Amnesty International votes to support decriminalisation of prostitution

Amnesty International have voted to campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution provided it is within an environment whereby the sellers of sex are not underage and are not coerced.

This is the latest part in a debate which has been going on for some time on the topic. Amnesty’s argument is that sex work has always and will always exist and what is required is harm reduction – along with an assertion that sex workers should have the agency to decide without official sanction whether or not to sell sexual services to clients.

As such they feel that decriminalisation will allow sex workers much greater safety. It would make brothels legal. Currently two individuals working together selling sexual services in a single house would be breaking the law; an individual who was protecting or helping a sex worker is also breaking the law.

Amnesty’s proposals do not suggest that sex work be unregulated but suggest that governments no longer criminalise the selling or buying of sexual services between freely consenting individuals.

The reaction to this proposal from Amnesty has been very marked: there have been complaints from assorted famous people like actresses but also from those directly involved in sex work and human rights lawyers all calling for abolition by which they mean attempts to criminalise those purchasing sex and attempts to abolish prostitution.

They point to the Swedish model where purchasing sex is a criminal offence: something of course which has been recently introduced in Northern Ireland after Lord Morrow’s bill, though it is too early to make many judgements about its utility. The RoI may join NI in banning the purchase of sex and if anything GB is also more likely to go down that route after Labour briefly considered decriminalisation in 2004 before dropping the idea.

The idea that women truly freely enter into sex work is challenged: as is the idea that one can truly have managers etc. without it being exploitative. The suggestion that one can never abolish sex work and as such one should not try to do so also sounds slightly unusual from Amnesty, an organisation which campaigns tirelessly for other seemingly lost causes such as a complete end to capital punishment.

The evidence on areas where prostitution has been decriminalised is difficult to assess. The supporters of decriminalisation point to New Zealand as a country where this has been claimed to be successful. Those opposed point both to an apparent lack of regulation in New Zealand and to Germany where decriminalisation has resulted in an enormous increase in the amount of prostitution and sex workers coming from other countries to sell sex. In Germany the hoped for regulation has again been patchy with brothels renting their rooms to sex workers but often refusing any other responsibility for them.

The evidence in Sweden where purchasing sex is illegal is also difficult to analyse. There has apparently been a huge reduction in people selling sex on the street but critics of the laws claim it has merely been driven underground and even that the laws themselves make prostitutes less safe.

The basic disagreement between the two positions is fundamental and based more on beliefs in each case. Evidence is produced on one side and the other but this is not like showing a simple relationship (say a new cancer drug reduces death rates). Evidence in this sort of policy area is almost always gathered by those with a strongly held pre-existing position with the evidence gathered to “prove” their point.

Essentially those who support the legislation of prostitution point to the concept of the happy empowered (usually woman) who sells her sexuality only to those whom she wishes to. This is often associated with wealthy clients and attractive educated young women: The archetype being Dr. Brooke Magnanti, who has supported Amnesty’s position.

Those opposed to decriminalisation point to trafficked women or those with addiction problems or simply those with little money and few options who are forced into this sort of work often with violent or dangerous pimps and clients.

These two groups undoubtedly exist and it is unclear which one is larger (many might suspect the trafficked / drug addict group). There is also probably a large group of (mainly women) in the middle who are not destitute, would rather not have to sell sexual services but who feel that it is a reasonable option given their circumstances. Those who support decriminalisation suggest that relatively few of us would work if we did not have to and as such we almost all sell our labour for our livings. Those against point to the fact that women frequently get sucked into more dangerous situations once they have started down the sex work line.

Again both sides point to individuals but it is difficult to know how representative they are. Dr. Magnanti can be pointed to as a classic example of the empowered woman (though to be fair she openly states that she went into sex work because she had too little money whilst writing up her PhD). Other women who claim the empowerment of selling sex include Laura Lee who gave evidence to Stormont. Equally abolitionists can provide a succession of women with truly harrowing stories of what has happened to them. Unfortunately there is very little quantitative data about how many individuals fit into different categories.

One of the other arguments levelled against Amnesty has been that it has been subject to a classic case of entryism by those supporting decriminalisation and indeed that some individuals who were themselves pimps joined in order to lobby for what eventually became Amnesty policy.

Criminalisation of users or decriminalisation would both at least be more logical and complete options than the current situation in GB. Neither option nor indeed the status quo would be likely to end prostitution but equally decriminalisation would be unlikely to end the stigma and discrimination which many sex workers have to endure.

In theory an individual freely deciding to engage in sexual activity with another for payment should be no different than the two deciding to have sex for any other reason and as such legal. However, so completely associated has prostitution been with gross wealth and power imbalance and so frequently with extreme violence towards sex workers that it seems a little odd for Amnesty to be supporting decriminalisation.

Amnesty are meant to be idealists who remain so despite being fully aware of the awfulness of human nature. This sort of position has underscored their campaigns for 50 years. In this case the idealism seems to have become so great along with a huge dose of libertarianism that it has overwhelmed Amnesty’s usual pragmatism.

