If you pay for it, you are now a criminal

Clause 15 of Lord Morrow’s Anti-Trafficking Act came into force a few hours ago, here. This makes it a criminal offence to pay by money, goods or services, for sexual services in N Ireland. It remains legal to sell such services. Previously, it was illegal to buy sexual services from a trafficked person; now there is blanket criminalisation. The expressed intent behind the Act is to reduce or eliminate the trafficking of women into prostitution.

Human trafficking is a complex subject, and includes concepts including coercion, deceit, chattel slavery, debt bondage, blackmail, illegal entry to a country, transport (either locally or trans-nationally), sexual exploitation, forced organ donation, and forced marriage. As an illegal activity, statistics about the numbers of trafficked persons are very uncertain, and at best are estimates. Trafficking is to be distinguished from ‘people smuggling’, where the participants are volunteers in an activity which is illegal. In some jurisdictions the elements of ‘coercion’ are absent from the definition; such ‘victims’ of trafficking may be willing volunteers.

Human trafficking is an absolute moral outrage because it denies an individual’s personal autonomy and agency (and all that entails) and is thus condemned absolutely by all right-thinking people. People who have been trafficked are involved with work in domestic servitude, work in agriculture in the broadest sense, and in sex work.

The Act introduces the ‘Swedish’ model, introduced there in 1999 and designed to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants and trafficked people. Radical feminists (SWERFs) in Sweden believed that all heterosexual intercourse was violence towards women; such trafficked women were therefore being raped, and if the women thought otherwise then they were suffering from ‘false consciousness’. The ‘Swedish’ model was also designed to ‘end demand’. Attempts to introduce the Swedish model to Scotland and to England and Wales have failed.

Official reports from Sweden indicate that this approach has been successful. As no comparable statistics were kept before this model was introduced, such success is uncertain. It seems clear, however, that street-based sex workers there have moved indoors, a move facilitated by the internet.

There are two other (major) legal approaches to prostitution; in the US it is illegal to both sell and to buy sexual services. Despite this, the ‘industry’ seems to be flourishing. Alternatively, sex work and prostitution has been decriminalised in New Zealand for just over a decade. This has not been followed by the mass immigration of people seeking such work.

One of the drivers of prostitution is (women’s) poverty which, historically can be related to the patriarchy and the second-class status of women. Organisations that exist to ‘rescue’ such ‘prostituted women’ offer services such as shelter, and the opportunity for other work, possibly in a minimum-wage job where they can earn perhaps a tenth of what they did previously.

The numbers of people trafficked into sex work in N Ireland is uncertain, but is quite probably small. Many or most such providers seem to be independent. It is a measure of the extent and magnitude of continuing patriarchal attitudes that such independent women are assumed to be lacking in agency, and therefore to be in need of ‘rescue’. Further, the conflation of prostitution and trafficking has the features of a moral panic. (While confining myself to the common pattern of female provider and male client, there are other varieties.)

During consideration in the Justice Committee at Stormont, Mr P Givan said that further ‘evidence wasn’t necessary’. However, the Department of Justice did commission a report, here: this is the best evidence to date of the extent and nature of prostitution in N Ireland. It includes the thoughts of providers themselves, a group barely recognised by the Committee.

The Act does not address the rights of sex workers, or their working conditions; prostitution must be the only occupation where the law requires that workers must work alone—for otherwise they would be seen as keeping a brothel, an illegal activity. Laura Lee, a sex worker and activist, addressed these concerns on Slugger, here; a recent article continues these concerns, and others such as the effects of ‘austerity’; a disturbing read perhaps, but without hearing both ‘sides’ how can there be an informed, rational debate? (Laura Lee is to challenge the Act in the Courts, here.)

The Act does not criminalise those who buy domestic services or agricultural services from trafficked people; these groups are estimated to be the areas where most trafficked people work. No reason is given for this disparity. But, you might guess, it’s all about sex, and the ‘right kind’ of sex at that. If the origins of the Act are in anti-trafficking measures, it’s clear that the real, espoused, underlying message is ‘end demand’ and the control of who may have sex with whom. As with ‘equal marriage’ and abortion, this message is determined by a particular, fundamentalist-religious view of sex and morality.

