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Author Archives: Wendy Lyon

Brothel laws criminalising sex workers: a feature, not a bug

It happens with depressing regularity, but reports of sex workers being prosecuted for “brothel-keeping” have actually got a fair bit of attention recently, both in mainstream and social media. None of it, of course, from the Turn Off the Red Light campaign or its leading member organisations, who are campaigning hard for new legislation which will double the penalties for this offence.

Supporters of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 have done their best to keep this aspect of the bill quiet, regularly insisting that the bill “decriminalises” women in prostitution even after The Journal’s Fact Check established that it does no such thing. On the rare occasions they’re pressed on it, they usually witter on about how this law is “intended to punish pimps”, sometimes even suggesting that it’s the only mechanism the law has to do so.

They’re wrong on both counts.

To take the second point first: the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, which currently governs sex work law, contains an offence of “organising prostitution” as well as one of “living on the earnings of prostitution”. Both of these offences will remain under the new law, so there’s no reason that any “pimps” found keeping brothels could not continue to be prosecuted if the brothel-keeping law was removed.

The first point – that the law is not aimed at pimps, but at sex workers themselves – can be proven clearly enough just by looking at how the law is actually used in real life. As Lucy Smyth’s media analysis shows, nearly all the reported prosecutions have in fact been of sex workers, not of anyone managing or controlling them. So maybe it’s a case of the Gardaí misusing the law and just in need of better guidance?

No, it’s not. Go back to the original debates over the 1993 Act and you see very clearly that sex worker prosecutions are a feature, not a bug, of the brothel-keeping law – which was intended to address the public nuisance factor of brothels. Introducing the bill to the Seanad, then-Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said:

I would now like to briefly explain the thinking behind the provisions in the Bill on prostitution. Prostitution is not, and never has been, an offence. The criminal law has no role in trying to regulate sexual arrangements made in private between adults, whether or not money is a factor in those arrangements. What the law has in the past sought to regulate are certain public manifestations of prostitution which can cause upset and distress to members of the public, such as soliciting in public or the operation of a brothel. I think it must be acknowledged that these activities can cause genuine problems for the public, and that is a reality of life that we as legislators must deal with.

Over in the Dáil, meanwhile, Michael McDowell (of all people) attempted to introduce an amendment which would exclude from the definition of brothel “the bona fide home of a prostitute unless the premises are used by any other prostitute for the purpose of prostitution”. Implicit in this amendment is the understanding that the offence would be used against sex workers. The Minister rejected the amendment, saying:

As the Deputy rightly states “brothel” is a common law term and means a place resorted to by persons of both sexes for the purpose of prostitution. There must be at least two women or men plying their trade as prostitutes in the place. If two persons are using the premises for prostitution, the place is a brothel and it is immaterial that one of them is the occupier. Therefore, the home of a prostitute is not a brothel unless another person is also using the premises for prostitution.

So again, it was clearly envisaged by the law, at the time it was introduced, that a sex worker would be prosecuted under it – even in her own home, if she allowed someone else to sell sex there. This is not a law about pimps.

Which is not to say that the brothel-keeping law could never be used against pimps. It’s a hybrid offence, meaning it can be prosecuted either summarily (before a District Court judge) or on indictment (in the Circuit Court, before a jury, and at the risk of a much higher penalty). In real life, sex workers who are prosecuted under this law are inevitably prosecuted summarily; it’s only in the rare “pimp” prosecutions that indictment occurs. And – I think this is pretty significant – the new bill only increases penalties for the summary offence of brothel-keeping, while leaving the penalties for the indictable offence unchanged. In this respect, the new law is clearly going directly after sex workers. Not pimps.

And if you need any further evidence, just look at Frances Fitzgerald’s recent contribution to the Committee Stage debate on the present bill. Rejecting amendments that would reframe the brothel-keeping law to only target third parties, the Minister stated:

Women would come under pressure to claim that they were working independently when that was not the case and the Garda would be limited in the actions it could take to close brothels and disrupt the activities of pimps and criminal gangs.

