Human Trafficking: No one is helped by a fevered moral crusade that promises the earth and delivers nothing

Whatever the liberal media think of the Assembly, it looks like it may be about to score a first and produce its very own indigenous piece of legislation, intriguingly for an Executive of all the parties, through the means of a private members bill.

Perhaps that’s because the Minister for Justice shares a concern with the police that the result of Lord Morrow’s human trafficking legislation will be to dilute police resources and drive the problem of trafficked individuals further from detection, rather than, as the DUP MLA believes, cutting off demand.

The ennobled DUP MLA is not keen on public servants (or from the tone of last night’s debate, any dissenting criticism of his prefered approach) contributing to any public debate outside the Assembly. In a statement to the press yesterday he rounded on critics of his bill within the police, even threatening them with action:

The Police Ombudsman should also conduct a review of the current activity by the police in publicly opposing my Bill to establish if Article 1.6 of the PSNI Code of Ethics has been breached; which states: “Police officers shall not take any active part in politics”.

Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the very focus of the Assembly on human trafficking was welcomed by some victims.

At the core of Lord Morrow’s proposed changes is the simple move to (and likely to be persuasive from a socially conservative viewpoint)  make prostitution criminal rather than just illegal as it currently is. Here’s the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s submission:

At present, it is illegal in NI to pay for the sexual services of a prostitute of any age where the prostitute has been subject to exploitation.  This provision goes further than Article 19 of the CoE  Convention and Article 18(4) of the EU Directive by eliminating the requirement for ‘knowledge’. However, the Commission notes that as of September 2012, there have been no convictions for this offence.

After conducting an extensive evaluation of the UK, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (‘GRETA’) published a report in September 2012, in which it noted that, ‘the UK authorities have recognised that this offence is difficult to prove and is generally charged when accompanying other more serious offences’. [emphasis added]

So Lord Morrow’s gambit here is to make prostitution a more serious offence thereby hoping to game the police into taking it more seriously than they currently do. That’s based on an expectation of evincing a new draconian approach to law enforcement in a society within which some political parties have a decidedly checkered record of upholding the law, or supporting the police.

Aside from his party’s voluble criticism of the police, beyond the need for coordination and copious references to the almost religiously law abiding nation of Sweden, one of the few EU countries to go down this route, there was little discussion on the allocation of resources necessary for them to carry out the degree of work needed to make Lord Morrow’s proposed law effective.

However, as we have seen from the apparent underinvestment in the investigation of child sex abuse (which is itself already a highly criminal activity), making something criminal does not, as the DUP’s Jim Wells appeared to believe, ‘end the risk’ of it actually taking place.

The trafficking of humans, the supposed centre of the bill’s concerns, is well worth focusing on. UKIP’s sole MLA in Stormont, David McNarry was the last speaker before the nine o’clock deadline last night, and he rightly pointed out that this is largely a local problem, concerning the criminal behaviour of local people.

The European Directorate General for Home Affairs notes that whilst there is a strong overlap between human trafficking and the sex industry, but it is far from total:

Women and children are particularly affected: women and girls represent 56 % of victims of forced economic exploitation and 98% of victims of forced commercial sexual exploitation. Children are also trafficked to be exploited for begging or illegal activities, such as petty theft.

In its precise context, associated with the sex trade or not, human trafficking is a discrete form of modern slavery.

It may be done through grooming tactics, and coercion rather than through out and out captivity as such. In our post conflict society the acute sense of danger necessary for such coercion to be effective is easy to create.  Those participating accommodate to terrifying demands, and this extraordinary state of affairs quickly becomes ‘normalised’.

Often as not, trafficking takes place outside the classic outward structures of prostitution, the jargon and the terminology that many of us grew up with don’t apply as cleanly some MLAs appear to believe.

With the help of Sinn Fein (who are hardly in a position to say no) and the two other Executive parties he may expect to get this over the win line with the minimum of liberal fuss and nonsense [or should that be nonce sense? – Ed].

What the victims need is for the Assembly to focus seriously on the real problems of human trafficking. It helps no one for the Assembly to become embroiled in a fevered moral crusade that promises the earth and delivers nothing to those least powerful in our society.

