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 Sex Work in Northern Ireland

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 Bill to ban paying for sex
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10th January
2014

 Offsite Article: Sex workers' reality is no toy for religious or other moralising...

Stormont Feminists and religious fundamentalists shouldn't mix. If they do find common cause, it's often a sign that ideological fanaticism has become more important than what happens to real people in the real world.

See article from prostitutescollective.net

 

21st February
2014

 Update: PC PCs...

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Nasty people in Northern Ireland push for men to be locked up just for wanting to get laid
police psni logo The Northern Ireland police force has withdrawn its opposition to proposals to criminalise men who pay for sex -- but stopped short of backing the plans, as they could deter people in the sex industry from giving information to the police.

The new law being proposed for Northern Ireland is based on repressive Swedish legislation.

Senior officers have also pointed out that most convictions in Sweden are achieved through phone tapping and surveillance of suspects -- which would not be allowed in Northern Ireland.

Giving evidence at a justice committee meeting yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said:

We don't oppose it... if the Assembly passes this legislation, we will use it to the best effect we can.

However, he pointed out that men who paid for sex were already risking ridicule and knew they were taking a risk so it is difficult to assess how much effect the threat of prosecution would have .

ACC Harris and Chief Superintendent Roy McComb, who also gave evidence, pointed out that it was already an offence to have sex with a person who had been trafficked and that ignorance was no defence.

Six men have so far been arrested for this offence, but none of them have been convicted because of a legal time limit on how long police have to bring charges. That limitation is now being removed and police are hopeful it will help secure future convictions.

 

22nd April
2014

 Update: A technology best reserved for more serious crimes...

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Government is not keen on plans to criminalise buying sex, seemingly because it would alert people to the mass surveillance of mobile phones
Ministry of Justice logo Legislation to criminalise men for buying sex in Northern Ireland would be unworkable because the devolved government at Stormont has no powers to authorise telephone bugging operations.

The region's justice minister, David Ford, has told the Guardian he is far from convinced over the plans because mobile intercepts, crucial in prosecutions in countries which have introduced the laws, are [supposedly] rarely used, even in cases against republican and loyalist terror groups.

Police would have to intercept all calls from clients to sex workers in the province, Ford warned. He claimed only a UK cabinet minister such as the Northern Ireland secretary had the power to sign off spying operations.

In response to Democratic Unionist assembly member Lord Morrow's attempt to introduce such a law via new human anti-trafficking legislation, Ford has established a commission to explore the extent of prostitution in Northern Ireland and the efficacy of the Swedish model. Ford told the Guardian:

I think there is far too little evidence to legislate in a hurry -- the research will tell us what the position is. But I am far from convinced that what is currently being suggested such as the Swedish model would work here.

One specific issue which has been raised with me is the fact that the Swedish model largely depends upon telephone intercept evidence. Telephone intercepts can be obtained by an officer more or less the equivalent of a police superintendent in Sweden. In Northern Ireland such telephone intercepts would have to be signed by the secretary of state and I think that is a very different situation.

Certainly in terms of the proportionality of such a process these intercepts are applied against serious cases such as terrorism not issued such as those relating to prostitution, and indeed even in the case of terrorist cases not very often.

And to be honest -- not that I would know! Because the National Security Agency cannot operate yet in Northern Ireland because of objections from nationalist politicians to it working here.

As I said before my understanding is that the only person here who could sign off and authorise the use of telephone intercepts to catch men in the act so to speak would be Theresa Villiers, the current secretary of state, or any future one.

The justice minister said he was concerned that any legislation directed at people who buy sex could make matters worse for those involved in prostitution.

The issue that concerns me as minister of justice is whether there is a need for legislation to make sure the law actually deals with the problem. What we need to do is to protect the women (because they are nearly all women involved in it) and assist those who want to get out of prostitution if they want out. And in particular, that we take strong action directed against those who are trafficking human beings for any purpose. The specific issue of a ban on the purchase of sexual services, and even that is an unclear phrase, is not where I think the priority needs to be at this point.

Meanwhile nasty Tory speaks out in favour of jailing men just for buying sex

See  article from  independent.co.uk

Caroline Spelman, the former Tory environment secretary, says buying sex from prostitutes should be criminalised. She also called on more male politicians to enter into a discussion on the reform of prostitution laws. (

Spelman said she supports the Nordic approach, used in Sweden, Iceland and Norway, which makes it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services. Speaking to The Guardian , she said it is important for more men to make their views clear on the issue, rather assuming that men would support her miserable cause.