Professor Robert Bartlett’s series on the Making of the Medieval Mind gives an excellent background to the religious sentiment of those times, distinct echoes of which are still heard; it’s available here, and well worth an hour of your time. (Lacock Abbey is more familiar as the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of the negative/positive photographic process.) This is also useful.

As from today, if you are a man who takes a woman out for dinner, and pays for it, and perhaps gives her a small present, and afterwards return to hers where the inevitable happens, then you are now a criminal. If you are a man of means, and keep a mistress, you too are a criminal, as is the woman who subsidises her ‘toy boy’. And what of Game of Thrones? Do we really expect the PSNI to monitor consensual activities, and for the sunday tabloids to ‘name and shame’ miscreants? Is this a triumph for the theocracy, of belief over fact?

King Canute had to sit at the shore to show the barons the limits of his power; he could no more force the incoming tide back than he could ‘end demand’.

A much longer version is available here.


  • Jag

    Logic dictates that criminalising the purchase of something will reduce demand. To what degree, who knows? I would have said the prospect of being arrested, charged and convicted with your name in the papers would have a deterrent effect which will reduce demand.

  • chrisjones2

    “Logic dictates that criminalizing the purchase of something will reduce demand”

    That really works with Cannabis doesn’t it

  • Jag

    I sense you’re trying to be sarcastic, but I don’t think you have reliable stats on demand for cannabis pre- and post-criminalisation, do you?

    You could pose it another way – would the demand for cannabis increase tomorrow if it were legalised? Obviously, it would.

  • It’s not a criminal offence to take someone’s home away from them, to take their livelihood from them, to refuse them essential medical treatment, to remove essential social security & disability payments, to refuse them legal representation to protect their rights because they can’t pay BUT it is an offence to pay for sex in Northern Ireland. Just about sums up the morals of the ruling elite in Northern Ireland.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I understand that prostitution is legal.
    This business about human trafficking is just an excuse for the DUP God squad to impose it’s moral values on society.
    We’ll see how many convictions arise out of it.
    If we really want to protect sex workers, it should e legalised not banned.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The only political parties up on the hill who opposed this Bill was Alliance, Greens and N121 !

  • Korhomme

    Well, look at Prohibition in the US. That lead to widespread criminal take over of the alcohol industry; Prohibition was ended because FDR needed the tax revenues as much as anything else.

    The ‘War on Drugs’ likewise has lead to widespread criminalisation. Neither of these two are good evidence to support banning an activity which some people enjoy. Not that I’m saying that alcohol or drugs are a ‘good thing’, rather that it’s better to decriminalise and regulate, as Portugal has done with drugs.

  • Dan

    Just in case I ever thought of seeking one in a hotel room whilst a member of a pious political party, is receiving a ‘sports massage’ a criminal act now?

  • chrisjones2

    The entire premise of your post is plain wrong:

    “take someone’s home away from them”

    If you mean welfare reform then there are no plans to take anyone’s home off them. Its about persuading them to give up a home that’s too big for them so a family can have it while they get a suitable alternative.

    If you mean mortgage repossessions then again its not their home – it belongs to the mortgage provider and the sate will rehouse them unless they made themselves intentionally homeless

    “to take their livelihood from them”

    Not quite sure what yoiu mean but if its benefits they will still get benefits but will be encouraged to work

    “to refuse them essential medical treatment”

    When has that ever happens? How has been refused ‘essential’ treatment?

    “to remove essential social security & disability payments”

    The only benefits being refused or removed are those for people who can work but wont

    “to refuse them legal representation to protect their rights because they can’t pay”

    the abuse of legal aid has been an utter disgrace. The main concern seems to be the impact on the livelihoods of the solicitors and barristers. If this persists we should simply set up an independent funded state attorney system to defend clients. Cheaper and just as effective

  • chrisjones2

    Would it? Prices have fallen so low the market is saturated ….. so why would there be an increase in demand.

    In England the view is that there has been a large expansion in the market for prostitution but that has been driven by an increase in supply and drop in price facilitated by the internet as a marketplace. So perhaps its price that counts most

  • chrisjones2

    Its arguable that this measure will make it harder to deal with trafficked women or men and free them from this modern form of slavery – but sure in Biblical terms and on the Hill they feel that they probably deserve it!!