So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth: sex workers – not pimps – are intended to be prosecuted under this law, in order that Gardaí can shut down their workplaces. The fluff about women being pressured to lie about their working arrangements is a complete non-sequitur; if anything, such pressure is probably more likely in the present set-up. When managed sex workers take the fall for the “real” brothel keepers, after all, there’s less incentive for the guards to go after their bosses.

So make no mistake about the brothel-keeping law. It is not an anti-pimp measure with an incidental, unfortunate side effect of occasionally catching the wrong target. It is not being misapplied by overzealous Gardaí who just need a bit of training or direction. Gardaí who go after sex workers with this law are doing exactly what it’s designed to do, and they will keep doing it as long as the law allows them to, and regardless of the dangers it creates for sex workers. And the Gardaí are doing it with the explicit approval of the Minister for Justice, and with the effective acquiescence (if not silent approval) of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, and its constituent NGOs who continue to pretend they have these women’s interests at heart.

Sex workers are literally dying because of this law. We owe them at least our honesty about why we allow that to happen.

Masking a murderer: Alan Hawe and the myth of the “good man who snapped”

If there’s been one thing more infuriating this week than the media coverage of the Hawe murders, it’s the backlash against those of us who have objected to it. “We don’t know the whole story!” “Stop jumping to conclusions!” “What about the family?”

Well, true: we don’t know the whole story. But this is what we do know – or, at least, what has been published widely without contradiction:

  • Alan Hawe murdered his wife and three children with a knife and hatchet
  • Prior to this, he was not known to the mental health services
  • He left a note inside the house explaining why he did it
  • This note expressed his view that his family members couldn’t cope without him
  • He left another note on the door to warn the next visitor

So, in brief: we know he committed a brutal familicide with intent and deliberation, with no evidence that would support an insanity verdict had he survived to be prosecuted, and in the apparent belief that the lives of his wife and children were nothing without him.

What enables us to draw conclusions from this is its chilling similarity to a number of other murders we know of. There’s even a name for it: family annihilation. And there are studies of it, and those studies clearly indicate that family annihilators share certain characteristics (in addition to being overwhelmingly male): narcissism, a sense of personal ownership of his wife and children, and often a previous history of abusive behaviour. Toxic masculinity, you might call it. Given that Alan Hawe’s murders fit the pattern of family annihilators, it’s really not a great leap to expect that his personality will also turn out to have done so.

This is true even if Clodagh Hawe’s own family had no idea, as reports suggest. Let’s face it, you don’t get to hack four people to death and still be eulogised as a pillar of your community unless you’re pretty good at hiding things. And besides, that’s also part of the pattern. As the study linked above concludes:

the annihilation makes public what had often been a private reality – a reality masked to family, friends and neighbours who often thought that this man had been a ‘doting’ and ‘loving’ father and ‘dutiful’ husband.

It’s understandable why Clodagh’s close friends and family would want to cling to the belief that her husband was a good man who just snapped. If you’ve never seen a terrible side to someone you thought you knew well, it’s really hard to accept that that side exists. I get this. And learning about a side of him you never saw until it was too late? The guilt one must feel would be unimaginable. Could I have seen this coming? Could I have done something? At a time of unbearable trauma, perhaps the one thing that can give comfort to survivors is the thought that they, at least, had not failed their loved ones by failing to somehow prevent their deaths.

But for others, who had no such ties to the family, the reluctance to acknowledge the pattern is more puzzling. Why would they rather believe that this was just a one-off “tragedy” that could not have been foreseen? What comfort does it bring them to think that anyone – maybe even themselves or someone they love – could just “snap” one day and butcher their entire family?

No, we don’t have all the facts, and maybe we never will. But here’s one fact we can be absolutely certain of: Clodagh’s death was not unique. And for that reason, as much as we wish to be respectful to her family in their grief, we cannot simply accept the narrative of the “good man who snapped”. We must try to look behind the façade of the devoted family man, and map out the murderer beneath.  We must learn to recognise him, and more importantly, what made him. What makes all of them. If we persist in deluding ourselves that they just spring up spontaneously from nowhere, we will never learn how to ensure that they don’t. And the consequence will be a lot more Alan Hawes, and a lot more Clodaghs.

