This page details the key findings from our study of 82 cases (involving 165 individuals) of sex workers convicted of brothel keeping from 2009 to 2018. As noted on the Cases page, these cases were identified through media analysis and are not a representative sample of all persons convicted of brothel keeping. These cases do however provide insight into the circumstances of sex workers convicted of brothel keeping which is not available through examination of official crime statistics.
Young Migrant Women
The age (where given) of the sex workers convicted ranged from 18 to 73 years old with the average age being 29 years old. All of those convicted appear to have been non-nationals. The most common nationalities identified were Romanian (55%), Brazilian (17%) and Spanish (9%). The vast majority of those convicted were female (96%), but there were a small number of cases involving male and trans sex workers. This finding also correlates with the latest official statistics we have that show (85%) of those convicted of brothel keeping 2004-2013 were female and most were aged 18-24 (30%) or 25-44 (59%).
All of those convicted of brothel keeping acquire a criminal record. The consequences of getting a criminal record are negative for sex workers. It can impact especially negatively on future employment opportunities, making it harder for people who wish to leave sex work to do so.
In 79 of the 82 cases (96%) it appears the sex worker(s) pleaded guilty. Most brothel keeping cases are heard in the District Courts with Gardaí acting as prosecutors (Gardaí acting as prosecutors is a practice that The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland has recommended is discontinued). In a great many of the cases it is noted that the sex workers admitted the offences immediately. This may be an indication that very few sex workers are availing of their right to have a solicitor present when being questioned. In two of the cases we found the sex workers did not even have any legal representation in court. It is therefore reasonable to be concerned that sex workers are often being arrested, prosecuted and convicted without adequate due process protections.
Named and Shamed
148 of the 165 individuals (90%) in the cases were named and shamed in the media. In a smaller number of cases photographs of them, having been taken outside the courts, accompanied the articles. For many sex workers this naming and shaming, which is often now perpetual due to the digitisation of news media, has a lasting damaging effect on their lives.
Brothel keeping cases often result in the banishment of the persons convicted. This may be through the sex worker(s) voluntarily pledging to leave the jurisdiction or the judge ordering that they leave the jurisdiction. This was a feature of 42 (51%) of the 82 cases we examined. In one case we found it was reported that the judge told the sex worker she must get out of Ireland that day or face six months in jail. In another case, the judge directed Gardaí buy the sex workers one way tickets (from money seized from the sex workers) and accompany them to the airport to ensure they leave.
In 30 of the 82 cases (37%) there was some discussion about whether the sex workers being prosecuted were (21%) or were not (23%) the victims of trafficking or otherwise controlled by third parties. Such representations were made by both the sex workers themselves (or their legal representatives) and the Gardaí and were both agreed upon or disputed. Judges often enquired as to whether sex workers were trafficked. This reflects the dominance of public discourse about trafficking into prostitution. It does not however appear to be the case that sex workers identified as trafficked were generally treated with more leniency than others.
In 26 of the 82 cases (32%) there was discussion about the poverty the sex workers before the courts were in. It did not however appear to generally be the case that sex workers identified as being in poverty were treated more leniently by the courts. Being prosecuted for brothel keeping exacerbates poverty in a number of ways. In 27 (33%) cases property was seized. In 37 (45%) cases money was seized. In 47 (57%) cases the sex worker(s) were fined. In 13 (16%) cases the sex workers(s) were ordered to make a donation to charity or the court ‘poor box’.
In 22 of 82 of the cases (27%) we found it was stated that one or more of the sex workers being prosecuted was a mother. Further, in various cases it was highlighted that a sex worker was supporting other family members. We found many news reports that highlighted the plight of sex workers as mothers, such as the case of a sex worker who, upon being jailed for three months, reportedly asked the judge “If I am jailed, who is going to look after my nine-year-old child?”
It is generally understood that ‘brothel’ means two or more sex workers and, by working alone, sex workers can avoid the risk of being arrested and prosecuted for brothel keeping. However 15 of the 82 cases (18%) we found appeared to be prosecutions of a sex worker who had been working alone. One of the most damaging impacts of the brothel keeping laws is that many sex workers feel forced to work alone, despite the increased safety risks associated with lone working, in order to try to avoid being targeted by Gardaí.
Condoms as Evidence
In 11 of the 82 cases (13%) it appeared that condoms had been used as evidence of prostitution. The use of condoms as evidence of prostitution acts as a deterrent against condom use. It undermines the right of sex workers to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. It is also counter to public health. The practice of police using condoms as evidence of prostitution has been condemned by global health and human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS.
Brothel raids can result in sex workers being made homeless. In 4 of the 82 cases (5%) we found it was stated that the sex worker(s) being prosecuted were of ‘no fixed abode’.
In numerous cases we found the sex workers being prosecuted could be considered vulnerable persons for a variety of reasons, including ill health, HIV, drug addiction and being the victims of domestic violence.
Brothel raids can be the result of malicious reporting. In one of the cases we found it was stated that the raid was prompted by an anonymous tip-off that the sexual services of a 13-year-old girl were for sale. This tip turned out to be bogus. However two adult women were prosecuted for brothel keeping. Reports to UglyMugs.ie indicate that it is common for offenders to use the threat of Gardaí to facilitate their abuse of sex workers.
Being arrested and prosecuted for brothel keeping is likely to be a traumatic experience. In one case we found it was specified that the two sex workers’ apartment had been raided by a team of 10 Gardaí. In multiple other cases the arrest occurred following an interaction with a lone undercover Garda officer. In several of the cases we found the sex workers were described in court as crying and holding hands with each other. Brothel keeping arrests and prosecutions are a major factor in producing fear of Gardaí and reducing the likelihood that sex workers will report to Gardaí if they are a victim of crime or have information about crime.
Although the cases we found did not highlight any corruption, misconduct or crime committed by Gardaí, the brothel keeping laws produce circumstances where Gardaí can abuse their authority. In 2015 the Garda Ombudsman published a summary of one such case, where a sex worker alleged that she was raped by a Garda following her arrest for brothel keeping. No prosecution was directed against the Garda who alleged the sex was consensual. This case summary can be read on the Garda Ombudsman website here.