From June 1, it will be illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland and campaigners are calling for this new law to be implemented throughout the UK.
The offence is mainly targeted towards men who use prostitutes and is regarded as having been successful in Norway and Sweden.
There are claims this law has led to the number of prostitutes in Sweden falling by 75 per cent in just 15 years and that now there are only 200 prostitutes in the whole country. It will be interesting to see, in time, if this law is as successful in Northern Ireland because there are some who doubt the validity of the claims being made.
Another problem this new law faces is that some street sex workers are trying to overturn the law as they consider it breaches European human rights legislation. Prostitution is regarded as the world’s oldest profession and I am not convinced any legislation, of any kind, will prevent consenting adults from trading sexual acts for cash. Although I may be proved wrong, I think this legislation is flawed and will only cause more problems than it solves.
I would argue that some of the key issues which should be addressed are to prevent people from being forced in to prostitution by threats and exploitation and to ensure those who choose to offer their services are safe in terms of health and personal safety.
Direct police action should involve preventing areas from becoming red light districts by tackling kerb crawlers, soliciting, pimping and dealing with or treating any associated drug activity. The dynamics of the sex trade are very complex and it’s not just going to stop due to a law targeting the buyer instead of the seller. This law will simply send the activity underground and potentially it will become more dangerous for all involved. I find it highly unlikely that 600 prostitutes in Sweden have suddenly stopped working; many will have simply changed their working practices to protect their clients.
It is probable punters and workers may simply end up using third parties to handle the payment for the sexual services, thereby reducing the risk of being caught.
The law just seems to create more opportunities for pimps and gangsters rather than protecting vulnerable women. The Northern Ireland legislation may be taking the high moral ground but in practical terms, I doubt this is progress.