  • Jag

    There are different factors which affect demand – price, transaction ease are certainly two important factors. But legality is also a factor and if something is illegal it will reduce demand.

  • murdockp

    The greatest abuse of criminal trafficking in NI is the beauty and restaurant industries. Every been in side the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant? as well as agriculture.

    In fact any industry where business owners refuse to pay the minimum wage.

    I said from the start that this was puritan legislation. The god bothering is getting very sacry indeed.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    It makes for a nice headline – people trafficking, protecting the rights of women etc. All catchy, media sensationalist stuff…

    Do I see it making a button of difference? Do I heck!

  • Granni Trixie

    Re numbers of convictions – I was reading in a newspaper last week that numbers are being let out of prison years early because the jails are significantly overcrowded and costing too much (sorry I don’t have a link). So ex-offenders get out of jail early to save money and a new stream of “offender” is likely to enter jail.

    Questions arise therefore concerning joined up thinking, use of resources and priorities. Seems the Dup prioritise anything whatsoever to do with sex. Obsessive or what?

  • murdockp

    Prohibition will substantially increase the cost of the goods on offer given demand will remain constant.

    The improved margins will then attract new entrants (gangs) into the industry.

    The problem will then get worse.

    The difference between NI and Sweden is we have fully armed ex terrorist gangs who allowed to freely undertake criminal activities and prostitution will just be another growth business for them just as it as always been.

    Our graduate police force are not equipped mentally to deal with such a foe. Most would prefer to give house wives speeding tickets to show they are socially useful,

  • Jag

    Yes, de-criminalising a criminal activity will certainly reduce criminality!

    Let’s make burglary, public order offences and assaults legal. That would certainly help alleviate the pressures on the PSNI!

    And as for things that people enjoy, well, I love nothing better than a good auld dog fight on a Saturday night followed by fist-fight with themmuns which I organise on Facebook and capped off with paid for sex with some miserable Moldovan who looks like she’s been on her feet/back for the past 18 hours.Unfortunately at present, all of that is illegal. Wouldn’t it be great if it were decriminalised and regulated?

  • David Arnold

    A good summation Korhomme, though I would also mention the role of NGOs in this sorry saga. TORL (Turn off the red light) have been responsible for some of the most outlandish and intelligence-insulting claims on the subject for several years now, while Ruhama, who purport to help ‘rescue’ sex workers have several members of the Magdalene Orders on their board of directors. Both organisations were treated with kid gloves by the Stormont Justice Commitee, while the one and only current sex worker allowed to appear was treated appallingly and was informed by Paul Givan that actual evidence wasn’t required.

    This was basically a foregone conclusion in pursuit of the right kind of evidence, so the term ‘moral crusade’ is highly apt.

    There is in fact no convincing proof that the Swedish Model has worked, but that’s not what today’s law change here is about. The Stormont budget stretched to a trip to Sweden but not to New Zealand, where sex work is decriminalised and clearly works. Could anyone though imagine a party dedicated to homophobia, vociferously anti-abortion and proponents of creationism, being seen to support the rights and safety of sex workers?

    It’s true that the DUP, although the architects of this clause, weren’t alone in voting for it. The SDLP bumbled along cluelessly as ever, Alban Maginess declaring after the bill was passed that sex buyers could be caught via their credit cards, blissfully unaware that 99% of the business is cash. The UUP seemed unhappy and revealed that the Presbyterian Church opposed the proposal, then fell dutifully into line on the night of the vote. The real disappointment was SF who declared that they needed to wait for more evidence before making a decision. When that evidence arrived in the form of the QUB/DOJ report, they promptly ignored it and wheeled Catriona Ruane on to rant about the patriarchy and how womens’ bodies were being exploited, apparently oblivious to the very great sins of her own party.

    Only Alliance, NI21 and the Greens voted against, putting them in line with Westminster and the Scottish Assembly. But along with equal marriage and abortion rights, Stormont apparently knows better on the subject of sex work than the rest of the UK.

