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February 09, 2018

Irish Sex-Worker Rights Activist Laura Lee Dies Suddenly

NORTHERN IRELAND—Laura Lee, a longtime escort, law school graduate and advocate for sex-worker rights, died suddenly on Wednesday at the age of 39, according to her daughter—just weeks before her hard-fought challenge to a Northern Irish anti-prostitution law is scheduled to get its day in court. Lee began battling the law in 2014, when it passed and made it a crime to pay for sex in Northern Ireland. No cause of death was made public. In an online biography, Lee described herself as “a passionate sex workers' rights advocate and campaigner and an award winning blogger, mother of one, cat lover and terrible cook,” in addition to her occupation as a sex worker for 24 years. Lee argued that by criminalizing the clients of escorts, the law placed escorts in greater danger by forcing their clients into greater degrees of anonymity.  “In a sense the law is actually putting sex workers at greater risk than before, when there was some ability to trace and track down any client that was violent and abusive,” Lee told Britain’s Observer newspaper in an April 2017 interview. “The law to protect women in the sex trade has done the opposite of what it was intended to do.” The law is the only such legislation in the United Kingdom to make paying for sex itself a crime.  Lee was originally from Dublin, but lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, and worked as an escort there as well as in Belfast and Dublin. In a statement, the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland paid tribute to Lee on Thursday, saying that its members were “heartbroken and devastated at the loss of our dear friend, colleague and SWAI board member Laura Lee.” With Belfast High Court set to hear Lee’s challenge to the law, her Belfast-based lawyer, Ciaran Moynagh, said that her campaign to see the legislation overturned will continue. “In the face of much opposition she maintained great dignity,” Moynagh said. “Laura Lee will be remembered as one of this country’s most fearless human rights advocates and we are committed to continuing her work.” Lee said in interviews that she had been subject to a steady stream of abuse for her stance in favor of sex-worker rights. “They would say things like, ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ or else religious people would tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell,” Lee recounted. Photo of Laura Lee from a JustGiving fundraiser to cover her funeral expenses

 
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