Amnesty’s recent positions on abortion and even homosexual marriage seem much closer to a somewhat fundamentalist social liberalism than Amnesty ever did in the past when it attracted considerable support from across the political spectrum. As with other charities such as the RSPCA Amnesty should be careful lest it become so ideological that it becomes irrelevant: something which would be a disaster for those like prisoners of conscience and those on death row whom it has done so much to help over the years.

, ,

  • murdockp

    At last, common sense
    Lord Morrows human trafficking bill has already been shown to have actually been puritan back door legislation designed to bring religious morals into NI law.

    All the libertarians said at the time that most human trafficking is to be found in the fields and back of house kitchens where workers are paid a pittance, but Lord Morrow had the ministers believe the majority of human trafficking victims were being held captive in brothels in NI, the recent headlines and successful human trafficking investigations have proven that hard labour / industry is where it is sadly happening.

    That is not to say human trafficking and exploitation of the vulnerable does not happen in the sex industry, it does, but misguided puritan legislation that drives the industry underground where it cannot be regulated is not the answer.

    We need laws that can be easily implemented and these puritan god bothering laws need to be removed from the statute book.

    What two consenting adults get up to should be no concern to governments or their stasi, sorry agencies

  • Dan

    Good for Amnesty.
    No arrangement for sex between two consenting adults is as sleazy and grubby as the dirty secrets of many of the moral crusading politicians of NI.

  • Chingford Man

    It’s been a long journey from supporting prisoners of conscience to getting involved with social policy. Amnesty is just another charity taken over by the Left.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Surely regulating prosecution is not really decriminalising it, just selectively criminalising it, as with everything else regulated.

    The most serious criminal acts that occur in prosecution such as rape (including statutory rape), violence or kidnapping are the most difficult to enforce and convict upon, throw in industrial tax regulations that a mature small business would have to follow, what else are they going to regulate?

    If a street prostitute goes to jail for failing to declare tax earning from the trade are they simply going to go along with two consenting adults can do with they want line?

    How is it possible to regulate these industries? Can they even be regulated, or is it a case of behave like the black market but with the minor difference of asserting an honor code?

    Would they evangelise about a woman getting paid to carry someone’s child if the arrangement and conception was made in a brothel or would they say that needs to be regulated?

  • terence patrick hewett

    De-criminalising prostitution will mean that it can be measured: and what can be measured can be taxed. Government will love it.

  • Turgon

    Yes. I do not think my views have changed much but until a few years ago I kept thinking I should join it. Now I am very happy I did not.

  • notimetoshine

    And where is your evidence to show this?

    In fact I would posit that decriminalisation is a truly right wing idea, either from a free market perspective or more crucillay from a libertarian perspective.

    It is the paternalistic moralising of those who consider themselves on the ‘right’ that seems more akin to Marxist puritanism that anything else.

  • murdockp

    all professions can be regulated. window cleaning and gardening ate the most cash in hand of them all but I hear no out cried about banning them.

    as long as the revenue have data from a sample study of prostitutes they can be regulated.

  • David Arnold

    Turgon — a few points:

    Sweden claims that their Model has reduced street sex worker numbers. This has in fact been the case right across western Europe, regardless of legislation. Here in NI for instance, the PSNI estimate there are less than 20 street workers left in the entire province.
    Sex work has simply moved indoors and the Swedish Model has achieved little, other than to place sex workers in danger of eviction, less likely to report violence against them and further stigmatisation.

    The US Model (criminalisation of sex worker and client) has been a huge, costly failure. Germany (which has legalisation NOT decriminalisation — there IS a difference) has literally turned sex work into a giant industry and is not a model favoured by most sex workers. That accolade goes to New Zealand, which decriminalised in 2003. Since then, there has been no significant rise in human trafficking or sex worker numbers and sex workers have equal rights and are able to work together (up to four people) in the same building without being classed as a brothel.

    By contrast, Morrow and the DUP pushed through the Swedish Model here on entirely spurious grounds. There was not a single case of sex trafficking prosecuted here last year (and only one case in the south) and the lurid stories of ”women chained to radiators forced to serve 20 men a day” remain entirely unproven, particularly strange in such a small place. Local sex workers made it perfectly clear that criminalisation of their clients was not wanted, but as always our moral guardians knew best, while Westminster and the Scottish Assembly very pointedly rejected the same proposals out of hand last year.

    Amnesty spent two years doing considerable research, sifting fact from hysteria and consulting widely with actual sex workers rather than those who simply object to the idea of paid sex on religious or feminist grounds. They came to the conclusion that the New Zealand Model of decriminalisation is the best one for sex workers and should be applauded for doing so.