    As it is, this law is targetted at sex workers rather than their clients. Buyers simply have the option to go elsewhere. Workers in the main don’t have that luxury and will forced to compromise on their current safety checks and accept clients they would previously have rejected to make ends meet. As stated by the PSNI, most local sex workers are there by choice, and to further endanger and stigmatise them, while reducing their income and safety procedures, is beyond irresponsible.

  • Jag

    There is no new prohibition on supply though (still legal as far as I understand it for adults to provide sex as long as they don’t do it as part of a group).

    The prohibition is on demand.

    How will that inherently increase prices and margins? If anything, because demand is reduced and there are still the same number of sex workers, prices will come down.

  • Korhomme

    Burglary, public order offences, assaults are not ‘victimless crimes’. In burglary you deprive someone of their property. In a dog fight, you deprive the ‘loser’ of the intactness of their hound; and in a punch-up you inflict physical damage on another.

    But if you ‘buy’ sex who is deprived of what, exactly? And if you think she’s a ‘miserable Moldovan’—a particularly lurid example—then aren’t you under a duty to informs the authorities that you think she’s been trafficked? And if by so doing, you reveal yourself as a criminal, are you going to report?

  • Korhomme

    Thanks, David. I was aware of what you say; I tried to present a ‘balanced’ view rather than something one-sided, or expressing a personal opinion. There’s more, and links, in my related post.

  • chrisjones2

    I see they now plan a Sarah’s Law to out Convicted Sex Offenders in the local community

    Very populist and, in parts of Belfast and Derry, calculated to be a significant boost to the sales of rope for local lynchings!!!

  • Korhomme

    If by beauty industry, you mean nail bars, these are said to be a Vietnamese speciality. Whether the workers are ‘trafficked’ or ‘economic migrants’ I don’t know.

  • Korhomme

    Almost certainly, ‘yes’.

  • chrisjones2

    ….but watching gay porn on a TV in your hotel room on expenses will not be

  • chrisjones2

    …perhaps….still it will give a big boost to the blackmail trade and brothels in the Republic

  • chrisjones2

    I can see why the poor Moldovan lady might be miserable

  • murdockp

    How will it increase costs, a guarantee from the provider of the sex (gangs) that you wont get caught, that has a premium.
    If you want to pay for sex and you have such a guarantee from a provider, it could be a hotel room paid for, it could be a safe house brothel, it could be that family in the prostitutes home country is threatened with violence if she goes to the police, the list is endless.
    You can tell this legislation was written by puritans. Also by your won comment, you can tell you are a decent law abiding citizen if you think that putting the criminality on the buyer will reduce costs, I agree with your economic appraisal of the marketplace, however conventional laws of economics do not apply here and it is not going to work like that in practice.
    People who want to pay for sex now will pay a premium not to get caught

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Pluviophiles, turophiles & pogonphiles will be shi**ing themselves.

  • Francostars

    Prohibition is the water of Mafia fish and it is better to avoid it, as the paying sex among adult and consentient people. Moreover, it is better to legalize and tax prostitution to cope with the crisis and reduce Austerity.

  • Reader

    Korhomme: In a dog fight, you deprive the ‘loser’ of the intactness of their hound;
    As a stony hearted classic liberal, I agree with much of what you say above. But in the section I have quoted, I think you have failed to spot the actual victim.

  • Korhomme

    The hound is deprived, as a loser, of his (her) physical integrity; the owner of the hound is deprived of some of the value of the hound. What else am I missing, Reader?

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Maybe them so called “Progressive” Parties are selective in their progressiveness ? I stand with the Workers and their choice to do what ever they wish with their bodies in the oldest industry in the world !

  • David Arnold

    The DUP, UUP & SDLP certainly couldn’t be mistaken for ‘progressives’. Alliance, NI21 & The Greens could and it’s worth mentioning that the PUP also opposed clause 15.

    SF would have been ‘progressive’ on this issue if they thought there were any votes in it and in fairness to Rosie McCorley, she did a decent if thankless job in the justice commitee.

  • chrisjones2

    After this we will be hunting down Witches

  • chrisjones2

    Does the law still apply if you are:

    1 a PSNI Tout

    2 a member of PIRA in possession of a valid NIO Get Out of Gaol Free Card?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Not if there’s a perception of a low rate of arrest and conviction.

