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Current Sex Purchasing Legislation Sees An Increase In Sex Trafficking By 26%

The current law which criminalises those looking to purchase sex has seen an increase in sex trafficking and is actively harming the mental health of sex workers in Northern Ireland, according to a new report.

Demand for sex work has not decreased following client criminalisation, says Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI).

A report compiled by the Department of Justice has revealed that the current legislative model that regulates the purchasing of sex in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose. 

Introduced in March 2017, section 25 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 made it illegal to purchase sex in Northern Ireland. 

Taking notes from the Nordic model, the 2017 law means that workers can still sell sex with no legal implications, but are now penalised for operating in groups.

This means that sex workers must forego working in pairs – even for security reasons – to ensure full compliance with the law. 

This, according to the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI), drives the trade further underground and puts sex workers at increased risk of attack.

“This report commissioned by the Department of Justice shows that there has not been a decrease in demand for sex work since the introduction of client criminalisation (also known as the Nordic Model) in Northern Ireland in 2015," Kate McGrew, current sex worker and spokesperson for SWAI said today.

"Instead, we have seen an increase in sex trafficking by 26% and the health of sex workers put at risk.”

She continues: “Sex workers in Ireland tend to work both jurisdictions so a lot of the findings in this report will be applicable to the Republic of Ireland. If the purpose of the law was to decrease demand it has failed. If the purpose of the law was to help sex workers it has failed.

"In the north, it led to massive increase in advertising (on one site alone over 1700 new ads) and demand (in one jurisdiction by 134%) and a 200% increase threatening behaviour in clients. In the south, it led to an increase in violent crime against sex workers by 92%.

"Gardaí have an increasingly antagonistic approach to sex workers since the change in the law in 1993. Policing consensual sex work does not reduce trafficking and is a waste of resources. 

"The law has put the mental health of sex workers at risk by causing an increase in threatening behaviour. This was predicted by sex workers, who were ignored during the process of introducing the laws. The law has increased our marginalisation and stigmatisation. We deserve better than this."

When the new legislation was originally introduced, 98% of sex workers voted against the change.

Irish Tatler spoke to McGrew earlier this year to define the logistical implications of the law change. 

“The part of it that is so frustrating that I, for example, could not pay for somebody – while I’m doing my job – to watch my door. We have safety mechanisms and they're kind of crude and inventive because they have to be ... That’s why we fight for what we fight for, because we want marginally safer spaces. 

“We're explaining, very clearly, how further criminalisation makes everything much worse and we have found that when we explain these things to people, they go, “I never thought of that.”.

“A couple of years ago, there was all this stuff in the news about a ‘red light district’ cropping up in the area, so my colleague and I went down to talk to people involved to try help.

"Then neighbours started calling and police started coming and the group which had been there had just upped and left. And now, nobody knows where those girls are.”

SWAI promotes the human rights, equality & participation of sex workers. They can be contacted via: [email protected] / 085 824 9305

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