Laura Lee – Harm Reduction and HIV Ireland

Unless you’ve had your head in a microwave for the past number of years, you may have noticed that the world’s leading health authorities have come out in favour of decriminalisation of sex work. There’s a good reason for that, it’s because harm reduction has been shown to be hugely effective in the control and reduction of instances of HIV. A pretty compelling reason, I’d say. In a recently released report entitled “Ten Reasons to Decriminalize Sex Work”, we’re told that “decriminalisation of sex workers could lead to 46% decline in new HIV infections over next decade”. That’s powerful.

Woman unclips black bra from the front!

In Dublin, where I cut my teeth as a young and frankly terrible sex worker, there is a support service for sex workers, the Women’s Health Project. Many years ago now, I attended the clinic on a Thursday night and the service was good. STI and HIV testing, counselling available and as many condoms as you could carry. There was a solidarity amongst the women, and we shared information on problematic clients and cheered each other up with tales of the hirsute lawyer with a thing for baby oil.


As time goes on and my quest for better support for sex workers in Ireland continues, I have questions. Firstly, why would the manager of such a “support project” speak at the Irish Government Conference on the Future Direction of Prostitution Legislation in Dublin in October, 2012, and say that harm reduction makes her sick? Why would that same manager then start talking about trafficking and how wonderful the Immigration Council of Ireland and Ruhama are? It just doesn’t make sense to me. It can’t be because there was joint NGO funding for research, can it?

Diva and a bodybuilder

Further, why would a unit that purports to help sex workers carry literature from Ruhama, because all they’ll discuss is exit, (allegedly) and not from Sex Workers Alliance Ireland ? After all, at SWAI we’re fighting for better and safer working conditions, surely a HSE project would be onboard with that ? And finally, someone please explain why that manager would write a UCD thesis entitled “Linda Latham Harm Reduction is Not Enough; The Case for a Feminist Women’s Health Project”.

That such a vital service adopts a radical feminist perspective is nothing short of terrifying. Happily, there is an alternative. Formerly Dublin Aids Alliance, HIV Ireland are brilliant on harm reduction and also on a human rights based approach to sex work. Now at 70 Eccles Street, Dublin 7, you can pop in anytime for free condoms and on Wednesdays they run full STI screening services, with counselling available. HIV Ireland are a strictly non-judgemental provider and will respect your anonymity too. As I write this they are forming valuable partnerships which means that you can ask for a referral, should you need to. Sex workers, you know what to do. HIV Ireland’s website is linked for you here and at SWAI, we are looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership.

Laura Lee

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