    Your stance against equal marriage, while quaint and vaguely amusing at times, does mean we shouldn’t be surprised that you disagree with Amnesty on this issue as well. I do think detailed research and consultation are the important issues here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Of course there’s been moaning and complaining about other cash in hand trades evading tax. One of the major issues about tax intake from Greece was that the higher levels of self-employment lead to lower tax revenues than what their economy was generating. In other countries conducting business purely on a cash in hand business is banned for that very reason. Honest companies get shafted.

    As a charity and so doesn’t pay tax AI aren’t the best advisers for this job.

  • Chingford Man

    The evidence lies what Amnesty believes to be possible or actual infringements of human rights and the subjects and people it chooses to ignore.

    If you look at its Northern Ireland page, for me one glaring omission is the dubious Pastor McConnell prosecution which has huge implications for freedom of speech. But then McConnell is seen as a reactionary Islamophobic dinosaur so his freedom to use the internet to disseminate lawful words and expressions doesn’t bother the left wing human rights industry.

  • Kevin Breslin

    And yes there’s an underground slave labour trade in Western Europe and Northern Ireland. People who do jobs that are legal and people that do jobs that aren’t religious.
    But here’s the thing the actual work that these trafficked individuals do isn’t illegal.

    Case and point decriminalise the labour does nothing to stop exploitation or keep it above ground.

    People buy black market cigarettes, black market alcohol and black market pharmaceuticals … To believe that decriminalisation stops prostitution going underground is naive, prostitution will stay underground in many cases so people can break other laws they don’t like.

    You have to ask those who want to drive their prostitution organisation underground and exploit women even more by doing so, why they would make their prostitutes criminals in order to make money?

    Effectively, you are saying women who would have been in legal brothels would now be in danger because the people they work for are putting them in danger making them prostitute themselves anyway as a point of principle.

    There is no proof that legal brothels do anything to aid the enforcement against human exploitation, no proof that they stop the supply or demand for exploitation.

    And if would be legal brothels want to drag women into an underground industry where exploitation may be rife, maybe said brothels had no respect for women or their bodies in the first place. Don’t you think?

    Effectively saying decriminalising prostitution causes it to go underground is to take away the criminality of those who’d exploit women anyway. In no other crime would a lawmaker be held responsible for the actions of a law breaker but this it seems.

  • Korhomme

    Indoor prostitution isn’t illegal, though now in NI, buying sex is. A brothel is illegal, that is more than one person in a flat. Two workers might want to share a flat for safety, but then they can both be prosecuted for ‘pimping’ each other; prostitution must be one of the few jobs where the law requires people to work alone.

    As for ‘pimps’, the idea that women are entirely incapable of working for themselves and need a man to find their clients is based more on paternalism and patriarchy than reality.

    And as you point out indirectly, there is a very large stigma around prostitution.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The point that I am making has been made by economic researchers Including the London School of Economics not and in a few studies that have been made legalised prostitution does nothing or more likely actually increases the size of the black market through analysing the available evidence.

    It’s the ones who are campaigning for the legalisation of prostitution who are ironically asking the public to take what they feel to be true on faith not evidence.

    Just because someone wants comments like decriminalisation of prostitution drags the industry underground doesn’t make it true, it’s simply a belief and a belief the electors of this region don’t support.

    It also completely ignores all the female legislators who backed the bill, and groups like Women’s Aid who are run by women who also backed the bill when they make an ad hominem attack that this has simply been passed because the people elected someone patriarchal and religious like Maurice Morrow. Is Catriona Ruane patriarchal, is Jo Anne Dobson, Claire Hanna probably backs the bill too.

  • Jag

    How are the PSNI doing with enforcing the new laws in NI (which as Turgon says above, may very well be replicated in the Republic later this year).

    It must be like shooting fish in a barrel for the police. They know where prostitutes work. They know the email addresses and phone numbers of the prostitutes or their, ahem, “management”. All they have to do is a little tapping or email interception or wait around for the punters to turn up. Sure, there may be issues with evidence – “honestly, officer, I was just calling at this premises to spread the Good News!” – but take a few prosecutions, get the names in the papers and on the Internet, and soon enough the business will die away, which is the purpose of introducing the new laws, which were supported by all the main parties. The main parties are voted into power by the overwhelming majority of citizens in NI.

    Presumably when the politicians get back from their holidays next month, they can start quizzing the police on prosecutions, to make sure the new laws are having their desired effect after 3 months. Let’s see a punter imprisoned for a year or landed with a £5,000 fine, with their names immortalised (at least for a period of time despite the daft EU right to forget rules) on the Internet – let’s see how long the demand side of the trade lasts.

  • Prostitution is not illegal in UK. Living off immoral earnings is. So this is about being able to declare earnings, legally… Don’t think this changes the recent NI legislation penalising clients. What does Amnesty have to say about that?

  • Mister_Joe

    Prostitution ain’t going away, regardless of any laws.

