The law on selling or buying sex
Selling sexual services is legal in Ireland in some circumstances.
However, it is against the law:
- To buy or offer to buy sexual services
- To sell or offer sexual services on a street or other public place
- Not to move if asked by a garda who suspects that you are loitering in a public place for the purposes of prostitution
- To operate a brothel or allow a brothel to be operated in premises that you own or lease
- To control or direct the activities of a sex worker and profit from doing so
- To compel or coerce someone to be a sex worker and profit from doing so
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 made important changes to the law on prostitution. It made paying for sexual services a criminal offence. Previously, paying for sexual services was only criminal if the sex worker was either a victim of trafficking or a minor. It also removed some of the criminal offences that were in place for selling sexual services.
Buying sexual services
It is an offence to pay, promise to pay, or give any other remuneration or compensation, to another person in exchange for “sexual activity”. If convicted, you could be fined €500 for a first offence, or €1000 for a second or subsequent offence. In addition, if the person is trafficked, higher penalties apply. If convicted by the Circuit Court, the maximum penalties are 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. It is a defence to any charge to prove that you did not know and had no reasonable grounds for believing that the sex worker was trafficked.
Sexual activity means any activity that a reasonable person would consider sexual. The law applies equally to men and women.
It is also an offence to request sexual services from another person in a public place in exchange for money. If found guilty, an offender could be fined up to €500 for a first offence, and up to €1,000 for a second or subsequent offence. In addition, you could be sent to prison for up to 4 weeks for a third or subsequent offence.
Offering to pay for sexual services from a person under 17 is a far more serious offence and a court can sentence an offender to up to 5 years imprisonment for making the request.
Selling sexual services
It is not an offence to receive money (or any other form of payment) in exchange for sexual services. However, it is against the law to advertise this service. It is also against the law to ‘solicit’ in a public place. Soliciting means offering sexual services to another person in exchange for money. A Garda who suspects that a person is loitering in a public place to solicit can ask that person to leave. Failure to comply with this direction is an offence.
Sex workers are also not allowed to work together in the same premises. For example, two sex workers who share an apartment and provide sexual services there are operating a brothel under the law.
Making money from another person’s sex work
It is against the law to profit from the sex work of another person, or to control or direct their activities for profit. This is commonly referred to as ‘pimping’, but may also include keeping a brothel.
It is a criminal offence to coerce a person to provide sexual services for your own financial benefit.
If found guilty of an offence under these laws, you could be fined up to €5000 and/or sentenced to up to 12 months in prison. For more serious charges, you could be sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
Organisations that can help
There are a number of organisations that offer services to sex workers in Ireland:
- The Sex Worker’s Alliance is an advocacy group for sex workers
- Ruhama offers support to women who are impacted by prostitution and sex trafficking
The contact details of these organisations are below.