, , ,

  • FDM

    Can ANYONE provide me with statistics and evidence that outlines human trafficking to be a sizeable issue in this region?

    I have asked for this from the relevant people pumping this law and they don’t seem to be able or to want to come up with the goods.

    Looking objectively this looks like a not too elaborate ruse for religious fundamentalists to forward their skewed agenda. I think a lot of the politicos are running from this because it is difficult to defend prostitution and ultimately it is a vote loser to even try.

  • cynic2

    “The Police Ombudsman should also conduct a review of the current activity by the police in publicly opposing my Bill to establish if Article 1.6 of the PSNI Code of Ethics has been breached; which states: “Police officers shall not take any active part in politics”.

    Absolutely. Who do they think they are challenging the expert knowledge of a Dungannon Estate Agent on prostitution and human trafficking.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well FDM, forced labour and human trafficking is very much a reality. But to what degree is uncertain. It is hard to quantify what you have not been looking for. JRF noted in a report earlier this summer ( that some pretty basic work remains to be undertaken in this area:

    Consensus is needed on forced labour indicators for assessing the scope and scale of forced labour in the UK, and to assist legal proceedings. Relatively little case law exists.

    There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the problem exists. And much of the bill is well grounded. It’s potentially fatal flaw is the unintended consequences that may flow from enacting a broad change in the law in order to tackle a very narrow set of offending behaviours.

  • aquifer

    This could backfire spectacularly, restricting PSNI access to vulnerable people and allowing paramilitaries, who are accustomed to illegality threats violence and murder to run the business in the shadows.

    So do the PSNI think Mr Morrows idea is daft?

  • cynic2

    Clearly they do but they have to shut up because exposing political nonsense is illegal- he claims

  • Zig70

    This is a media party feeding a zealot which will result in nothing except wasting my money. It seems to be presumed that any foreign prostitute is trafficked. I don’t know anyone who uses prostitutes and at £80/half hr (so I’m told) 😉 it must be only public servants and lawyers who are able to afford them. There should be a punishment for creating law that doesn’t work as intended or diverts resources from higher occurring crimes. Data please, and we should discount people who claim to be trafficked once caught.

  • IJP

    Great last line.

    It all looks a bit too much like a “Criminalising Prostitution Bill” rather than a true “Human Trafficking” one.

    But I could be persuaded of its merits yet – just not by moral crusaders and anti-democrats who reject any form of dissent.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, the legislation is some way away yet. It has to pass through committee stage etc.

    I can’t support the criminalization of prostitution. Despite creating a whole new raft of criminals for the police to worry about on top of all the other things they have to deal with, it’ll either go unenforced or drive prostitution underground. But apart from anything else, if two consenting adults acting freely want to enter into some sort of a contract it is hardly a criminal matter. I doubt this particular measure will get past the assembly.

  • Kevsterino

    I can’t believe there are still people around who believe the solution is making prostitutes criminals.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Much as I dislike saying it FDM is about right here.

    In the Assembly today the justice minister pointed out that during this three years in office the justice department had received no contacts from anyone expressing concern about trafficking – not the police, no statutory bodies, nobody.

    Sure, it’s a nasty problem and anything that can be done to reduce whatever trafficking is going on will be a good thing. But the assembly’s time is being focused on a problem that is further down the pecking order. Meanwhile, paramilitary organizations are extorting, intimidating, and making people’s lives a misery on a daily basis. Why isn’t there a private member’s bill about that problem ?

  • Harry Flashman

    “I can’t believe there are still people around who believe the solution is making prostitutes criminals.”

    On the contrary I believe the intention is to criminalise the “johns” rather than the prostitutes, I stand to be corrected on this.

    As CS states no one will stand up against this absurd infringement on civil liberties and like the attempt to “ban” porn on the internet it will be steamrollered through on a high tide of moral righteousness in an unholy coalition of radical feminists and God-bothering fundamentalists.

    Everyone is against prostitution, right? No one ever, ever looks at pornography, right? So let’s rush through an ill thought-out piece of legislation that sends the state back into the bedrooms of consenting adults, from which we were supposed to have banished them a half a century ago.

