The State is failing to protect sex workers in Ireland from violence, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights organisation has conducted research in Ireland which shows that criminalising the purchase of sex is forcing workers to take more risks.
Its report titled 'We live within a violent system' has called for sex work in Ireland to be decriminalised.
A law introduced five years ago which criminalises the purchase of sex in Ireland is currently being reviewed by the Government.
According to Amnesty International, Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is jeopardising the safety of sex workers in Ireland.
The research includes interviews with 30 people who are currently engaged in sex work in this country or have been in the past.
Twenty-three of those interviewed reported experiencing violence while engaging in sex work and they say penalising brothel-keeping poses a risk to their safety.
Supporters argue that the penalty for brothel-keeping protects sex workers, however Amnesty says it has a "chilling effect" by preventing sex workers from working together for safety.
'I'm not scared of the bad client - I'm scared of the guards; I'm scared of the law' sex worker Ronan tells RTÉ's @AilbheConneely.— RTÉ News (@rtenews) January 25, 2022
Amnesty International has said criminalising the purchase of sex is forcing workers to take more risks.https://t.co/cZ4HVMdJRh pic.twitter.com/v89qEDRM0A
One sex worker, 'Ronan', who spoke to RTÉ News, said this was a problem.
"Anything more than one person is considered a brothel. So, sex workers cannot work together for safety. So just by doing that, we can go to jail."
The fear for many sex workers, according to Ronan, is being caught.
"It can be incredibly dangerous. Personally, I have had more good experiences than bad, and overwhelmingly, my clients are fantastic.
"But from time to time, you have the dangerous client, but I'm not really scared of them. I'm scared of the guards, I'm scared of the law. If I had a bad client, I wouldn't call the cops unless it was life and death."
Ronan added: "The moment the gardaí come in, they've come into wherever I'm working. So, whether I'm renting, whether the landlord finds out, I don't get to be in that place anymore.
"It doesn't matter if it's a hotel, it doesn't matter if it's an Airbnb, I don't get to go to that place again... I'm also traumatised, so it's going to be a while until I can work again, and I don't have any other options. Then I have a criminal record potentially."
Ronan said this all leads to a lot of anxiety.
Amnesty International points out that there are no reliable regional or global estimates or data regarding the numbers of people engaged in sex work.
This it says is predominantly due to stigmatisation, marginalisation and often criminalisation faced by sex workers.
In Ireland, reliable data about sex workers, who are not human trafficking victims, is also lacking.
Amnesty claims that the Government’s reliance on "dated and flawed research" has led to the establishment of a legal and policy framework which both "directly causes and in other ways exacerbates violations of sex workers’ human rights".
A poll by Amnesty in December showed that 70% of people in Ireland believe sex workers should be consulted on any law that directly affects them.
73% felt that sex workers have a right to make decisions about their bodies and lives.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
The Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland has said the Government here needs to start listening to sex workers.
Colm O'Gorman said: "The review of the law represents a vital opportunity to ensure that it actually protects sex workers.
"But if this is to happen, sex workers themselves must be meaningfully consulted so that their lived experiences can inform the laws and policies that are meant to protect them."
In response, the Department of Justice has said that a key purpose of the 2017 Act was to provide additional protection to persons involved in prostitution, especially vulnerable persons and victims of human trafficking.
It allows those engaged in prostitution to provide information to gardaí, for instance, if they were subjected to violence by clients, without fear of prosecution for selling sexual services.
The Department points out that Section 27 of the 2017 Act provides for a review of Part 4 of the Act three years after its commencement.
"Given that the goal of the legislation is to protect vulnerable persons and, in this context, the review will include consideration of whether further measures are needed to strengthen protection for persons who engage in sexual activity for payment."
In a statement, it said the terms of reference "explicitly confirm that the participation and inclusion of persons engaged in prostitution and persons who have been victims of human trafficking will be sought".
It added that the minister would carefully examine any recommendations of the review once completed and appropriate actions would be progressed to address the issues identified.
The Department said its officials are also working on a legislative amendment to "expunge previous convictions for 'sale of sex', or prostitution offences".
This it said is "a significant step in recognising and responding to the needs of victims of sex trafficking, and those forced to provide sexual services, which will include people trafficked into Ireland for that purpose".
In response to Amnesty International's report, the National Women’s Council said that violence against women is an inherent part of prostitution and sexual consent cannot be purchased.
It says the law seeks to "end the demand for sexual exploitation by targeting the buyers and exploiters does not place criminal liability on women in prostitution".
The NWC says "this means women can go to the authorities for protection" and the current law is "merely the first step in ending commercial sexual exploitation in Ireland".
The Women's Council has called for clear exit strategies to ensure nobody is forced to stay in prostitution due to poverty, racism or as a result of any other intersectional vulnerabilities.