Enforcing Northern Ireland’s New Swedish-Style Sex Purchase Law – A Sex Worker’s Story

Kate, a sex worker in Northern Ireland, shares her fears on how the new sex purchase ban will be enforced.

Ruth Jacobs

Guest post by Kate

Photo credit: Justin Grimes, Flickr Photo credit: Justin Grimes, Flickr

A rainy night in Belfast. Cold and wet with a wind whipping round the corners of the barren streets where women used to stand. How things have changed. A decade ago, even on such a horrible early winter’s night, there would have been activity, but the law changed and drove the women away. Many moved inside, others stood in darker corners by derelict houses or under battered trees in city parks, waiting for the cars.

Now, the law’s about to change again. Protesting that they don’t want to criminalise the women – just the men who seek out the women – the gentle Sinn Fein folk demanded that the old rule against loitering for the purposes of prostitution be struck down.

We talked about this, a few of us, at the quaintly but tautologically-named Commercial Sex-workers’ Clinic recently. The wonderful woman and man who run the service…

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Sex Workers Oppose Northern Ireland Bill and End Demand Campaign to Criminalise Clients

From The English Collective of Prostitutes

Pushing prostitution further underground will not abolish it nor help sex workers.

It will endanger sex workers’ lives and livelihoods.

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.”’ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/19/woman-killed-prostitute-police-blame

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. 

#NoClause6 | Sex workers protest in Northern Ireland

Research Project Korea

Interview with sex workers’ rights activist Laura Lee at Stormont Parliamentary Buildings, Belfast.
© 2014 Matt Lemon Photography | Please read the copyright notice

What is Clause 6?

No Clause 6 anigif 150Clause 6 is part of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Billin Northern Ireland, proposed by Lord Morrow from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. With Clause 6, the DUP aims to “create a new offence of purchasing sexual services to reduce demand for trafficked individuals and combat exploitation” and proposes to amend the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 to criminalise any and all purchases of sexual services, regardless of consent between the individuals involved.

On Monday, October 20, 2014, sex workers and allies protested against Clause 6 at the Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast where parliamentarians debated over the more than 60 amendments before a vote…

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