 

21st October
2014

 Update: Is it all politicians can do, dream up new ways to imprison ordinary people?...

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Northern Ireland Assembly votes in laws to ban some people's sex lives, and to impoverish and endanger sex workers
Northern Ireland Assembly Around 17,000 men in Northern Ireland, 3% of the adult male population, pay for sex each year, according to new research.

The first report of its kind on prostitution found that criminalising prostitution here would put sex workers in greater danger, was unlikely to deter customers and almost impossible to police.

Queen's University questioned 171 sex workers online, 31 of which said they lived in Northern Ireland while 62 said they had sold sex here. Also quizzed were 446 people who had paid for sex, 51 of whom live here and 89 who had purchased it in Northern Ireland.

The research found:

  • 61% of sex workers thought changing the law would make them less safe;
  • 85% of sex workers believed outlawing the purchase of sex would not reduce sex trafficking;
  • 2% of prostitutes supported criminalising the purchase of sex;
  • 16% of clients said a change to the law would make them stop paying for sex.

Researches said there were around 350 sex workers available in Northern Ireland every day. The vast majority are online, with about 20 estimated to be involved in street prostitution, mostly in Belfast and Londonderry.

But of course the pleasures, livelihoods and safety of so many people means little to many selfish politicians who seem to enjoy putting other people in prison so they can feel good about their own equality or whatever.

Now paying for sex is to be banned in Northern Ireland after members at the Stormont assembly backed the proposal.

The human trafficking and exploitation bill was tabled before the assembly by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow.

The fate of the bill's contentious clause six, proposing the ban on purchasing sex, was uncertain at the outset of the debate, with Sinn Fein's decision to back the prohibition along with the DUP proving crucial. The clause was passed during the bill's consideration stage by 81 votes to 10 shortly after 11.30pm.

Stormont's justice minister, David Ford, leader of the cross-community Alliance party, opposed the clause.

While the legislation still has to pass further assembly stages, the significant majority support within the devolved administration means it is essentially now destined to become law.

 

24th October
2014

 Update: Endangering sex workers' lives and livelihoods...

The prostitutes Collective argues that pushing prostitution further underground will not abolish it nor help sex workers,
prostitutes collective logo Consenting sex is not a crime. Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution; it will push it further underground, making it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.

Most sex workers are mothers, mostly single mothers driven into the sex industry by lack of economic alternatives to prostitution: unemployment, poverty, low and unequal wages. Many are young women trying to pay extortionate rents, university fees, debts . . .

Where is End Demand's outrage at UK benefit cuts and sanctions which are hitting mothers and children hardest, at mothers skipping meals to feed their children or having to resort to food banks?

What they say about the Swedish model is misleading and hides the truth: 25% of Swedish single mothers now live in poverty compared to 10% seven years ago; sex workers who are mothers face losing their children; sex workers facing violence are now too afraid to go to the police for protection as the stigma of prostitution has increased.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on prostitution which last year recommended the criminalisation of clients, refused to look at any of that. They have also refused to disclose how many of those who submitted evidence to them actually agreed with the criminalisation of clients. John McDonnell MP has asked to see the submissions but the APPG has been unforthcoming so far. They also refused to look at how decriminalisation was working in New Zealand, and its positive impact of sex workers' health and safety.

End Demand quotes Alan Caton, Suffolk's former Chief Superintendent. But the murders of five women in Ipswich in 2006 were preceded by a police crackdown. So were the murders of three women in Bradford in 2009-2010. Sex workers were hounded and forced out of their established red light areas into bleak industrialised areas, away from the concerned eye of the community.

We are not the only ones to have noticed that crackdowns endanger women's lives. Mariana Popa, a young immigrant mother, was murdered on the streets of Ilford, London, last October, in the wake of a police crackdown against clients. Following her death, senior police officers raised concerns that operations to tackle prostitution are "counterproductive" and likely to put the lives of women at risk .

Chris Armitt, the national police lead on prostitution in England and Wales, also called for a review of enforcement tactics aimed at prosecuting prostitutes:

We are not going to enforce our way out of this problem. It simply won't work. I feel it would be good to allow a small group of women to work together, otherwise it creates a situation where they are working away from other human support. I think the disadvantages of working alone outweigh the advantages.

While more and more time and resources are being diverted into policing prostitution, rape and child abuse continue on a mass scale despite thousands of victims coming forward. Where were the police when children were being abused in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, and in children homes all over the country? Where were they when women and their children were killed by violent partners and ex-partners? Where are they now when the same perpetrators continue to avoid prosecution? What is their connection to the perpetrators whose crimes they have aided and abetted?

