Some of the most vulnerable in our society face commercial sexual exploitation. Many individuals face considerable pressure and have little choice in ‘choosing’ prostitution; abuse, addiction and homelessness are often contributing factors for individuals entering the sex industry.[i] For trafficked individuals there is no choice at all.
In Northern Ireland, steps have been taken to combat commercial sexual exploitation and to provide support for those wishing to exit prostitution.
Prostitution and Commercial Sexual Exploitation
- Tackling Demand
It has been widely recognised that prostitution and human trafficking are linked phenomena. While not all in prostitution have been trafficked, many will have experienced exploitation of some kind. By tackling demand, it is possible to prevent further exploitation. Northern Ireland has led the way in the UK by introducing section 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act which criminalises the purchase of sex. CARE worked closely with Lord Morrow MLA as he piloted the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act through the Assembly and we passionately believe in the approach the Act takes. This provision was implemented on 1 June 2015 and has already been utilised by the PSNI.[ii] We will be advocating that the PSNI and Northern Ireland Assembly seek to fully implement this provision in the months and years ahead.
- Exit Strategies
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act also requires the Executive to establish a strategy to ensure the availability of programmes that assist and support those wishing to exit prostitution. At present, there is only one agency established specifically for nd there is no one organisation in Northern Ireland that solely and specifically offers an exit programme. The strategy was released in July 2016. Sadly, the strategy proved to be a limited document in many respects and does not go far enough in supporting individuals in prostitution. CARE will be advocating greater resources to be given to support services for individuals seeking to exit prostitution.
Child Sexual Exploitation
In 2014, an independent inquiry supported by a number of statutory bodies found that at least 100-145 children were at risk of sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland. Many stakeholders deemed this figure just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.[iii] Considering that many in the UK enter into prostitution before the age of 18 it is vital that steps are taken to protect children from sexual exploitation.[iv] The inquiry sets out a number of recommendations, asking the Assembly to re-affirm its commitment to a long-term strategy of prevention and early intervention through sustained funding.[v]
Questions for Candidates
- Will you commit to ensuring the full and effective implementation of section 15 of The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act which criminalises the purchase of sex?
- What will you do to improve protection for children who are sexually exploited and what steps will you take to prevent vulnerable young people from entering prostitution?
- Will you promise to support and encourage programmes aimed at early intervention to prevent vulnerable people from entering prostitution?
- Will you seek to hold the Northern Ireland Executive to account for the quality and utility of the programmes introduced through section 19 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act to help individuals leave prostitution?
- Will you commit to working to reduce levels of prostitution in Northern Ireland?
[i] Department of Justice, Research paper investigating the issues for women in Northern Ireland involved in prostitution and exploring best practice elsewhere (2011) 61 – 65
[v] Marshall Inquiry (2014) 149