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Alarm as police data shows just one conviction under NI purchase of sex law

Commercial Sexual Exploitation
3 January 2024
Woman looking out window trafficking

Press release | Just one person has been convicted under purchase of sex legislation in Northern Ireland since 2018, data shows, prompting fears that authorities are taking a “soft touch” approach.

Freedom of information data obtained by CARE shows 75 arrests took place for ‘Paying for Sexual Services’ between 2018 and 2023. The figures show 21 people were charged but just one person was convicted. 24 people received cautions, and 4 received community resolutions.

For the outcomes not provided, the PSNI said persons “may have been dealt with by other methods without having been arrested”, and that not all community resolutions are recorded.

‘Soft touch approach’

Louise Davies MBE, Director of Advocacy and Policy at CARE, commented:

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to have criminalised the purchase of sex under landmark modern slavery provisions enacted in 2015. This law is rooted in an understanding that targeting sex buyers is crucial in driving down demand for sexual exploitation – a crime frequently linked to trafficking and modern slavery.

“We are acutely concerned that by failing to properly enforce NI’s purchase of sex law, authorities are undermining its core purpose. Men seeking to pay for sex with vulnerable, exploited women have faced no real disincentive, despite their actions being explicitly outlawed for several years. There appears to be a soft touch approach.

“Police and prosecutors must explain why purchase of sex laws are not being used effectively. Other countries such as Sweden show that convictions are obtainable through routine evidence-gathering techniques. Recent cases such as the major criminal operation in Belfast involving trafficked women underline the need for immediate action.”

Freedom of information data

CARE sought information on police enforcement of purchase of sex legislation via a freedom of information request. Read the response here:

FoI-response-by-PSNI-Purchase-of-Sexual-Services.pdf (

Fact sheet

Read our fact sheet on sex buyers’ laws.

UK campaign

CARE is campaigning for the purchase of sex to be criminalised in the rest of the UK. In September, we urged the Scottish Government to take forward work on the issue, arguing that a law change in Scotland would aid efforts to curb human trafficking.

In October, MEPs backed a report on prostitution in the EU, stressing its "impact on gender equality and women’s rights". The report recognises that prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation exist because there is a demand for them.

It acknowledges that reducing demand is key to prevent and reduce human trafficking. It also recommend that states make it "punishable as a criminal offence to solicit, accept or obtain a sexual act from a person in exchange for remuneration".


Notes for Editors

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) is a social policy charity, bringing Christian insight to the policies and laws that affect our lives.

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Commercial Sexual Exploitation

We believe people were made for purpose, not purchase. Exploitation within the sex industry affects some of the most vulnerable in our society. CARE is working for better laws to protect them.

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