid Smith is indeed a good socialist.

        In Canada the Supreme Court ruled the brothel keeping law unconstitutional and the law which was introduced after that decision explicitly exempts people who are only selling their own sexual services. That’s not a matter for discretion. Ruhama and the other TORL groups have opposed creating a similar exemption in Irish law, I wonder why??

        And let’s see your before-and-after data for NZ, the Netherlands, and Germany?

        • If I do I expect reciprocal data for France, Canada, and Norway, is that agreed?
          Otherwise I’m not wasting my time on you.

        • I confused Brid Smith with Roisin Shortall. Brid Smith is a complete dope across the board. Shorthall on the other hand…

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