  • Jag

    I keep hearing that, “you’ll never find a society without prostitution” malarkey, and maybe that’s right, but you can help society reduce the incidence of prostitution – people tend not to engage in acts if they’re illegal, the bigger the penalty and greater the chances of being caught, the less likely you’ll be to risk engaging in an illegal act. Prostitution in addition carries a stigma, so the risk of having your name plastered all over the Internet and in the papers should also act as a deterrent (let’s see the first prosecution in NI and how that is reported, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t have a major deterrent effect). That’s probably the best we can do, minimise prostitution. Anyway, that’s probably off topic and a rehash of previous debates on here in the run-up to the new laws this year.

    As for AI, I’m not with it on this occasion.

  • Korhomme

    Getting hard and accurate statistics about prostitution is very difficult. How many people are “trafficked” is uncertain; in the UK, the definition of “trafficking” includes simply transporting someone—this might be voluntary. The Palermo definition is much stricter.

    And while Lord Morrow’s Act is about “trafficking”, it specifically outlaws the buyers of sexual services. Buying sex from a trafficked person was already a strict liability offence. But his Act doesn’t outlaw the purchasers of domestic service, or employers in agriculture/food production, the two groups where there are supposed to be greater numbers of trafficked people than are trafficked for sexual services. So why this disparity?

    Further, if accurate statistics are difficult, it does seem that many “anti” organisations are not quite what they purport to be, and the stories from “survivors” may also be unreliable. None of which makes trafficking of people, which clearly does happen thought to an uncertain extent, anything other than an absolute moral offence.

  • Kevin Breslin

    They can’t campaign on the basis that legalizing prostitution will reduce underground prostitution or trafficking, they have as much evidence to back that assertion up as Doctor Wakefield has in linking vaccinations to autism.

    Is it not reasonable to suggest that the legalization of prosecution would make the underground trade more difficult to prosecute as they could use legality as a front as is the case in other forced labour scenarios?

    Or that the number of clients willing to substitute from illegal prostitution to a legal prostitution, would probably not stem new clients buying the services of prostitutes from the rise in illegal, unregulated or underground prostitution operations using legalization to increase their trade.

    The PSNI budgets are cut severely and the risk factor of decriminalizing and the sheer inability to regulate or police the industry alone rather than the presumption of any prejudice to the nature of many sex workers.

    When you consider how low rape convictions are, to paint the picture that oh well at the stroke of the pen, legalized prostitution would put an stop to that, or protect currently exploited workers, because customers and pimps who didn’t have qualms about breaking the law would now feel more compelled to obey the law seems naive.

    Of course sex workers would be safer in a legalized trade than an illegal trade, but decriminalization would do nothing to stop the worse excesses of the illegal trade, it’s not going to magically move traffic human sex-slaves into nice middle class run companies.

    You would have to raise money to enforce and investigate abuse in both the underground and legal industry then.

  • Steve Moxon

    What a biased and misleading article.
    * Street prostitution is a tiny proportion of prostitution and of a completely different character to that off-street.
    * Both violence against clients and the common extreme provocation to clients of taking money yet not providing a service are wholly ignored; the later being the basis of what violence there is towards prostitutes.
    * ‘Trafficking’ is a ‘moral panic’ shown by a number of academic investigations to be without any basis, with stats invented, bogusly including any and every prostitute who crosses a border or even travels just to another town; all being clearly of their own free will.
    * The issue re age of prostitutes is the very opposite of the other ‘moral panic’ of supposedly being under-age: almost invariably the advertised age is several or many years less than what it actually is. Clients face problems in finding a genuine 18-22-year-old; they end up with over-25s, not under-18s.

  • Turgon

    “the common extreme provocation to clients of taking money yet not providing a service are wholly ignored; the later being the basis of what violence there is towards prostitutes.”

    Just a guess but I suspect you will find it remarkably difficult to find many people feeling sorry for someone who pays to have sex with a woman and finds that he hoes not get it. Anyhow I always thought you were paying for a lady’s company and anything else that happened was purely by mutual agreement: presumably the young lady changed her mind. That is the basis of concepts like consent.

    Being more serious: that you use the above to explain / excuse violence against women is very deeply sinister. It is far too close to justifying or even inciting violence for my liking.

    That “clients” have difficulty finding a woman as young as they want is also one of those problems which (and I will hazard a guess here) most people find extraordinarily difficult to empathise with.

    Actually though Mr. Moxon I suppose I should thank you for your contribution. It is a much more eloquent call for the criminalisation of those “clients” purchasing sex than my command of English could ever achieve.

  • Steve Moxon

    What ridiculous moralising anti-male bull of astonishing stupidity.
    * Taking money and not providing the service is a criminal act under section 2 of the Fraud Act, never mind actionable in the civil court.
    * The disclaimer re paying for company is purely to avoid police action under the soliciting laws in advertising a prostitution service. The contract between the provider and the client is subsequent to contact being made and a very different matter.
    * The most foundational prejudice in all societies is re male access to sex, so of course there is lack of sympathy. That hardly makes the prejudice any the more erudite or less absurd.
    * As for the near insane notion that pointing to the extreme provocation that may lead to violence (though rarely: males instinctively hold back) is somehow to excuse it and for some supposed “sinister” reason … well, it’s a newly plumbed depth of risibility

  • Turgon

    Have fun trying to win a civil action for that.

