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Criminalising the purchase of sex will help end human trafficking

A new report has found that criminalising the purchase of sex is the most effective way to end demand and effectively tackle human trafficking.

The research was carried out by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and examined different legislative approaches to prostitution and trafficking across six EU member states.

It highlighted that targeting the demand through criminalising those who purchase human beings is the most effective way to reduce trafficking of women and girls into prostitution.

Monica O’Connor, co-founder of University College Dublin’s Sexual Exploitation Research Project and author of the report said: “In Sweden, and now in France and Ireland, the laws flow from the understanding of prostitution as a form of violence against women. This means the demand to buy girls or women to supply sexual acts is not regarded as legitimate or acceptable within society.”

Mia de Faoite, who survived prostitution welcomed the report stating that: “a law aimed at buyers works because it puts them at risk of bringing what they do in the dark, into who they are in the day, and that is a risk many will not take”. 

Criminalising the purchase of sex is also referred to as the ‘Nordic model’. Sweden was the first country to adopt this approach and since then Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France and the Republic of Ireland have all followed suit.

The report also found laws targeting demand will not be effective unless they are supported by clear, policy-led efforts to properly support women and girls exiting the world of sexual exploitation.

For women wanting to leave prostitution the process is rarely easy. Many have a criminal record and finding new employment is difficult. Funding services that provide them with support and the tools they need to rebuild their lives is a vital way of helping them make a clean break.

This report follows a BBC Two drama ‘Doing Money’ which was broadcast last week. The show was based on the real story of Ana* who was kidnapped from a street in London and trafficked for sexual exploitation around Ireland. It shows clearly the connection between demand for prostitution and human trafficking for exploitation.

CARE’s Senior Policy Officer for Human Trafficking, Louise Gleich responds:

“Introducing laws to criminalise the buyer of sex targets the inequality, harm and exploitation that is at the heart of prostitution. It also holds those who drive it – the buyers – accountable for their actions.

“Our current laws on prostitution in the UK are failing to deter traffickers, have not kept pace with technology and crucially, they do not protect victims of sexual exploitation.

“Such a law is already in operation in Northern Ireland. We urgently need to extend this legislation across the whole of the UK.”

CARE worked with Lord Morrow to introduce the NI Human Trafficking Act which includes a provision to criminalise the purchase of sex. There have been positive comments from parliamentarians in Holyrood and Westminster in regard to bringing in laws to criminalise the purchase of sex and we will continue to advocate for this, as well as better exit strategies and support for women leaving prostitution.


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