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Banning the purchase of sex in NI has actually led to an increase in sex workers, report finds

It is estimated that the number of sex workers advertising per day is 308.

Image: Shutterstock

ACADEMIC RESEARCH INTO the 2015 law which saw the purchase of sex be made illegal has found it has had no effect in reducing the demand for paid sexual services.

The research was carried out by Queen’s University Belfast after being commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice, with the department saying the results show there is:

no evidence that the offence of purchasing sexual services has produced a downward pressure on the demand for, or supply of, sexual services.

The researchers looked at the operation of the new law and also carried out an analysis of the advertisements for sex work.

From 2015 to the end of 2018 there were 15 arrests and two convictions for purchasing sexual services.

The research identified and looked at 173,460 sex work advertisements in that period and concluded that law and little effect on demand.

In fact, the analysis indicated that there has been a 5% increase in the number of sex work advertisements since the law was changed.

The research notes that sex workers “reported a surge in business in the period following introduction of the legislation” and also found that the number of sex workers advertising their services had also increased.

It is estimated that the number of sex workers advertising per day is 308. On-street prostitution has declined further since research in 2014, from around 20 to less than 10.

Opponents of the law change argued that it also made sex workers less safe.

The research found that there has been an increase in the self-reporting of serious incidents on the Uglymugs.ie website during the period in question, including assaults sexual assaults and threatending behaviour.

The department however says that it is “not possible to say that the change in the law is responsible for any increase in crime against sex workers” and that overall “the incidence is still lower than elsewhere”

Trafficking

The research also recorded that in the period in question there were 31 arrests and five convictions for human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

On this, Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice concluded that there is “no clear evidence” that the legislation has had an impact on human trafficking.

“The research found that the legislation had minimal effect on the demand for sexual services therefore it is difficult to see in what way it could impact on human trafficking for sexual exploitation,” the department stated.

Reacting to the report, the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland spokesperson Kate McGrew said the findings demonstrated that their objections to the law change were justified.

“Sex workers in Ireland tend to work both jurisdictions so a lot of the findings in this report will be applicable to the Republic of Ireland. If the purpose of the law was to decrease demand it has failed. If the purpose of the law was to help sex workers it has failed,” McGrew said.

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Rónán Duffy

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