    I mean what could possibly go wrong?

    Next thing we should start banning substances that are currently legal but which give people the sort of high that the Daily Mail disapproves of, after that we’ll get the government to start watering down the booze ‘coz we have to knock that on the head, ban over-large soft drinks, outlaw smoking, whee-heee the moral majority are going to have a lot of fun with this!

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ve an open mind on whether there is an actual need for this legislation, but whether or not the minister has heard of any complaints about the trafficking of girls for sexual favours, I don’t think there’s much doubt it happens.

    We’ve certainly seen enough damage emerge from historic cases to know that it has in the past, and nothing I know of has happened to suggest that such behaviours have just suddenly stopped of their own accord.

    Unless you are going to legalise and regulate prostitution, we can be pretty sure that it only works by a large degree of coercion, even where it concerns relations between adults above the age of legal consent.

    This is difficult territory. Johns don’t have a legal right to purchase access to a woman’s body, nor pimps a legal right to hire her out. Indeed these are already infringements of the law, and the principles of human rights. The point of the bill seems to upgrade the offence to criminal so that expectation is that the police will eradicate the problem.

    The fact that most of it takes place away from official society, (where the Minister, unlike the Bishops before him, has as yet heard no complaints) makes action from any new criminalising law problematic.

    It’s not a question of being for or against prostitution. As the law stands we begin this debate from the point of view that we are all against it. Some may be for its liberalisation, but that’s not a view getting much of a voice on the hill.

  • FDM

    Mick Fealty 25 September 2013 at 7:04 am

    “It’s not a question of being for or against prostitution.”

    The point is this law is a pretty thin-veiled attack on prostitution and very little to do with human trafficking, the latter being the disingenuous banner headlines in the proposed legislation.

    I am going to write something unpopular.

    I am for prostitution.

    I think there are instances where it can do more good in our society than bad. There are those in our society to whom people in the sex industry simply supply a service. An access to some form of sexual human relations that they would be not otherwise be able to avail of free of charge.

    For some individuals in our society the physical acts themselves are neither here nor there [of little personal value or relevance] and have no problem taking up a post in the sex industry.

    I would like to see it legalised and regulated so that the traffickers, pimps, pushers etc… get put out of business and that only those people who make the personal and deliberate choice are involved.

    That is the kind of legislation we need in our society, not draconian pseudo-religious claptrap that criminalises people for what to both parties involved are considered rather trivial acts.

    Tinfoil hat at the ready, here comes the pain…

  • Harry Flashman

    “It’s not a question of being for or against prostitution.”

    Then why the need for new legislation?

    I would have thought there was a surfeit of legislation already on the books with regard to such issues as fraud, immigration, obtaining money with menaces, sexual assault, rape, age of consent, taxation, solicitation, false imprisonment, living off immoral earnings, corruption or any other range of crimes that are already more than sufficient to send anyone guilty of trafficking unwitting or unwilling women for employment in the sex trade away for quite a substantial length of imprisonment.

    Make no mistake, this sort of legislation is the new “moral majority” legislation except this time it is the radical feminists who are acting as cheerleaders rather than the bishops. It amounts to the same sort of unwarranted intrusion on private life however.

    Get the government the hell out of the bedroom, what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms or kitchens or front rooms is no damn business of the state. I thought that issue was settled back in the 1960s.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Except, Harry, the key issue is that some of the adults are not actually “consenting” to the abusive things that are being done to them through the activity of criminals.

    You list the actual issues, “fraud, immigration, obtaining money with menaces, sexual assault, rape, age of consent, taxation, solicitation, false imprisonment, living off immoral earnings, corruption” but despite the latherings of legislation on these things and the constant media spotlighting of them the actual ability of any modern legal system to affect them in any practical way in the face of de-regulated globalisation seems to be close to nil.

    But then the “lite” quasi-respectable version of virtually all these activities is what marks the last twenty years of globalisation. There is a steady gradation of intention linking the “acceptable” abstract abuse of individual lives that allows the Banker’s bonuses and the direct and vicious abuse of terrified individuals by these organised criminal traffickers. It all needs to be recognised as a continium and legislators need to develop the will to deal with it rather than just legislate about it.