Increasing the powers of police to deal with prostitution has already resulted in more arrests, raids, stealing and seizing the earnings of sex workers, and other abuses of power and corruption. No one who is calling for the criminalisation of clients has shown any interest in this.

The North of Ireland Assembly has just voted to criminalise clients. But Scotland has refused and so has France. It is time to look at decriminalisation and that's what we are campaigning for.

 

28th October
2014

 Update: Paying to get screwed by the authorities...

How Northern Ireland politician passed yet another law that will be used to persecute innocent people, this time ordinary people who just want to get laid

Northern Ireland Assembly In an unusual coalition, the two main opposing parties of Northern Irish politics have joined forces to pass new legislation on human trafficking, with the result that clients of sex workers will now be criminalised in Northern Ireland. Until just before the late-night vote on Tuesday 21st October, it was unclear how Sinn Fein (the republican party, active in both Northern and the Republic of Ireland) would vote, and the bill was complex, with over 60 amendments. Clause 6 of the proposed Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) bill contains the provision to criminalise clients of sex workers. It is already an offence to purchase sex from a trafficked person in Northern Ireland.

Lord Morrow, a Member of the Legislative Assembly for the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) tabled this private members bill, which was opposed by the Justice Minister, David Ford on the basis that it did not adequately address consensual sex work. An in-depth piece of research, commissioned by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, was released in the days preceeding the vote, but despite its clear and decisive conclusions, 81 MLAs voted for Clause 6 (10 voted against). The Committee for Justice advising on the bill also visited Sweden to gain information about the Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients, and heard evidence of a trafficking victim in an informal meeting.

The research from Queen's University depicts a small but active sex work community in Northern Ireland, with an estimate of 350 sex workers active in the country per day, 20 of whom work outdoors. The report suggests that trafficking victims account for less than 3% of that number, fewer than 10 people. More than a third of clients surveyed believed that paying for sex was already illegal. Of the 171 sex workers questioned, less than 2% supported criminalisation of clients, 61% saying that it would make them less safe.

Northern Ireland has a population of around 1.8 million people, but the research noted that both clients and sex workers were highly mobile, and frequently borders were crossed both to the Republic of Ireland and other countries in Europe to engage in sex work.

Speaking to the BBC , one NI MLA explained that the law would be enforced using online surveillance, since according to him, people pay for sexual services using credit cards. The Police Service of Northern Ireland have so far refused to comment on how the legislation would be enforced, but sex workers are widely known to rarely accept online or credit card payment, partly because of the need for discretion, and partly since few third party payment providers will allow transactions of an adult nature. 

Dr Jay Levy, author of " Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden ", an in-depth analysis of 4 years of fieldwork on the subject, commented on the use of the Swedish model in Northern Ireland: "There is no evidence that levels of trafficking (or sex work) have declined since the criminalisation of the purchase of sex was introduced in Sweden in 1999, and the law has exacerbated danger and difficulties for sex workers. Northern Ireland's stating that this law will be used to target and reduce trafficking is nonsensical, given that there is no empirical data whatsoever to suggest it will have this effect, and given that the law is of great harm to sex workers'wellbeing and safety."

In France, politicians voted to criminalise clients, but the bill was struck down in July by the French Senate Select Committee. A bill to criminalise clients of sex workers was similarly considered in Scotland in 2013, but did not pass. The Northern Irish bill will also have to pass 3 further stages before becoming active legislation.

In November, MPs in England are scheduled to vote on an amendment to the Modern Slavery Act which would similarly criminalise clients of sex workers. An All Party Parliamentary Group was convened last year to consider the evidence regarding suitable legal provision for sex work. 

 

10th December
2014

 Update: Sex work just got more dangerous in Northern Ireland...

Stormont passes new law to criminalise men paying for sex
Northern Ireland Assembly A repressive new to endanger sex workers by banning paying for sex in Northern Ireland has passed its final stage in the Stormont Assembly.

The region will become the first part of the UK to introduce such oppressive restrictions of liberty when the Bill receives the formality of royal assent.

The law change, championed by Democratic Unionist Assembly member Lord Morrow, has been hailed by Christian groups but denounced by prostitutes' representatives.

The fate of the Bill's contentious clause six, proposing the ban on purchasing sex, was uncertain at the outset of a crunch debate in October, with Sinn Fein's decision to back the prohibition with the DUP proving crucial.

 

22nd March
2015

 Update: Northern Ireland Human Rights Abuse...