So you don’t want to take Amnesty’s word for it? Okay.

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CN: stuff you might find by googling for low-quality cishet male porn 

Last week, Amnesty International finally published its full policy position on sex work. The reaction from anti-sex work feminists has been predictable: lots of vitriol, penis-shaped candles, and pimp smears, but little to no engagement with Amnesty’s actual arguments. The 101-page report into Amnesty’s research in Norway (Melissa Gira Grant has summarised it well here) has been, unsurprisingly, almost totally ignored, apart from a couple suggestions that Amnesty is too compromised for its research to be trusted anyway.

Well, great news, “Nordic model” advocates: you don’t have to take Amnesty’s word. Because Swedish super cop Simon Haggstrom – you’ll know him from his frequent visits to other countries to proselytise for the sex purchase ban – has now published his memoirs. Only in Swedish, alas, but that’s why God made Google Translate. Here are some of his views on how the law actually functions in practice. Let’s take them thematically, shall we?

On whether the law is “working” to end demand



On the law’s “normative effect” on young Swedish men


On whether sex workers are still hassled by police


Note the subtle threat in the above, made explicit in the next one:

On whether sex workers are de facto criminalised


Pro tip: ask anyone with a precarious immigration status in your country whether that sounds like a request to voluntarily assist with a police investigation. Or not.

On whether sex workers are treated respectfully and with dignity during raids

Confiscating their used tampons and displaying them as “evidence”? You decide.


Yes, this is an actual picture in the book

On whether the law is more concerned with preventing or punishing “exploitation”


In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the “main reason” is something totally different. If the cops intervened before any sex took place, Simon would miss all the good parts:








And if all that wasn’t enough to answer one final question…

On who exactly benefits from this law


Well, there you go: it provides the cops with “excitement” and plenty of wank material, in which they themselves play a starring role in the action. Ironic, when you consider that Amnesty are the ones being accused of privileging men’s sexual desires.

So let’s recap. According to one of the law’s chief enforcers, it hasn’t changed men’s attitudes. It isn’t deterring them from paying for sex. It isn’t stopping women from selling sex (indeed, they have to engage in a sexual act before enforcement will take place at all). It is subjecting them to unwanted interactions with the police, up to and including detention, and deportation for those who refuse to accept the cops’ “help”. That … sounds an awful lot like what Amnesty found next door in Norway, doesn’t it?

But even Amnesty might be surprised at the clumsy, cringeworthy porn that Haggstrom illustrates his accounts with – more surprised than Swedish sex workers seem to be, which is possibly telling in itself. Is it any wonder he’s such an advocate for the law?  Without it, he’d have to get off with only his imagination again.

Credit to Lucy Smyth for translations and screenshots. 

On trigger warnings and double standards

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Content note: PTSD, anaphylaxis

I have an old friend who I’ll call Sarah. Sarah has a rare, fatal allergy to chicken. If she eats chicken she can literally go into anaphylactic shock and die in a matter of minutes. Her allergy is so severe it can even be triggered by the smell of chicken being cooked.  She’s never had a full-on anaphylactic episode from inhalation alone, but she does have a powerful and deeply unpleasant reaction to it, and she doesn’t want to take any chances.

When Sarah was in graduate school she lived in a student apartment on campus. Because of her allergy, she was given the one apartment in the building that had its own kitchen. The other students shared a kitchen on the floor. Unfortunately, the shared kitchen was between her apartment and the way out of the building, so she couldn’t help but walk by past it.  And if she was coming or going when someone was cooking chicken, she couldn’t avoid the smell. And the reaction.

Sarah knows her allergy is inconvenient for the people around her.  She feels bad about this, although she really shouldn’t. When she moved into the apartment, she went and spoke to every other student on her floor, individually. She explained her chicken allergy to them and asked that if they planned to cook chicken, could they please just let her know in advance so that she could make sure she did not have to walk past the kitchen until they were finished. She didn’t ask them not to cook it at all, just to give her a bit of notice when they were planning to.