    More importantly you have made no attempt to change your suggestion that somehow a woman withholding sex from a man for whatever reason explains violence against her.

  • David Arnold

    Yes indeed Jag, prosecuting clients has proved to be a stunning success in pioneering Sweden, where there has been no proveable reduction in sex worker numbers since its inception in 1999.

    How about the USA, where clients have been fined, publicly shamed and imprisoned thanks to laws dating back a century. Has that reduced demand or made the business ”die away” do you think? Hint: there are an estimated 300k sex workers in the US.

    Contrast this with New Zealand, where sex work has been decriminalised since 2003. There has been no increase in sex worker numbers or human trafficking, but sex workers themselves have legal protection and equality.

    You clearly haven’t studied the NI legislation — wire tapping etc is not allowable for crimes carrying a prison sentence of less than three years. Do you really think men will be sent to prison for the ‘crime’ of consensual sex? Hint: It hasn’t happened in Sweden in 16 years — sex buyers are fined, (thereby making the state an unofficial pimp.)

    You say the law was supported by all the main parties here. It was sold to them (and the public) in an extremely one-sided way. No current sex workers were allowed to speak to the justice committee while abolitionists including Ruhama (a direct descendant of the Magdalene Sisters) were treated with kid gloves. On the one occasion a representative of a sex work organisation appeared, she was treated appallingly by the DUP representatives. Lurid and spurious stories of locally imprisoned sex slaves were thrown around as fact. A Stormont delegation visited Sweden but not New Zealand. The fact that Westminster and the Scottish Assembly rejected the same proposals on evidence based grounds was ignored.

    In other words, the process was a foregone conclusion from the beginning. Stormont are as out of step with the public on this issue as they are on equal marriage. A recent online poll with over 14k respondents indicated that more than two thirds did not support criminalisation. Once again our moral guardians pursue their own narrow agendas with no consideration or even interest in the people affected.

    Amnesty’s decision, based on years of research and consultation, directly contradicts the criminalisation agenda and shows the Stormont (particularly DUP) machinations for what they are — a moral crusade.

  • Steve Moxon

    [The threat of civil action can and does work; never mind actually filing a claim. Police have closed down ‘parlours’ through a report of rip-off, and agencies have refunded clients so as not to lose reputation.]
    If a fellah asks for money up front and then simply does not provide an agreed service and also doesn’t hand the money back, then quite often if not usually that can lead to him getting his head kicked in; yet that rarely happens in the case of prostitution, despite the male client being particularly full of testosterone at the time, because it’s not a fellah he’s up against. Males hold back when a female would be the target — see the recent very clear research on this; a number of papers: start with Cross et al (2011). On occasion, though, the provocation in the circumstances is so severe that the prostitute is surprised to find that for once she can’t rely on her instinctive understanding that a guy won’t whack her. The guy could be a normal guy who is provoked so much he just loses it; or, more likely, he’s not well-controlled, or he’s a psycho, or partly drunk.

  • Korhomme

    Interesting points; the New Zealand evidence suggests that decriminalisation works there. Legalisation is associated with regulation, so not favoured.

    The Swedish model, though quite recent, is based on either a radical feminist idea that all heterosexual intercourse is violence against, thus prostitutes are being raped, and (or with) the idea that this model would stop trafficking. It doesn’t seem to have done that, as there are no pre-model statistics. But it does allow phone tapping, and eviction of sex workers from their flats, even if they own them. NI has ‘Sweden’ lite.

    It’s very hard to know how many are voluntary economic migrants and how many are trafficked in the sense of coercion, threats etc; this certainly does happen. Often, it’s not the girls who are directly threatened, rather they are assisted here, then enter prostitution, the threat being that their parents in E Europe will be told. Yet there have been no prosecutions for this in the previous year; the numbers, out of a total said to be 350, seem to be very small.

    Why does Lord Morrow’s Act criminalise the buyers of sex, but not the buyers of agricultural work or domestic service? All these groups include trafficked people. Or are all sex workers involuntary slaves in an industry? Who really believes this. Isn’t it clear; it’s all about the ‘right kind of sex’.

  • David Arnold

    Kevin how many ”sex slaves” ie coerced sex trafficking victims were found in NI last year? How many prosecutions were made for sex trafficking in that same period?

  • Kevin Breslin

    2 recorded accounts of sex trafficked victims, (excluding 7 counts of child prostitution) within an annual period between the year 2013 and 2014.,481166,en.pdf
    0 prosecutions within 2014

    That’s as close as I can get to statistics on confirmed victims and prosecutions.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The QUB study differentiates between voluntary sex worker and forced, though this is on the assumption that prostitutes are telling the truth. Among the 18 forced victims, 8 were from either Britian or Ireland, and some by British or Irish paramilitary or criminal gangs while many overseas workers included those you might term economic migrants or native people of these islands who choose the profession.