Sex worker to launch legal challenge of law criminalising the purchase of sex

laura lee A sex worker is to use human rights legislation to try to overturn a new law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to pay for prostitutes. Dublin-born law graduate Laura Lee is launching an unprecedented legal challenge that could go all the way to Strasbourg.

The region is the only part of the UK where people can be convicted of paying for sex. The law, which was pushed by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont assembly member Lord Morrow, comes into effect on 1 June.

Lee told the Guardian she will launch her case at the high court in Belfast in the same month as the law comes into effect. Lee said:

I am doing this because I believe that when two consenting adults have sex behind closed doors and if money changes hands then that is none of the state's business. The law they have introduced has nothing to do with people being trafficked but simply on their, the DUP's, moral abhorrence of paid sex.

I believe that after June 1st, sex workers' lives in Northern Ireland will actually be harder and the industry will be pushed underground.

Lee said her legal team would be referencing several articles of the European convention on human rights to challenge and overturn Morrow's law:

There are several articles that we can look starting with article 8 that governs the right to privacy. We will also focus on article 2 that concerns the right to life and we will argue that this law puts sex workers' safety by the fact the legislation will drive the trade further and further underground.

And then article 3 is about protection from degrading treatment, which is very relevant because in Scotland police have been subjecting sex workers to terrible things such as strip searching on women working in Edinburgh saunas. Our legal team will also refer to the right to earn a living enshrined in the European social charter.

Lee said she will fund the case partly via crowdfunding on social media networks and from sex worker campaign groups across the world.

Update: Progress report

1st June 2015. See  article from  theguardian.com

In a statement, Laura Lee said:

It is my intention to initiate a judicial review at Belfast's high court in respect of provisions contained in Lord Morrow's human trafficking bill. As a sex workers' rights advocate, I campaigned long and hard against this legislation because evidence from around the world shows us just what damage the Swedish model does. It places sex workers in grave danger and the bill as presented does not decriminalise us as has been claimed. Should it be illegal to pay for sex? Panel verdict Laura Lee, Julie Bindel, Margaret Corvid, Rahila Gupta Read more

The Dublin-born law graduate added:

True decriminalisation looks to repeal all of the nonsensical laws around sex work and allows us to work together for safety. That's not the case in Northern Ireland now, and it will certainly not be the case after 1 June. When two consenting adults meet to have sex then, whether money changes or not, the state has no right to interfere.

 

27th May
2015

 Update: Jailing Innocent People in Northern Ireland...

Law to jail men for buying sex comes into force on 1st June 2015

northern ireland executive logo From 1st June, 2015 a new law in Northern Ireland criminalising the purchase of sex will come into effect. This will make Northern Ireland the only region of the United Kingdom to adopt the repressive Nordic model, after a similar bill failed to pass in Scotland in 2013.

The bill was passed in Northern Ireland's Stormont assembly by 81 votes to 10 last October despite research commissioned by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland that concluded that Northern Ireland's adoption of the Nordic Model would not be in sex workers' best interests.

As we reported last year, the research from Queen's University found that trafficking victims account for less than 3% of people working in the sex trades, fewer than 10 people. More than a third of clients surveyed believed that paying for sex was already illegal. Of the 171 sex workers questioned, less than 2% supported criminalisation of clients, 61% saying that it would make them less safe.

A press release from the Northern Ireland Executive was published on 20th May. It said that:

Under section 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015, it will become an offence to obtain sexual services in exchange for payment, either by paying, or promising to pay, any person directly, or through a third party.

This replaces the offence of paying for the sexual services of a prostitute subjected to force, where it is currently unlawful to pay for the sexual services of a prostitute who has been exploited by a third party using force or threats. This offence, which is an offence whether or not the person buying the services knows of the exploitation, carries a maximum penalty of a level 3 (1,000) fine.

Under the new law, it will be illegal to obtain, for payment, sexual services from anyone, whether or not there is exploitation. The sexual services which will be illegal must involve the buyer being physically present with the seller and there must either be physical sexual contact or the seller must perform sexual acts where they touch themselves for the sexual gratification of the buyer.

Under the legislation, payment includes money or the provision of goods or services.

Anyone convicted under the new legislation can be sentenced to a maximum of one year's imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

It is not an offence to sell sexual services. The new law also removes criminality from loitering or soliciting for the purposes of offering services as a prostitute in a street or public place. It remains an offence to keep or manage a brothel.

 

4th November
2015

 Updated: Nasty law claims first victim...

