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The Problem with Criminalizing Sex Workers’ Clients

Kate McGrew
3:02

Rights, not rescue.

That’s been the demand from sex workers around the world for decades—and yet a growing movement to abolish sex work is not listening.

Countries like Sweden, Norway, Canada, Northern Ireland, and France have made it a crime to purchase, but not sell, sexual services. This “partial” criminalization, which posits sex workers as victims and their clients as exploiters, still leads to complete harms. It forces sex work to take place underground, away from safety and services.

After just six months of partial criminalization in France, sex workers report having to work longer hours for less pay and accept clients they previously would have rejected. Now, Ireland is considering adopting a similar approach. 

Thankfully, advocates like Kate McGrew, the coordinator at Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, are making sure sex workers are heard. She and her allies advocate for labor rights and health services, which cannot be fully realized under criminalization.

As she describes in the video above, McGrew sees a future in which sex workers “live and work with dignity, free from stigma and violence.”

Sex Workers Alliance Ireland is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations. At Open Society is a video series highlighting the people and ideas that are inspiring our work—and changing the world.

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