Most of the students did. One refused to. She didn’t refuse to Sarah’s face; she simply went ahead and cooked her chicken when she wanted without giving Sarah any warning. At least once that Sarah knows of, one of the other students reminded her of Sarah’s request; her response was something along the lines of that she couldn’t be bothered, and Sarah would just have to deal with it.

Just have to deal with an extreme allergic reaction that may not actually kill her, but could trigger symptoms that make her feel like she is going to die. Just deal with it. Because this neighbour couldn’t be bothered to give Sarah a heads-up so she could do what she needed to protect herself. Too much trouble.

You can see where I’m going with this. Sarah’s neighbour was behaving very much like the people who simply refuse to use trigger warnings before sharing material that might adversely affect others. In fact, they are worse because in many cases they are actively trying to dissuade anyone from using them. As obnoxious as her behaviour was, Sarah’s neighbour wasn’t, as far as she knows, going around telling the other students they shouldn’t be letting her know about the danger their chicken cooking might pose to her.

And that’s exactly what we are talking about – danger. Not offence. Not discomfort. Real, genuine harm. The word “trigger” is in there for a reason. It reflects the language used by clinicians and researchers when talking about conditions that make the people who have them susceptible to sudden, acute reactions, set off by things that would be more or less benign to others. Anaphylaxis is one such condition. PTSD is another. In fact, the two conditions often share symptoms – hyperventilation, dizziness, a feeling of being suffocated. The suffocation may more readily lead to actual death in an anaphylactic, but when you’re suffering repeated spells of really feeling like you are going to die, I’m pretty confident in saying that’s going to have a negative effect on your health. And psychiatric conditions do kill people, sometimes, at least indirectly. It’s not the same risk as eating something you have a fatal allergy to, but it’s not incidental or negligible, either.

Anaphylaxis and PTSD have something else in common, too, and that’s that they’re both unpredictable: the triggers aren’t necessarily only where you expect to find them. Sarah once nearly died after eating a “vegetarian” pizza, probably due to cross-contamination in the restaurant kitchen. Other allergic people’s triggers may be even harder to avoid, like peanuts. And not every allergic reaction is an anaphylactic reaction, either, just as not every read of potentially triggering material will actually set off the symptoms in someone with PTSD. But just because you don’t know whether or how someone is going to react to something isn’t a reason not to warn them when you know it’s something they might react quite severely to.  Letting them know allows them to decide for themselves whether the risk is one they feel able to take. Not letting them know gives them no real choice in the matter – even if it’s a day when they’re feeling exceptionally vulnerable, or left their epi-pen at home.

Ultimately, where you stand on trigger warnings says a lot about where you stand on mental health. If you think Sarah’s request for a heads-up was reasonable, if “may contain nuts” doesn’t provoke you into writing awful New Statesmen columns about the threat to culinary freedom, but you think PTSD sufferers should just grow a thicker skin and certainly should not expect other people to have any regard to their condition, then what you’re basically saying is that mental health doesn’t matter in the way that physical health does. Not an uncommon view, of course, but one I suspect many of those in the “anti-trigger warning” camp would be loath to admit they hold.  Either they do hold it, or they’ve entirely missed the point of what trigger warnings are about. There really is no third option.

 

 

Quick note on the Belfast abortion rats

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Just when you thought the story couldn’t get worse about the 21-year-old Belfast woman who was given a suspended jail sentence for inducing her abortion, along come the people who shopped her to the police – her own housemates – to show the world how truly abhorrent it’s possible for humans to be. Here are some choice quotes from them in today’s Belfast Telegraph:

“This isn’t anything to do with the rights and wrongs of abortion. I’m not anti-abortion. I believe there are circumstances, like rape, where it should be a woman’s choice.

“This is about her attitude. It was as if she was getting rid of a piece of clothing,” she stated.