    A minority of sex workers are forced, but then again a minority of drink drivers injure a person or damage property.

    This is basically possible prevention with minor effect vs. a search for impossible cures with next to no effect. Drink driving bans don’t keep idiots off the road so should we scrap it on that basis? Majority of those just above the legal limit could make it home driving slowly and after a coffee or two, but yet still would break the letter of the law, even they could get caught even if they were driving in an emergency situation.

    If science ever advances to where automated cars and advanced hangover cures criminalising drunk driving will be a thing of the past. If undercover police officers and escaped victims and being caught in the act (of human trafficking, rape and exploitation) weren’t the only means of prosecuting these crimes a far more liberal attitude to prostitution would prevail.

    Unenforceable laws are practically not laws at all.

    With regards to why prostitution is criminalised and services whether other forced labour is present in these services the ill gotten assets can be seized and destroyed … So for parity, would you suggest the seizing and destruction of the prostitutes, as well as the outright ban on farm goods and services where there is a potential for exploitation?

  • David Arnold

    Thanks Kevin. Those figures are interesting in the context of Morrow’s insistence on criminalising sex buyers to ”stop human trafficking.” It clearly does exist, but is not the experience of the overwhelming percentage of sex workers, any more than for labourers or agricultural workers.

  • chrisjones2

    people tend not to engage in acts if they’re illegal,

    yeah like getting drunk and consuming cannabis and speeding

  • Kevin Breslin

    For the sake of completion, these figures don’t give either the full number of people who have been caught up in human trafficking nor those forced into the sex industry, just those who have been recorded.

    Maurice himself admitted these laws wouldn’t stop the black market, and people who have been human trafficked are among those demanding the criminalisation of sex buyers. The deterrent for those who go to buy sex would strip the underground of some if not most of their business, of course many will still take their chances.

    Sex workers aren’t criminalised, indeed the highest surveyed reason for why they joined, the industry (and yes this was their informed choice) based on the QUB study was financial desperation or necessity rather than the call-girl/rent boy/escort lifestyle.

  • David Arnold

    Your last paragraph is an interesting one. Many people seem to assume that sex workers have some kind of exceptional ‘lifestyle’, when the fact is that most are simply there for the most mundane of reasons — earning a living. ‘Financial necessity’ applies just as much to shelf stackers or fast food workers as to sex work. It’s a choice and while it most certainly wouldn’t suit everyone, it does have the advantage of high rates of pay and flexible working hours. For those who don’t mind the work, it’s considerably more lucrative than a minimum wage job.

    Morrow is well aware that coercive human trafficking (as opposed to economic migration) affects a very small percentage of sex workers in NI. Criminalising buyers has had no proveable effect on human trafficking in Sweden (official figures show it is rising) and of course the Swedish law was introduced from a feminist perspective, not HT.

    His criminalisation of buyers is all about moral judgement and had he admitted this, rather than farcically comparing himself to Wilberforce, his position would at least be an honest one. As it is, he is clearly pushing in the opposite direction to the rest of the UK and Amnesty’s years of research and consultation, but when we look at the DUP position on LGBT issues, we can’t really be surprised.

  • gendjinn

    Universal basic income eliminates prostitution.

    Every single problem we have can be solved with sufficient liquidity. And we always have enough money to solve the problems we want – as evidenced by the military and the global bail out of banks & speculators in the aftermath of ’08.

  • Jag

    “Getting drunk” is not illegal, Chris, knock yourself out, but not in public and don’t let it lead to disorder.
    “Consuming cannabis” and “Speeding” are illegal of course, and the greater the penalties and likelihood of conviction, the less likely you’ll be to do either. Won’t eradicate it in all situations but will reduce it.

    Also Chris,how would you feel about the following news stories in your local paper

    “Chris Jones was fined £500 for being drunk and disorderly”
    “Chris Jones was fined £500 for possession of cannabis for personal use”
    “Chris Jones was fined £500 for driving 50mph in a 30mph zone”
    “Chris Jones was fined £500 for paying a prostitute for sex”

  • Jag

    “no provable reduction in sex worker numbers since its inception in 1999.”

    Given the difficulties around prostitution statistics, “provable” is a bit ambitious. And in any event, the objective would be to reduce prostitute interactions which would be even more difficult to measure.

    I’m not an expert on USA prostitution. But I know enough to know you’re not either. Didn’t Louis Theroux do that programme on brothels in Las Vegas. Didn’t look illegal to me for either the prostitute or the punter.

    As for NI and wire-tapping, do a google search for “Belfast escorts”, looks quite organised to me, and controlling and organising prostitution is an offence that warrants tapping and interception.

