Eilís Ward
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Who is protecting who and what? The Irish state and the death of women who sell sex
A historical and contemporary analysis
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In 2013 the Irish state changed its laws on prostitution to criminalise the buying and partially criminalise the selling of sex. Drawing from radical feminism, the law posits sex work as violence against women to which no woman can meaningfully consent, casting the state as protecting all women from such violence. This chapter argues that the change was a defining moment in the state’s relationship with sex workers and continues its instincts to suppress certain women since its foundation, expressed in institutions such as Magdalen Laundries. It manifests moral and psychic discomfort about the sex worker’s presence, traceable to early statehood, when female sexuality was viewed as belonging exclusively within heteronormative marriage. This chapter critiques radical feminism’s deliverance to the state of power to produce and police codes to protect women and a symbolic notion of the (desirable) female. Following Brown’s critique of protective legislation and policies which intensify the vulnerability and degradation of some women, it frames the new law within critiques of the validation by ‘carceral feminism’ of punitive foreign and domestic policy goals and increasing border securitisation, concluding that the law produces and institutionalises the very kind of woman it seeks to repudiate – the helpless, female victim.

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Legacies of the Magdalen Laundries

Commemoration, gender, and the postcolonial carceral state


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