“There was absolutely no remorse. Even the way she was up and away out and doing her own thing a day after the abortion, while me and our other house-mate just walked around in shock.”

“It is just insane the way we are being portrayed as being the bad ones in this.”

 

So they didn’t report her out of some sense of civic duty, because she’d committed an offence. Abortion is illegal throughout Ireland in the case of rape, too, but apparently this housemate would have had no problem with that (even though the embryo would presumably look exactly like it did in this case). They reported her because she wasn’t sorry about her abortion. Because she had the absolute temerity to be able to get on with her own life after it. Because she didn’t feel the regret they think a woman should be obliged to feel after terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Because she didn’t hurt. So, they were going to make sure she did.

The housemates are clearly taking note of the reaction on social media, so allow me to add this one: Yes, you are the bad ones in this. You are awful. You are the worst people I have read or heard anything about today. I am disgusted to breathe the same air as you. I hope you step on a Lego for every remaining day of your terrible life.

The social media response is the one positive thing to come out of your despicable deed. For once, the people being shamed because of an abortion actually deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police: part 3

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This is the third in a series (previous parts here and here) of my analyses of Swedish police reports which, as you’ll see, depict the law against paying for sex in a less flattering light than you’d expect from all the propaganda about it. I’m not going to go into much depth with this one, first because it largely repeats the findings of the previous two and second because I felt sick to my stomach before I reached the end of it, for reasons that will become clear. What follows, then, is only a few particularly notable excerpts from the latest report (published in November 2015). The link is here and, like last year, I’ve had to run this through Google translate; it seems the practice of publishing these reports in both Swedish and English ceased after my first post in this series. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

So here goes:

In cases where the women used in prostitution in Sweden had been found the police or NGOs offered opportunities for support and assistance. If they are not willing or able to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in an investigation into human trafficking or pimping, they could in some cases be rejected under the Aliens Act to the EU country where they have a residence permit. That women do not want or dare to cooperate in an investigation may be due to lack of confidence in the police, but also to the fear that they or their family will be punished. (p.16)

Supporters of the law often deny that this happens, but there it is in black and white from the Swedish police themselves. Non-EEA sex workers or women trafficked into prostitution (the report assumes they’re the latter) risk expulsion if they don’t help the police with their investigations – even though the police know that sometimes they refuse out of fear. What kind of “support and assistance” is that?

By the way, here’s the footnote to that paragraph:

According to Chapter 8, Section 2, first paragraph “an alien may be rejected if it can be assumed that during his or her stay in Sweden he or she will not earn a living in an honest way”.

Remember, these are women the law purportedly regards as “victims”.

Note also the procedural defect, which allows a person to be deported based on an assumption. In a country where discrimination against “Asian-looking” women is permitted as an anti-prostitution measure, without any actual evidence against the specific woman, you’d be forgiven for not putting much confidence in those “assumptions”.

Moving on to page 22:

In 2014, the police noted a change regarding the number of Internet sites with ads for the sale of sexual services where there was reason to suspect that the victims were under 18 years old. The ads were fewer and the police saw a change in the way to make contact from ads to the open pages of chat and social media applications such as Facebook.

It’s been pointed out time and time again that even where the sex industry is criminalised, it constantly adapts to new technologies and new methods of avoiding detection. Here’s a good example. Advertising on social media undoubtedly predates 2014, even if the cops weren’t aware of it. If police scrutiny begins to make that too inconvenient, something else will replace it – that’s an absolute certainty.

Oh and incidentally, if you’re imagining that it will only be people actually advertising sex whose social media accounts will be scrutinised, remember that the Swedish police have fairly strong surveillance powers. Anyone who spends time in, or talks to people in, Sweden can be pretty sure they’ll use this to justify even more snooping into your private communications.

Sex is still being sold by online advertisement, though, and on page 29 they give an example of it:

In the spring of 2014 the Stockholm police prostitution team came in contact with a 14-year-old girl sexually exploited by adult men for payment when she advertised sexual services via the Internet. The girl said that she was bought and sexually exploited by several men and the police managed to identify two of them.

