No prosecutions’ for paying for sex in NI despite new law

No prosecutions’ for paying for sex in NI despite new law

Image caption

The PSNI said about 800 men a day pay for sex in
Northern Ireland, but no-one has been prosecuted since it became illegal
last June

No-one has been
prosecuted for paying for sex in Northern Ireland despite the fact it
has been illegal for more than a year, it has emerged.

The law – the first of its kind in the UK – was introduced last June after a majority of MLAs at Stormont backed it.
It was feared the law would push the sex trade further underground and expose sex workers to greater risk.
But figures from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) have shown no-one has ended up in court for paying for sex.
According
to the PSNI, more than 800 men are paying for sex in Northern Ireland
every day, but over the past year, only 10 men have been investigated by
police.
Out of the seven of those cases referred to the PPS,
three were thrown out, two men received cautions while the remaining two
cases are still being considered by a senior prosecutor.

‘Significant impact’

Defending the PSNI’s record, Det Supt John McVea said there had been some successful outcomes.
“There
are a number of people who have received cautions at the direction of
the PPS. Our priority is to protect the vulnerable and to target human
trafficking and sexual exploitation,” he said.
Making it illegal to pay for sex has acted as a deterrent and that has been welcomed, he added.

Image caption

Det Supt John McVea said the PSNI’s priority was to
target human trafficking and sexual exploitation rather than prosecute
those men paying for sex

“We have identified 60 people in the past year who have been the victims of human trafficking,” said Det Supt McVea.
“That
is a considerable number and we feel we have made a significant impact
on human trafficking throughout Northern Ireland. Paying for sex within
this act is a not a priority, our priority is to target the human
trafficking element and sexual exploitation.”
Det Supt McVea said
the PSNI’s aim was “not about targeting an individual sex worker”, but
to ensure that sex workers are not vulnerable and do not fall victim to a
crime.
He added, however, that: “If we come across criminality
we will address it, and that’s where the ten cases have been referred to
the PPS in the past year.”

‘Detailed look’

The lack of prosecutions has come as no surprise to David Ford, who was the Justice Minister when the law was introduced.
“The
challenge for police is how they actually produce evidence from what
is, in effect, a consensual business relationship between two adults.
There clearly is a lot of work that needs to be done to fight
trafficking, but that is not the same thing,” said Mr Ford.

Image caption

The former Justice Minister David Ford had opposed
the bill, saying he believed it would be difficult to enforce

“We need a more detailed look at the issues around
prostitution rather than tacking on this one clause to a bill dealing
with the more important issue of human trafficking.”
The DUP’s Lord Morrow, who pushed for the new law, said it is too early to judge how effective the law will be.
“Those
of us who are legislators don’t have any control over the PPS, however,
we are expecting that there will be a change coming in the next 12
months,” said Lord Morrow.

‘Precious legislation’

“I
believe, as the police have already assured me, that this is a precious
piece of legislation in the tool box which they will be using.”
Lord Morrow said he has warned the PPS that questions will be raised if there are no prosecutions in the next 12 months.

Media captionLord Morrow ‘disappointed’ by lack of prosecutions for paying for sex

“I can’t tell the police what their priorities should be,
but I believe they value the new law and they are keen to see the
implementation and enforcement.
“I look to the PPS to do what
they are supposed to be doing, and if over the next 12 months there is
no change we will be talking to the PPS to ask them to explain the
reason why,” he added.
One sex worker in Belfast – Catriona – told the BBC that the new law has put her at greater risk.
“I’m not surprised there have been no prosecutions as it was always going to be difficult to get the evidence.

‘Reluctant’

“My
clients are aware of the law and if anything it has left sex workers at
greater risk, as it is harder to scan our clients,” she said.

Image caption

Sex worker Catriona, who wanted to remain anonymous,
told the BBC that the new law has put her and other workers at greater
risk

“They are reluctant to be upfront about who they are
and that means we aren’t sure who we are seeing or if they are genuine.
Clients are more fearful they will be found out and will end up in
court and have their names in the newspaper.”
She added: “I think the police have better things to be doing than going after people who are having consenting sex.”
Under the legislation, those who are convicted of paying for sex will face a fine of £1,000 and up to a year in prison.
Politicians at Stormont are due to review the law in two years’ time.
You can watch the full report on BBC Newsline at 18:30 BST.

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