HIV, Sex Work and the Law in Ireland

Globally, sex workers are identified as a priority population group for targeted HIV education and prevention efforts.  According to UNAIDS, the prevalence of HIV is 12 times higher among sex workers than among the general population, and female sex workers have a 30-times greater risk of acquiring HIV than the general population.

In line with international best practice and policy, HIV Ireland advocates for a a human rights-based approach to ensure universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for sex workers, to effectively protect sex workers from HIV and empower and enable sex workers to protect themselves from the risk of HIV.

2020 Review of the Operation of Part 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was commenced in March 2017, and Part 4 of the Act introduced two new offences: paying for sexual activity with a sex worker and paying for sexual activity with a trafficked person.  The Act includes a provision that a review would take place three years following its commencement.

In July 2020, pursuant to section 27 of The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, the Department of Justice and Equality commissioned an Independent Expert to review the operation of Part 4 of that Act, which deals with the Purchase of Sexual Services.  The review includes a general public consultation survey and an invitation to individuals and stakeholders to make written submissions.

Often referred to as the Swedish or Nordic model, HIV Ireland is opposed to this model, which is not in line with international best practice and policy recommendations for HIV and Sex Work.  HIV Ireland supports the recommendation of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work “that States remove criminal penalties for the purchase and sale of sex to establish legal and policy environments conducive to universal access to HIV services for sex workers.”

Read the HIV Ireland policy submission (September 2020) to the Department of Justice, recommending that sex work be fully decriminalised in order to respect, protect and fulfil the right to the highest attainable standard of health of sex workers.

Sex Worker Lives under the Law

In September 2020, a new report was published: Sex worker lives under the law: A community engaged study of access to health in Ireland – highlighting that the law banning the purchase of sex, introduced in 2017, has had a profoundly negative impact on the health and wellbeing of sex workers.  Commissioned by HIV Ireland and funded by the Open Society Foundations, the research was conducted by Dr Kathryn McGarry and Dr Paul Ryan of Maynooth University, with the support of the Irish Sex Worker Research Network and the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI).

Read the HIV Ireland Press Release, 10th September 2020.

Additional Background Information & Resources

HIV Ireland Written Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, July 2012

Potential impact of the Swedish model on rates of HIV/AIDS among sex workers and their access to healthcare, HIV Ireland, 2015

HIV Ireland Presentation, AIDS Action Europe Meeting on Civil Society, Advocacy, Human Rights and HIV, Berlin, November 2016

Global AIDS Update 2020 – Seizing the Moment: Tackling entrenched inequalities to end epidemics, UNAIDS, 2020

The Human Cost of ‘Crushing’ the market: Criminalization of Sex Work in Norway, Amnesty International, 2016

The GAP Report 2014: Sex Workers, UNAIDS, 2014

UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and sex work (updated April 2012)

Risks, Rights and Health, Global Commission on HIV and the Law, July 2012

International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, OHCHR and UNAIDS, 2006 Consolidated Version