    Anyway, we’ll be at the 3-month anniversary of the new legislation when the politicians return in September and I am 100% sure they will challenge the PSNI and PPS and justice minister to ensure the new laws are being enforced.

    And hopefully, we’ll see the same (enforced) laws in the South by the end of 2015. From what I’ve seen of this industry, it’s highly organised, with the product (generally a trafficked or vulnerable or substance-dependant woman) relentlessly exploited; oh, and nice little drugs distribution and money laundering businesses (taxis, often) built in for good measure.

  • David Arnold

    I may not be an expert on USA sex work Jag, but I do know that Nevada is unique in that part of it has legalised prostitution. The rest of the USA does not and criminalises both parties, often involving imprisonment. This has been the case for over a century. Rather than rely on Louis Theroux, I suggest you read up on the subject.

    ”Controlling and organising prostituton” is an entirely different thing to paying for consensual sex with another adult. It was made very clear at last year’s Stormont Justice Commitee that wiretap evidence will not and cannot be used in such cases.

    Rather than challenging the PSNI as to why their entirely pointless legislation is not being enforced, Stormont should be taking notice of Amnesty’s findings and consider quietly repealing it. The PSNI have a thousand more useful things to do than chase adults having consensual sex.

    Your general ignorance on the subject is nicely encapsulated in your final paragraph. The trafficking figures for NI speak for themselves — not a single prosecution brought last year, the PSNI stating publicly that the majority of sex workers are there by choice and no actual evidence to support your claims of coercive trafficking or ”substance dependent women.”

    As for the South, this legislation is being hysterically pursued by several NGOs, one closely linked to the Magdalene orders, who stand to benefit handsomely from the perpetuation of myths. The ‘evidence’ they have produced to date is largely spurious and it’s worth noting that England and Scotland rejected this legislation out of hand last year, as of course have Amnesty. I suggest you educate yourself on the subject, perhaps beginning with last year’s QUB report, commissioned by the NI Justice Minister:,481166,en.pdf

  • David Arnold

    I can’t speak for Chris personally, but a headline basically saying that one adult paid another for sexual services is patently ridiculous, as indeed is possession of cannabis for personal use.

    If an adult (male or female) wishes to accept money for sex (rather than say accepting a meal or giving it away for free) why on earth should it be anyone else’s business? Society needs to grow up and realise that ‘crimes’ with no victim are in fact not crimes at all.

  • Korhomme

    Why would you assume that the prostitutes were lying? I’d imagine that those who completed the survey were voluntary actors, and those trafficked/forced were prevented from taking part in it.

    As to the seizure of assets; prostitutes earn the money for themselves, but those trafficked into agriculture and domestic service work for little or no pay, but their employers gain the benefit. So why not seize the employers’ assets?

  • Korhomme

    You say

    “No current sex workers were allowed to speak to the justice committee”

    Laura Lee is a current sex worker and gave evidence. Her treatment by the Justice Committee was disgusting and shameful. There was no pretence of evidence gathering or lack of bias.

  • Jag

    Ridiculous, huh? Tell that to James McNally of Moyola Drive, Derry city!

    The PSNI is not going to ignore this law. When everyone can see prostitution ongoing on an industrial scale in Belfast week-in, week-out, the PSNI is not going to say that, after three months, it has failed to arrest a single punter.

  • Jag

    “PSNI stating publicly that the majority of sex workers are there by choice ”

    Have you a link to that? But even if it’s correct, then what is a “majority”, plainly it’s not everyone, a majority implies more than 50% but less than 100%.

    A minority of one in a NI business apparently employing around 300 is one too many.

    Will reply more fully later, but what you write is dangerous rubbish (“dangerous” in case any lawmakers believe it and fail to act as a result).

  • David Arnold

    ”The majority of prostitution within Northern Ireland is through independent prostitutes who are not trafficked or controlled by organised crime groups.”

    There is also a full recording of the PSNI evidence to the Justice Commitee available, where it is stated that ”the majority of sex workers are there by choice.”

    Given your example of ”one in 300”, do you seriously think criminalising everyone and spending huge amounts of time and police resources on pursuing consenting adults is a better option than actual detective work?

    It’s also worth pointing out that the Swedish Model was never intended to stamp out human trafficking (it was introduced on feminist grounds) and has demonstrably failed to do so. Coercive sex trafficking, as per the figures, is thankfully not a significant issue in NI, while trafficking has been shown to be a definite problem in the agriculture and labouring sectors. Yet the majority of time and effort has been expended on the sex industry. Why is that do you think?

    If what I have written is ”dangerous rubbish”, why then has client criminalisation been rejected by England, Scotland, Denmark, New Zealand and Switzerland, all within the last 12 months? Why have Amnesty, after two years of research and consultation, opted for decriminalisation as the best option? Exactly why do you suppose that Stormont know better on this issue, particularly bearing in mind how spectacularly out of step they are on equal marriage and how draconian the abortion laws are?