Thankfully just one arrest so far under Northern Ireland's new law criminalising men and endangering sex workers
Northern Ireland The Times reports that new laws which have made it illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland have resulted in just one arrest.

Sex worker support groups said that the figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, proved that the measures could not be enforced.

The legislation, which came into effect in June means that sex workers are no longer able to make basic security checks such as getting to know who their customers are. Meanwhile it has the potential to destroy the lives of men and their families just for wanting to get laid.

Update: Populist law

4th November 2015. F rom thetimes.co.uk

The Northern Ireland justice minister has said he disagrees with plans to make it illegal to pay for sex in the Republic after The Times reported that just one man was prosecuted under similar legislation in the North.

David Ford said the laws, brought in after a vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly in June, were the result of populism rather than practicalism and are not useful.

 

8th June
2016

 Update: One Year On...

Nobody has fallen victim to Northern Ireland's new law criminalising men who buy sex
Northern Ireland No one has been charged under a nasty new law that makes it illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland, a year after it was introduced.

Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister, is about to introduce similar laws in the Republic of Ireland amid warnings that they are unenforceable and will put sex workers' lives at risk.

Anti-sex work groups claim that the laws would end demand for prostitution but critics argued that they would make sex workers' lives more dangerous by driving the trade underground and making them less likely to go to the police or hospital if something went wrong.

 

11th August
2016

 Update: It is the politicians that should be 'cautioned'... for endangering the lives of sex workers...

First victims of Northern Ireland's criminalisation of people who buy sex
pps northern irelandjpg logo Paying for sex has been illegal in Northern Ireland for over a year now and thankfully no one has so far been convicted for offences. However there have been two victims of the law who have been cautioned by police. This is an official sanction that is recorded on a person's criminal record. There are two cases also being considered for further action by Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

According to Northern Ireland police (PSNI), more than 800 men are paying for sex in Northern Ireland every day, but over the past year, only 10 men have been investigated by police. Out of the seven of those cases referred to the PPS, three were thrown out, two men received cautions while the remaining two cases are still being considered by a senior prosecutor.

Det Supt John McVea commented that greater priority is given to crimes involving trafficking rather than paying for sex:.

We have identified 60 people in the past year who have been the victims of human trafficking. That is a considerable number and we feel we have made a significant impact on human trafficking throughout Northern Ireland.

Paying for sex within this act is a not a priority, our priority is to target the human trafficking element and sexual exploitation.

[However] If we come across criminality we will address it, and that's where the ten cases have been referred to the PPS in the past year.

The lack of prosecutions has come as no surprise to David Ford, who was the Justice Minister when the law was introduced.

The challenge for police is how they actually produce evidence from what is, in effect, a consensual business relationship between two adults.

The DUP's Lord Morrow, who pushed for the new law threatened the PPS that questions will be raised if there are no prosecutions soon, perhaps noting that the effectiveness of the law will be reviewed in two years time. He said:

I look to the PPS to do what they are supposed to be doing, and if over the next 12 months there is no change we will be talking to the PPS to ask them to explain the reason why.

However sex workers have explained how they are endangered by the new law. Catriona told the BBC:

I'm not surprised there have been no prosecutions as it was always going to be difficult to get the evidence.

My clients are aware of the law and if anything it has left sex workers at greater risk, as it is harder to scan our clients.

They are reluctant to be upfront about who they are and that means we aren't sure who we are seeing or if they are genuine. Clients are more fearful they will be found out and will end up in court and have their names in the newspaper.

I think the police have better things to be doing than going after people who are having consenting sex.

Under the legislation, victims convicted of paying for sex will face a fine of 1,000 and up to a year in prison.

 

29th September
2016

 Update: Fighting for the right to work safely...

Laura Lee granted a hearing to seek a Judicial Review for a human rights challenge to Northern Ireland's law criminalising the purchase of sex
Old Bailey Laura Lee has won High Court permission to challenge a new law criminalising the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland. She was granted leave to seek a judicial review of Stormont legislation making it illegal for men to pay for prostitutes.

Laura Lee is a sex worker whose customers have been affected by the new law.

A judge ruled she has established an arguable case that amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her human rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.

A date for a full hearing of the unprecedented legal action will be set later this year.

Northern Ireland is currently the only UK region to make the purchase of sex a criminal offence.

The legislative change was introduced last year in a private member's bill brought before the Assembly by Democratic Unionist peer and Stormont MLA Lord Morrow.

Although it shifts the legal burden away from prostitutes, they believe it will put them at heightened risk from customers who will clearly shy away from providing identification and will seek locations more remote from police discovery.

 

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