  • Granni Trixie

    And there’s more….a Dup amendment to restrict abortion even further!
    ( And personally I’m against abortion on demand)

  • Carl Mark

    this morning the Chief Constable stated that the loyalist terror groups where closely involved in among other criminal activity’s human trafficking,
    This is a law brought forward by the DUP,
    The PUP and the UPRG are the political voices of loyalist terrorists,
    The DUP, UUP,TUV are in a pact with the PUP,UPRG,
    Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy here.

  • Carl Mark

    Well if you heard who the chief Constable said this morning about who was doing most of the trafficking then you would understand why the PUP voted against Clause 15.
    Spoiler alert, it’s the loyalists!

  • Deke Thornton

    not even if it’s ‘premium rated’ unfortunately.

  • Our MLAs went to Sweden on a ‘study’ visit. Would be interested to know who they talked to. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/22/sweden-prostitution-reduction-models-success-a-myt/?page=all

  • David Arnold

    The PUP didn’t vote against clause 15 as they don’t have any assembly representation. They did however express opposition to it elsewhere.

    I stand to be corrected on this, but I’m pretty sure the PSNI told the Justice Committee last year that paramilitaries weren’t involved in the local sex trade. If so, things appear to have changed in the last year.

  • Carl Mark

    Sorry they opposed it , I think the same reason can apply either way.
    As to any statement made last year the CC was pretty clear in what he said today, and the loyalists are notorious for the range of criminal activities the are involved in.

  • Reader

    You missed out the dog as a victim first time round. That seemed like a significant oversight in a paragraph entirely given over to identifying victims.

  • Korhomme

    You’re right, but the oversight wasn’t deliberate.

  • babyface finlayson

    Agreed. That is the deterrent, a likelihood of being caught.
    No point making it illegal if it is not going to be actively pursued. How will that pan out I wonder for our already stretched Police Service?

  • Thomas Girvan

    I am sure you heard the Chief Constable being challenged to produce evidence.
    Let’s wait and see if he does.

  • Kate Jeans

    Thank you for making that point. As a Sex Worker, I am simply providing a service, which is agreed before the service is paid for. No one is a victim or being forced, no one is being abused. It is simply an exchange of money for a service.

    The term ‘buying sex’ is also a bit misleading, as many (perhaps the majority) of buyers do not require or want full sexual acts. They want pampering yes, or they may want physical contact with another human being, but not necessarily penetration. Some clients from the off don’t want more than a hug and will be looking for companionship and yet this is blackened and made to be rape or a violation to me?

    I as a woman, have a healthy sexual appetite. I choose to use that in my work and work with clients that show me respect. These men know to not cross the line and stay within my boundaries. I am always in control and if I’m not happy I simply ask them to leave.

    One thing that struck me during a recent radio interview with Geraldine from Ruhama. She mentioned that the new law will help sex workers, as we can threaten clients that are over stepping the mark with the law and tell them that we will report them if they don’t stop. Does she really think it is wise for a sex worker to do this? How does she think the client will react to be threatened with exposure? A police record?

    I think this is a ridiculous comment to make, as a client who is not showing respect and is already flouting the law, is not going to care about the sex worker and could possibly beat the crap out of her in an attempt to shut her up. Very clever! Any sex worker wanting to keep her place of work and her clients is not going to start reporting anyone, so how do we keep safe?

  • Carl Mark

    So you don’t believe him, I wonder who carried out the 15 shootings this year.
    these are your words,

    “It is always going to be a job persuading anyone to vote for, or transfer their vote to, someone who was, involved in murder”,
    but doesn’t take that long to pretend that murderers and drug dealers are not still doing these things.

  • Jag

    Well Kate, unless you want to adopt a charitable status, you’re now out of business, though as a woman with a healthy sexual appetite, I hope you find non-commercial satisfaction.

    There’s a term, isn’t there, for a woman who’s into a non-commercial sexual relationship with a couple. It’s “unicorn” because it’s believed to be so rare. And, in my opinion, prostitutes with positive attitudes to their work, “healthy sexual appetites” who are “not victims” are also unicorns.

    Ruhama will tell you most prostitutes are vulnerable, substance-dependant, coerced or trafficked, I believe them. So did politicians in NI representing 90%-plus of the electorate, and believe me, we’re not all Bible-thumping, Sunday-as-a-day-of-rest, liberal abortion-averse, anti-equal marriage, anti-male gay blood donations, zealots.

