Mixed reaction to cash-for-sex ban

Published: Tuesday 21st October 2014 by The News Editor

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A landmark ban on paying for sex in Northern Ireland has been hailed by Christian groups but denounced by prostitutes’ representatives.

The region will become the first part of the UK to back such a clamp down after Stormont Assembly members supported the contentious move in a vote late last night.

The proposal to outlaw purchasing sex was among a number of clauses contained in a Bill aimed at amending Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution.

Paid-for consensual sex is currently legal in Northern Ireland, though activities such as kerb crawling, brothel keeping and pimping are against the law.

A ban will see the region implement a prohibition similar to the model operating in Sweden.

The Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland praised the bill as a “significant step in the right direction”.

However, a statement issued by sex workers said they were “devastated” and claimed the move would drive the trade further underground, making it more dangerous.

David Smyth, from the Evangelical Alliance NI said: “While no Bill is perfect, and legislation can only take us so far, this is a significant step in the right direction.

“This is ‘unfinished business’ for Christians, carrying on the work of William Wilberforce to this day.”

He added: “Sadly, there are an estimated 29.8 million people in slavery today – more than were transported during the slave trade. Our hope is that this law will lead to Northern Ireland becoming a world leader in tackling human trafficking.”

The statement issued by campaign group Ugly Mugs on behalf of Northern Ireland sex workers said: “This new bill will only drive sex work further underground and make it more dangerous for the most marginalised sex workers.”

It added: “We ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconsider this law and look at the evidence. This law will not reduce trafficking and will make working conditions more unsafe.”

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.

In the end the clause was passed during the Bill’s consideration stage by a significant majority of 81 votes to 10.

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 sizeable support within the devolved administration means it is essentially now destined to become law.

Research published by Queen’s University in Belfast last week said about 17,500 men pay for sex in Northern Ireland every year.

Sex workers opposing the clause and a trafficking victim in support of the ban were among those at Parliament Buildings in Belfast to watch yesterday’s marathon debate.

Published: Tuesday 21st October 2014 by The News Editor

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