Murder of Geila Ibram: We must focus on the perpetrators of violence against women
Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Ruhama, SERP (Sexual Exploitation Research Programme) and the National Women’s Council are horrified and deeply saddened by the news of the violent attack and murder of Geila Ibram. We offer our deepest condolences and sympathies to her family, children, friends and loved ones at this incredibly sad time.
Although details are still sparse at the moment, Geila’s story reminds us of so many in the Irish sex trade – young, migrant, new to Ireland and with small children to support. Young women from Central & Eastern Europe, and Romania in particular, are disproportionately overrepresented in the Irish sex trade and many are young mothers. More often than not it is desperate economic circumstances that drive them to sell sex, but often others are profiting from their involvement in prostitution too – including pimps, traffickers, prostitution organisers and advertisers.[ii]
Geila’s murder highlights once again how the sex trade is inherently violent, dangerous, and harmful. Sex buyers, pimps and traffickers prey on vulnerable victims, exploiting them and putting them at risk of serious violence. Tragically in this instance it has culminated in death.
Women in prostitution are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women who are not[iii] – in fact, all around the world, women in prostitution experience the highest rates of homicide of any group of women ever studied.[iv] Every sex trade in every jurisdiction is rife with violence, regardless of the laws that are in place. This is certainly the case in Ireland, where violence against women has been found to be endemic to the sex trade – used by sex buyers, pimps and organised criminals alike as a means to control women or ensure that they bend to their will.[v]
In 2022, the Government, in its new Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, pledged to address prostitution as a form of violence against women and girls and offer women sustainable routes out of the sex trade.[vi] As with all forms of violence against women, we must shine a spotlight on its perpetrators. Geila was not murdered by the law, as some seem to be suggesting – she was murdered by a man, allegedly a sex buyer, who attacked her with a knife.
It is against the law to purchase sex in Ireland, but not to sell sex. Countless women in prostitution have told us that they face serious and sometimes extreme physical and sexual violence from the sex buyers they encounter – buyers are responsible for the largest proportion of violence women experience whilst in prostitution.[vii] Therefore, calls for sex buyers, and the pimps and organisers that profit from prostitution, to be fully decriminalised and allowed to operate with impunity simply make no sense. In fact, calls such as this do a grave injustice to the women and girls being assaulted, exploited and harmed in the sex trade right now.
Evidence from around the world demonstrates that decriminalising sex buyers, pimps and prostitution organisers expands the sex trade and the violence and other grave human rights abuses that accompany it.[viii] The answer is not to go removing all laws relating to prostitution and allowing the market to grow – instead, we need the laws we already have in place to work better for women in prostitution[ix] – to be implemented properly to enhance women’s safety, and for policing to be better resourced so they can more effectively tackle their key targets within the trade – sex buyers, pimps, traffickers and prostitution organisers.
We remain extremely concerned about the increase in the levels of violence against women in prostitution being reported in recent years – just one such case resulted in the conviction of a sex buyer last month for violent assaults on two escorts.[x] It is vital that victims and survivors impacted by prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation receive adequate support and that justice is pursued to prosecute violent perpetrators in every instance.
The sad loss of yet another young woman in violent circumstances brings insurmountable heartbreak to Geila’s family and significant fear to her community. We need to ensure zero tolerance for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Tackling commercial sexual exploitation is key to combatting and eradicating violence against women. We must do everything we can to tackle Ireland’s highly exploitative sex trade and the perpetrators of violence within it, before another woman’s life is lost.
Breslin, R., Latham, L., and O’Connor. M., 2021. Confronting the Harm: Documenting the Prostitution Experiences and Impacts on Health and Wellbeing of Women Accessing the Health Service Executive Women’s Health Service. Dublin: SERP. https://www.ucd.ie/geary/newsevents/news/text,597027,en.html
[iii] Potterat, J., et al, 2004. Mortality in a long-term open cohort of prostitute women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 159, 778-785.
[iv] UNODC, 2018. Global Study on Homicide – Gender-related Killing of Women and Girls https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/GSH2018/GSH18_Gender-related_killing_of_women_and_girls.pdf
[v] O’Connor, M., and Breslin, R., 2020. Shifting the Burden of Criminality: An Analysis of the Irish Sex Trade in the Context of Prostitution Law Reform. Dublin: SERP. https://www.ucd.ie/geary/newsevents/news/text,523382,en.html
[vi] DSGBV Strategy: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/fb746-zero-tolerance/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/ZeroTolerance/ (last retrieved 09/04/23)
[vii] O’Connor and Breslin, 2020; op cit.
[viii] See for example: Walby, S., et al, 2016. Study on the Gender Dimension of Trafficking in Human Beings. Luxembourg: European Commission. https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/b2412e8e-eb82-11e5-8a81-01aa75ed71a1; O’Connor, M., 2018. The Sex Economy. UK: Agenda Publishing.
[ix] The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2017 decriminalised persons selling sex, whilst criminalising those who purchase it and increasing the penalties related to organising prostitution.
[x] https://www.independent.ie/regionals/kerryman/news/kerry-farmer-jailed-for-a-year-for-assaults-on-sex-workers-42390273.html (last retrieved 09/04/23)