The 14-year-old girl is, of course, an iconic figure in anti-prostitution campaigning. This image was all over the place in Ireland a few years ago:

Anna

The organisations behind this ad want us to believe that Anna’s sad story wouldn’t have happened if only there was a law here criminalising men who pay for sex. Yet here are the Swedish police confirming that 15 years after this law was introduced – a law older than she is – they have their own Anna, who’s been paid for sex by “several” adult men. And I’m guessing “she’s not the only one”, either.

On page 43, we find what may be the single most heinous thing I’ve ever read about this law. Discussing penalties (and why the doubling of them doesn’t seem to have worked as well as expected, although of course that’s not stated in so many words) the report says:

several proposals have been made that the crime of purchase of sexual services should be divided into severity and a felony introduced. The [2010 official] evaluation of the effects of the ban on the purchase of sex noted in its analysis of this question that a classification of the offence by several severity levels could bring more disadvantages for the fight against this and related offences. Police Regions agree with the commission’s fear that graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised.

Read that again, and let it sink in. Actually, let me repeat this bit:

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

Once more. Just in case.

graduation would lead to resources being exclusively devoted to crimes considered more reprehensible and that the investigation of the crime of purchase of sexual services would therefore not be prioritised

I am nearly at a loss for words about this. One of the arguments that has been made against the introduction of this law in Ireland is that it would divert resources away from serious offences (like actual trafficking and exploitation) because the police would need to use those resources going after just any man who pays for sex. So, here the Swedish police are confirming that that’s exactly what they want it to do. As with the increase in stigma against sex workers, the reduced ability of the police to focus on “more reprehensible” crimes against them is a feature, not a bug of the law.

There are case study summaries at the end of the report, but I think I’ll leave it here. If there is anything more outrageous or despicable than the deliberate refusal to prioritise serious crimes against sex workers, I’m not sure I have the stomach to read them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to donate to National Ugly Mugs. Please consider doing the same if you can.

 

 

Criminalising purchase of sexual services is a daft idea, part infinity: enforcement issues

I wrote a bit about this here, but I’ve been having more thoughts about this lately and I think it’s worth a separate post about how problematic it’s going to be.

Not long ago, Swedish cop Kajsa Wahlberg visited Ireland on yet another PR junket to promote the law. In amongst the usual codswallop about trafficking reduction and sex workers not hating the law really, she made one interesting comment which was reported by Kitty Holland in the Irish Times but not, as far as I can tell, really noticed anywhere else:

She said it was resource intensive legislation, requiring many man-hours to track, locate and prosecute illegal trafficking and management of prostitution.

“It involves a lot of ‘listening in’ to conversations, translating. It is very resource intensive and very costly.”

Now the first problem with this ought to be obvious to anyone who’s followed the news in Ireland lately. Where exactly are we going to get all these “man-hours”? What crimes are we going to deprioritise so that the Gardaí have more time and money to peer into people’s bedrooms? True, there is provision in Budget 2016 for additional Garda resources, but the public seem pretty convinced there are nowhere near enough cops to deal with the things that are already illegal. It’s hard to imagine there’d be much support for giving them new – and “resource intensive” – offences to focus on, at the expense of their attention to burglaries and the like.

The reality, of course, is that our police won’t be spending a Swedish level of resources to enforce this law. They don’t have the power to do all the “listening in” the Swedes do (one of the reasons the PSNI told the Stormont Justice Committee the law would be pretty much unenforceable in the North, which, so far, it has been). And since the Minister sensibly didn’t accept the Oireachtas Justice Committee’s truly asinine proposal to treat people who visit escort sites the same as people who download child abuse images, they’re probably not going to be doing a lot more internet monitoring, either.

It strikes me that the most likely ways the law will be enforced are these:

Staking out known sex workers/“brothels”. This already happens to some extent; the Gardaí know – and keep an eye on – many of the premises regularly used for commercial sex, but don’t tend to disturb the occupants unless there are at least two sex workers there (bringing it within the common law definition of an illegal “brothel”). It’ll be a different story when the presence of even one person selling sex automatically means a crime is being committed.