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: Except, Harry, the key issue is that some of the adults are not actually “consenting” to the abusive things that are being done to them through the activity of criminals.
    Have you not seen the latest slavery story coming out of Wales? Better add agricultural labour to the list of services it will be illegal to procure…

  • Harry Flashman

    Seaan if the women are not consenting then the legislation I have listed above, along with rules in relation to workers’ compensation, building control, health and safety, VAT, fire inspections, National Insurance, planning regulations, business licensing etc etc should be more than enough to lock the pimps up for a very long time indeed. Lock ’em up and throw away the key as far as I’m concerned.

    If the authorities can’t do something as simple as that with the massive raft of legislation they have at their disposal why should another piece of legislation make a blind bit of difference?

    It won’t because it is not about human trafficking but more moral manipulation by governments backed up by the usual suspects in the NGOs, charities, local governments, police and academics whose livelihoods depend on the government controlling the activities of private citizens.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, Reader, at least we will be safe from that one. Most of the “farmers” I know locally let their land conacre for every last sheckel they can squeeze out of people who actually want to farm, and on top of that rake in the farm payments from a DARD that never seems to check from their Agricultural and Horticultural returns whether the claimant has actually done any “real” farming. (“The Public should know this, public money is involved”— it puts the Poots business into perspective, arguably the same mentality). So no need for traffickers to put labour gangs on the land in our wee province.

    Harry, legislation is just what it says on the tin, “Legislation.” The implementation of legislation costs real money and nowadays all the money that can be conned or borrowed by our masters is needed by the same “”legislators to research and enact more legislation. So as you say all we can hope for is “more moral manipulation by governments backed up by the usual suspects in the NGOs, charities, local governments, police and academics whose livelihoods depend on the government controlling the activities of private citizens.”

    And talking about charities, I overheard a local say that more money passes through my local “charity status” gospel hall than goes through the treasury. A little bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but still a flag in the wind for how charities are permitted to function in our province by those in power who feel that their version of Christ preached the Gospel of Prosperity.

    But we are still left with the problem of utterly despoiled lives while our masters legislate and the holy get richer under charity status scams.

  • vanhelsing

    Mick to be fair you singled out one clause from a 19 point Bill. To illustrate but 5 aspects:

    It offers support to the victims of Human Trafficking through legal protection and financial assistance.

    It provides the police with greater powers and tools to prosecute the traffickers.

    It provides guardians for the children who have been trafficked and specific support mechanisms for these children.

    It requires minimum sentencing for those convicted of Human Trafficking offences

    It provides for specific protection of victims of trafficking to prevent contact with those accused of the Trafficking offences.

    Organisations such as Women’s Aid and Ruhama have come out in clear support of the bill.

    I’ve spoken extensively to HT lobby organisations and not one have ever mentioned to me a ‘fevered crusade’ but rather warmly welcomed the debate about HT which has now opened up through the bill.

    just my thoughts…

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a good corrective VH, thanks…

  • cynic2

    From the existing legislation in NI

    It is against the law to ‘solicit’ or proposition a person in a street or other public place to buy sex from a prostitute.

    It is against the law to ‘kerb crawl’ in a car or other vehicle to buy sex from a prostitute.

    It is against the law for a prostitute to ‘loiter’ and ‘solicit’ for business in a street or other public place.

    It is also against the law to cause, incite or control prostitution for gain and to keep or manage a brothel used for prostitution.

    It is a serious offence to pay for sex with a person under the age of 18. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

    It is also against the law to cause, incite, control, arrange or facilitate the involvement of a person under 18 in prostitution or pornography. The sentence is up to 14 years

    It is an offence to traffic persons for prostitution or sexual exploitation

    Article 64 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 also criminalized paying for sex with any prostitute subject to coercion or exploitation but I am not clear f the NI Assembly ever activated this clause

    I am therefore unsure why Morrow now wants his own Bill to criminalize all prostitution and paying for sex. This is something legislators have avoided for 200 years because of the clear problems and pitfalls.