    And forgive me if I find the term ”dangerous rubbish” rather laughable coming from someone who wasn’t even aware that prostitution was illegal in 99% of the US. By all means though, feel free to take issue with the points made.

  • David Arnold

    I made reference to Laura Lee in the same paragraph:

    ”On the one occasion a representative of a sex work organisation appeared, she was treated appallingly by the DUP representatives.”

    Laura was at the commitee as the representative for IUSW, not as an independent sex worker. I agree entirely with your statement regarding her treatment.

    As a footnote, Jim Wells declared (falsely) on the day of the vote that ”we did not hear from any current sex workers”, something he actually seemed to be proud of.

  • David Arnold

    Jag what I’m saying is that it’s ridiculous that someone should be prosecuted for possessing three grammes of cannabis or for giving someone money for sex rather than buying them dinner. By any measure, a six pack of beer is more dangerous to health than a few grammes of cannabis and the state has no business interfering in consenting adults sex lives.

    As the late George Carlin said, if it’s legal to have sex for free and legal to buy things, why should it be illegal to buy sex? It’s not that long since men were being arrested and imprisoned for being gay. Nowadays thankfully we’ve (mostly) moved on, much to the DUP’s dismay and their continuing quixotic battles against anything connected to the subject.

    If the PSNI enforce this law, it will be every bit as ineffective and counter-productive as it has been in Sweden. Thank goodness Amnesty have had the good sense to properly research and consult on this issue. If only Stormont had done the same.

  • David Arnold

    ”Universal basic income eliminates prostitution.”

    No it doesn’t. It’s a common assumption that sex work is some kind of ‘desperate last choice’ but in the age of the internet particularly, that is far from being the truth.

    Remember that a sex worker can earn ten times minimum wage and while it certainly isn’t a choice for everyone, many see it as ”just sex” and don’t mind the work. Many work part time to supplement other income and may only take a few bookings a month or do cam or phone work. Sex work is a very diverse area and the attempts by some to deal solely in stereotypes are both unhelpful and counter-productive. Amnesty are to be commended for cutting through the myths and seeking out facts and personal experience.

    Sex work will exist for as long as one adult is willing to provide sexual services and another is willing to pay an agreed price for them.

  • Korhomme

    I didn’t make the connection when I read your comment; I wasn’t entirely clear if she appeared as a spokesperson, a representative, someone with links to the IUSW, or was speaking on her own behalf. No matter. I still find it hard to believe that she was treated in the way she was. As for Mr Wells….

  • If I live a thousand years I will never see how anyone could genuinely believe that the fact that women are forced to sell sex by poverty and lack of options justifies the Swedish Model that aims to make it harder or even impossible for them to exercise that last honest resort to get the money they need to survive at all, let alone with any kind of hope or quality of life.

    The myth that it is impossible to find yourself in a situation where you have no way of getting the money for the basics of survival seems to grow in inverse proportion to the extent to which more and more people are being forced to face that very situation due to dysfunctional austerity measures.

    Then…well what do you *THINK* happens to people when they run out of the means to survive?

    If women being forced to sell sex by poverty and lack of options bothers you then fight against poverty and lack of options. I would love to see any decision maker who can be shown to have left a person in a position where they have no alternative to selling sex criminalised, because *THEY* are the ones creating the real *demand* for sex work.

    Clients are just the crop we harvest to survive the circumstances that forced us to sell sex in the first place.

    …and remember, any resource or rescue conditional upon you pretending to play along with ideology you do not believe in, or even know to be made of harmful lies is not an option for anyone with integrity…and a lot of the women who sell sex out of desperation have integrity, that is why they do not steal for a living instead.

  • Just FYI I was treated far worse than Laura Lee. I knew I couldn’t keep my temper so I sent sent the Justice Committee this sworn deposition:
    It was the only evidence of any kind they received on oath and pain of perjury.

    Much if it concerned factual specifics but the last page was a personal statement of my experience of sex work.

    They acknowledged and dismissed it without discussion, and then published it in their report including my full name, address, two ex directory phone numbers and the same information for the peace commissioner who took the oath. However they excluded the third, most generic page of the deposition.

    It took ten months until an Autism Advocate in Belfast pointed out it was a breach of the data protection act and that I should go to the information commissioner – who got it taken down in hours.

    As to never getting a chance to speak to any sex workers, if I had a pound for every DUP MLA I tried to get to meet with me who refused and often blocked me on twitter.

  • Korhomme

    I saw your original on Maggie’s blog; I think we discussed things there. I wasn’t aware of the follow up as you describe.

    It’s quite clear that the Justice Committee, its members and others have little interest in truth or reality; rather, they follow a narrow, prescriptive, blinkered pathway where only their point of view is in any way acceptable.

  • David Arnold

    The justice committee was a foregone conclusion determined to ignore reality. Had it been a court of law, its supposed evidence would have been comprehensively dismantled. It baffles me how laws can be passed on little more than fantasy and prejudice.