Sex worker to challenge Northern Ireland prostitution law

by Zoe Tabary | zoetabary | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 5 February 2017 00:00 GMT

A sex worker participates in a march to raise public awareness on human rights issues in their profession on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in Skopje, Macedonia December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Image Caption and Rights Information
"A lot of good clients - those married or with families - drop off because they're scared of being caught, and you're left with those who couldn't care less and treat you badly."

By Zoe Tabary

LONDON, Feb 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is due to appear before Northern Ireland's High Court on Monday to challenge a law making it illegal to pay for sex.

Northern Ireland criminalised the purchase of sex in 2015 - the first part of the UK to pass such a law - in a move some advocacy groups said would help stamp out sex trafficking.

Other groups have criticised the law, saying it will drive the sex trade underground and increase the risk of violence women face.

"I'm challenging this bill because it creates an extremely dangerous environment for sex workers," Lee told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Clients are refusing to identify themselves for fear of retaliation, so we as sex workers can't assess them and have no comeback if things go wrong."

Lee said "a lot of good clients - those married or with families - drop off because they're scared of being caught, and you're left with those who couldn't care less and treat you badly."

Northern Ireland followed Canada, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in introducing laws designed to punish the client without criminalising those who have been driven into prostitution, and to end trafficking.

But Lee said there was no evidence to show the law would help tackle sex trafficking.

"It's instead damaged the relationship between sex workers and the police, as they're now chasing after our clients," she said.

"That has led to more assaults and even rapes, and there's now a marked reluctance among our community to come forward and report those crimes."

In September last year, a judge ruled Lee had established an arguable case that amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act breach her rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.

Lee said that although her legal challenge had drawn criticism and hate messages, "it's shown me an inner strength I didn't know I had."

"I just want to get things moving," she said. (Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Latest News
Comments Close
Sex worker to challenge Northern Ireland prostitution law

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more information see our Acceptable Use Policy.

comments powered by Disqus