Irish Advertising Agency EightyTwenty has begun a controversial campaign using Tinder to promote a group that seeks to fight sex trafficking and criminalise all sex work in Ireland.
The campaign uses fake Tinder accounts showing actors whose photos go from happy and normal to visibly abused, restrained, or underage as the user swipes through the profile.
The campaign, which unites the Immigrant Council of Ireland and many other nonprofit organisations under the banner Turn Off The Red Light, says its goal is "to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland."
The campaign's website states: "We believe that the best way to combat sex trafficking and prostitution is to tackle the demand for paid sex by criminalising the purchase of sex."
But as The Verge points out, the campaign seems to conflate consensual sex work with sex trafficking. Turn Off The Red Light's website refers to a 2007 report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland titled "Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution – The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland" to make its case: "Any thought that women who are involved in prostitution in Ireland have made a free choice, and are engaging in commercial transactions from which they are benefiting, will be dispelled by this report."
Meanwhile, the criminalisation of all sex work in Northern Ireland was opposed by 98% of sex workers there. The so-called "Swedish model" law targets consumers rather than providers of sex work, but sex workers claim that such a law would put them in greater danger, and does little to combat trafficking.
The terms also state: "Organizations, companies, and/or businesses may not use the Service or the Service for any purpose. "
Denise Charlton, the Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, shared a statement on the EightyTwenty blog: "The Immigrant Council of Ireland is committed to using every possible opportunity to increase awareness about the activities of the thugs behind these crimes and the impact on their victims...It is important that men of all ages who buy sex are made aware of the consequences of their actions. We are delighted to partner with the team at eightytwenty to bring this important message to an audience which is difficult to reach through traditional media."
BuzzFeed News reached out to EightyTwenty and the Turn Off The Red Light campaign for comment.
Jerry O’Connor of the Immigrant Council of Ireland stressed to BuzzFeed News: "We provide support to those who are attempting and have left prostitution rather than being ‘anti’ them. As a member of the Turn off the Red Light Campaign we are also working to ensure that those in prostitution would not be criminalised – it would be the buyers."
When asked whether the Immigrant Council takes the view that there is such a thing as consensual sex work, O'Connor responded: "The Immigrant Council of Ireland is a frontline Independent Law Centre working in this area – it is our experience that the numbers of ‘happy hookers’ are small. Irish police, the Gardaí, support our view and have testified that most money raised in prostitution goes to criminal gangs foreign and domestic."
Cathal Gillen, of EightyTwenty, added that: "As it’s a PSA campaign we felt it would be okay to use Tinder to communicate such an important message that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in traditional media. Tinder allowed Amnesty International use a fake profile previously too. The fact that so many men have responded positively to the profiles on Tinder also shows that we didn’t ruin their Tinder experience."