Now since – and I know the law’s supporters have a tough time grasping this, but it’s really fairly obvious – sex workers like everyone else don’t want to lose income, which tends to happen when all their customers get arrested, a consequence of this is that many will feel they have to work in premises not known to the vice squad. As a practical matter, this usually means outcalls (in which they go to the client, rather than vice versa). It means they go to an unfamiliar location, where they don’t know who or what or how many people are waiting for them; where they can’t have an escape route mapped out in the event things go wrong. The Swedes admit that this has been an effect of the law, which is one of the reasons you know they’re lying when they claim it hasn’t made sex work more dangerous.

The other likely enforcement method is the sting operation: cops place fake ads, arrest people who answer them. The first consequence of this is that it will enormously strengthen the hand of sites like Escort Ireland, which clients will rely on to ensure the booking they make is legit. It will also make it harder for escorts to opt out of reviews – something I find particularly ironic in light of that odious Invisible Choice campaign (no, I’m not linking to it) which has nonsensically utilised the review as an argument for the Swedish model. And if they do this on a regular/sustained basis, it means that the women of An Garda Síochána (and there aren’t that many of them) will be disproportionately delegated to this particular line of duty. Not that I’d rather they were out bashing the heads of water protesters, you understand, but are these stings really the most appropriate use of their abilities? I mean, no little girl thinks “When I grow up I want to be a cop pretending to be a prostitute.”

Of course, the sting is already in use at street level – where buying sex has been effectively criminalised for 22 years under the soliciting law – and it hasn’t had any lasting deterrent effect there, so you’d wonder why people expect so much from the new law. A curious thing about which is that it will actually provide for a lower penalty than the existing soliciting law: the latter can you get you a Class D fine (€1,000) or four weeks in prison for a third offence, but under the new bill a Class D fine is as bad as it gets. So what the government’s doing is trying to “end demand” by introducing a less punitive variation of a law that’s already proven ineffective in ending demand. This is a notable and probably significant difference in context between Ireland and Sweden, where there was no criminalisation of clients until paying for sex was outlawed.

A few days ago, but after I wrote the above paragraphs, this article appeared in the Indo. It’s about the next report due out from the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is expected to recommend limited decriminalisation of drugs. The different approach shown in these comments by Committee Chair David Stanton is striking:

Mr Stanton said he believed the model would free up garda and court resources to tackle drug dealers and traffickers rather than those using drugs recreationally.

“What we are talking about is radical and I don’t think we could have had this discussion 10 years ago, but I think it is definitely a system we should seriously consider,” he said.

“We should be targeting the serious dealers and traffickers and not spending our time and resources with some kid in the court system because they were caught with a joint,” he added.

Of course some of us were having this discussion 10 years ago, but he’s right that Irish parliamentarians couldn’t have been among them. Not because decriminalising drugs was any less worth considering then; not because there was any less evidence then of the harms of criminalisation nor, of course, because it wasn’t any less harmful. No, the discussion couldn’t be had 10 years ago because Irish society was still too mired in a drugs panic to think about the subject rationally. Sound familiar?

There’s one important difference, though. The crackdown on drug use, for all its serious flaws, did spring from a legitimately grassroots, community-based campaign. It happened because the Gardaí were (eventually) prodded into action by people who’d been seeing their families and neighbourhoods torn apart by drug addiction. The inevitable consequence of that action, that “fighting drugs” would become just another way to criminalise the working class, was assuredly not what they wanted; but they did, understandably, want some action to be taken against what was a genuine blight on their lives. There is no such grassroots call to criminalise sex workers’ clients: it’s a top-down, libfem NGO and convent-driven campaign against something that offends the campaigners’ moral and/or ideological sensibilities. When the ordinary people of County Louth have Adrian Crevan Mackins and things like this to worry about, do you think they want their local Gardaí spending time snooping around hotel rooms to arrest people having the wrong kind of sex? Has anyone bothered to ask them?