Buying sexual services is set to become illegal in Northern Ireland following a precedent-setting vote approving a private member's bill on human trafficking and exploitation.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill follows the Nordic Model of criminalizing the buyer of sex, not the prostituted women.
Stormont Assembly members voted 81 to 10 in favor of the bill, sponsored by Lord Morrow of the Democratic Unionist Party, making Northern Ireland the first part of the UK to vote in favor of such legislation.
While the bill must still pass through three further stages before becoming law, Lord Morrow said he believes the legislation will receive Royal Assent by the middle of 2015.
This approach to the sexual exploitation of women has proven very effective in cutting down prostitution in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, and was recently adopted in Canada.
The bill also makes provision for supporting human trafficking victims, as well as assistance and support for women exiting prostitution.
The Christian social policy charity CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) lauded the passage of the bill, saying the provisions of statutory victim care, statutory child trafficking guardians, and addressing the demand for paid sex will give Northern Ireland the best anti-trafficking and exploitation legislation in the UK.
“According to the National Referral Mechanism, more than half those trafficked to Northern Ireland are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation,” said Dan Boucher, CARE's Director of Parliamentary Affairs, in a press release following the vote.
“Criminalizing paying for sex provides the most effective means of addressing that demand head on and has been very successful in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Northern Ireland now joins these countries in embracing an approach to prostitution law reform that has been particularly successful at challenging sex trafficking and wider sexual exploitation. This development is of seminal significance,” Boucher said.
Louise Gleich, CARE’s Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Officer, said, “This has been a great day in the advance of better human trafficking and exploitation legislation in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has set the pace. It is now for England, Wales and Scotland to try to catch up.”
Mark Baillie, CARE in Northern Ireland Public Affairs Officer, said the provision in Lord Morrow's bill for statutory child trafficking guardians is of “huge importance.”
“Child trafficking victims are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society,” Baillie said. “The provision of these specialist statutory guardians to help rescued children negotiate their way through the maze of statutory agencies with which they must engage is of huge importance.
“It is in being passed from statutory agency to agency, of having to repeat their story again and again, that rescued trafficked children can become demoralized and vulnerable to re-trafficking. The provision of a specialist statutory guardian as a common point of reference as children move between agencies who can speak on their behalf, is thus very strategic,” Baillie stated.
A poll conducted by Ipsos Mori found that there is extensive public support for criminalizing the buying of sex in Northern Ireland.
The poll found that 78 percent of those questioned believe that Northern Ireland should criminalize the purchase of sexual services, while only 13 percent were against the approach.
The survey showed that 82 percent of women and 74 percent of men approve of criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. Support for the legislation was strongest among the 16 to 34 age group at 82 percent, while 79 percent of 35-54s, and 73 percent of those aged over 55 also agreed.
“This opinion poll illustrates what we have known for a long time: the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are in favor of criminalizing the purchase of sexual services, and that the public also believe that this is the right approach to take in this country,” a CARE spokesperson said.