    So, good luck to you Kate, run free good unicorn.

  • Kate Jeans

    That is ever so slightly condescending. I’ve actually met Geraldine and she agreed with me that not all sex workers are in those categories that you mention, but that was to my face and not to the media.
    I have many, many friends in the industry, who are English, Northern Irish and Irish and none of them come into that category. Many of them have a third level education or are working towards one. I know a few Romanian girls to speak to and some have had houses built on the back of the work they have done over here, so hardly feeding a habit, but securing their future.
    It is wrong to take the word of a person who only ever deals with the bad. That is a bit like a Doctor saying he has never met a healthy patient. A bit silly, don’t you think?

  • Sliothar

    I wonder if adultery could be the next target of the DUP Taliban?
    Nah, on second thoughts, it’s probably a non-runner.
    Too close to home, doncha know…

  • Thomas Girvan

    Who says I don’t believe him?
    I will wait to see what he comes up with to substantiate his claims, or,ideally, people being brought to court.

  • John Mac

    Enjoyed the piece but the piece is doesn’t differentiate between what the Swedish official reports and the Swedish inetrnal reports admit. Check out the http://www.feministire.com e.g. http://feministire.com/2015/01/15/more-on-sex-trafficking-in-sweden-from-the-swedish-police/

  • Carl Mark

    Well if you are not aware of the high level of organised crime that the loyalists are involved in (prostitution, drugs, protection etc.) then perhaps it is time you left the bunker.

  • David Arnold

    So Kate and other sex workers are now ‘out of business’ Jag? You need to do some research my friend. Have a look at Sweden who have had this law for 16 years. Or the USA who have had it for over 100. No sex workers? Recent estimates are 1000+ in Sweden and 300 000+ in the US. But don’t let the very obvious facts put you off.

    ”Ruhama will tell you most prostitutes are vulnerable, substance-dependant, coerced or trafficked.” Ruhama will also tell you that there were 78 ”trafficked women selling sex” in Galway alone on one day last Autumn. Yet a major nationwide operation by the police shortly afterwards netted precisely no trafficking victims. Meanwhile the PSNI informed the NI justice commitee that most sex workers were there by choice. Who knows better? The police who work on the ground every day of the week? Or Ruhama who only work with a small number of sex workers seeking to leave the industry?

    Interesting that you hold up NI politicians as some kind of experts on the subject when both Westminster and the Scottish Assembly rejected these proposals last year and after considerably more research than Stormont managed.

    There are a lot more ‘unicorns’ than you may imagine Jag, and plenty of myths flying around too.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I know there has been human trafficking, and I have seen the perpetrators in court.
    What I didn’t realise was that the UDA had a Chinese wing.
    For God and China!

  • Carl Mark

    So if someone from China is involved that means no one else is!
    Good logic there.

  • Thomas Girvan

    Well the only ones I have seen in court were from the East, and I don’t mean Ballybeen!

  • Carl Mark

    you give meaning to the old joke,
    denial is not a river in Africa.

  • Thomas Girvan

    I can’t remember any so called Loyalists being done for human trafficking.
    Maybe they have.
    Here’s a challenge for you.
    Get on to Google and get back to me with the evidence.
    I look forward to the response.
    Put up or shut up!

  • Carl Mark

    Tell you what the Chief Constable named them as being heavily involved.
    It is amusing how you claim that what the Provo’s done years ago but don’t see the present activities of the loyalists as relevant.
    Saysa lot about you!

  • Thomas Girvan

    I think you have gone full circle, re Chief Constable’s claims.
    My challenge was to put up or shut up.
    Come on,no more waffle!

  • Carl Mark

    well for a start I am not the one defending criminals, It is more than passing strange that you are such a defender of loyalist terrorists.
    Of course we see a clot of this, its a pity that you don’t use the same level of proof for loyalists as you o for republicans.
    you obviously care less about the effect that the activities that the illegal activities of the loyalists have on protestant youth than what the Provo’s done 20 years ago.

  • Thomas Girvan

    Cut the waffle.
    We want facts, who are these darned criminals?