Dublin Brothel Pickets - Stigma is Not the Solution


Why have there been pickets outside massage parlours on Dorset St? Do they really pose any danger? Do these protests help those who work there, or actually make them more afraid and isolated? Watch the video below.


You might have heard about a group of residents in Dublin's north inner city protesting against local massage parlours over the summer. This video shows a dozen people picketing Dorset Street.

The protesters say that the massage parlours are brothels and they don't want them in their area. They say that more and more such brothels are opening in that section of the city, and that it has to stop.

Why? This Solidarity Times reporter, who disagrees, spoke to one protester to find out.

To be transparent, this was done as an informal chat – only afterwards did the importance of making a video report on this impress upon me. So, please in the interest of fairness bear that in mind.

Why Protest?

Before we begin, for the record, Dorset Street is not a red light district in any formal capacity.

Now, to summarise, the protester made 2 basic points. Firstly, that they wanted to clean up the area. Secondly, that this kind of situation isn't let happen in south Dublin, or more affluent areas.

On the first point, it was underlined that they didn't want 'seedy men' hanging around the area, and also for the area to become more dangerous. Being a parent, they were concerned for their child. However, when asked if a greater danger had accompanied more massage parlours, the protester honestly replied that the danger had in fact not increased.

On the second point, they exasperatedly pointed out that Dorset St. not being a wealthy or trendy area was effectively being used a dumping ground for social ills, and certainly not for the first time. It was noted that the massage parlours had a depreciative affect on local property prices.

Surprisingly, this particular protester took pains to make clear that their issue wasn't with sex work itself as a job, which is what one would first expect. They stated that it shouldn't be criminalised, nor could it be gotten rid of entirely, just that it should happen elsewhere. Similar effort was put into maintaining that this wasn't simply a case of NIMBYism, or 'Not In My Back Yard'.

Misdirected Frustration

At first it is hard not to sympathise with this protest, the initiative of 2 local residents associations. However, on further inspection it is very misguided.

The protester made another point about the women working in the massage parlours not being safe. But after some questions this point was dropped as it clearly can't be the reason for the protest. Why? The reason is that picketing the premises will not make a sex worker's life easier in any way. The stigma around sex work pushes workers into secrecy and away from the helping hand of wider society. This only plays into the hands of exploitative bosses and predatory customers.

But unfortunately the protest is very much about sex work as a job. Sex work continues to bear the baggage of disgust and moral disapproval heaped upon it by an intensely conservative religious society, steeped in sexism. Sex work isn't acknowledge as real work, and sex workers are treated as brainless victims who should be forced to do 'what's best for them'. There remains a huge negative emotional reflex against sex work.

The truth is that sex workers are workers like the rest of us – and you most likely know one, even if you don't know it. They need money to eat, pay rent, and watch movies, and they can make a decision like the best of us. They are exploited, yes. But so is the McDonald's burger flipper, the nurse, the Dublin City Corporation street sweeper, the social worker, the programmer, and any other working class person who works for another. Who can say that the sex worker sells their body but the brick layer, slick with laborious sweat, doesn't? It might be icky to some, but brick laying is indeed a job.

Are some sex workers trafficked? Yes. But this is true of agriculture and several other industries. Sex work is not human trafficking.

Legislator in the Streets, Persecutor in the Sheets

Earlier in year, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 slipped under the radar. The Nordic or Swedish Model of sex work was now law, pushed through by an unlikely alliance of liberal feminists and religious conservatives in the Turn Off the Red Light campaign – including an order of nuns who ran the Magdalene Laundries. If you don't want laws to sneak by you again, then watch out for the grassroots Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. In a trick many of us will have seen used before, especially in the United States, the sex work legislation was tacked onto a bill dealing with child pornography and grooming.

To synopsise, the Nordic model of sex work means criminalising buyers but not sellers. This sounds great in theory, but yet almost every sex worker is against it. For example 98% against it in a northern poll. The reason is clear - it makes sex workers' lives worse. It pushes them underground, undermines their safety, and makes them poorer. Money being why they went into the trade in the first place. You can't criminalise one end without effectively criminalising the other. And extensive research has shown that the Nordic model doesn't even decrease demand for sexual services as it is supposed to, merely increasing the supply of rape, battery, and HIV.

While the Catholic Church have been somewhat pushed back on LGBT and reproductive rights, their talons are still firmly dug into the shoulders of sex workers.


The protesters are of course right that wealthier areas of the city are better attended to by politicians, because money talks in this society. But picketing the workplace of an already highly ostracised group of workers is not the right approach. As put to the protester at the time, the problem is not sex work, but this economic system which forces people to do things to make money. If we want to make sex workers safer and freer, we should make sex work decriminalised, give them the respect they deserve, and sex workers should run their own business without bosses, A.K.A. pimps.

You know well that here at the Solidarity Times, we love a good protest. But sex workers didn't make Dorset Street run down and neglected. Sex workers didn't push people into negative equity. And sex workers didn't make people feel powerless and left behind. That was the political and economic elite. So let's not push them into the shadows, by intimidating them at work. We all know that work is hard enough as it is.