Press Release: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Northern Ireland

December 16, 2014




On Wednesday December 17th 2014 Northern Irish sex workers and their allies will stand in solidarity with sex workers in the Republic of Ireland and around the world to call for an end to violence against sex workers. The 17th December is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a day to call attention to the hate crimes committed against sex workers, and the need to remove the stigma and criminalisation that contributes to violence against sex workers.

Solidarity Federation Belfast Local and the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland have arranged a demonstration at 5pm at Belfast City Hall and are calling on Stormont to scrap Clause 15 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sex, and will come into force on 1st June 2015. This law was passed despite independent research commissioned by the Department of Justice showing only 2% of sex workers supported criminalisation of clients and 61% of sex workers thought it would make them less safe.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have rejected legislation criminalising the purchase of sex. There is great concern that the result of Clause 15 will be sex work driven further underground and increased violence against sex workers. Despite promises of decriminalisation, sex workers will remain liable to be prosecuted for brothel keeping if they do not work alone.

So far this year Northern Ireland based sex workers have reported 179 incidents of abuse to 69 of these incidents were deemed to be crimes and include assaults, exploitation, fraud, harassment, impersonating police, robberies, sexual assaults, threatening behaviour and vandalism. 20 of these criminal incidents involved physical violence against the sex worker. Only 5 (7.2%) of these 69 crime incidents were also reported to the PSNI.

Lucy Smith of said “It is vital that the PSNI now improve their response to crime against sex workers. The ‘Merseyside Model’ of treating crimes against sex workers as hate crimes and providing sex work liaison officers, as recommended by ACPO, should be adopted immediately.”

“In regard to enforcement the PSNI must now adopt a strategy that prioritises sex worker safety. Clause 15 has created a situation where the PSNI are now compelled to look again at their policing around sex work. We hope there will be engagement with sex workers on these issues shortly.”

Sex workers, supporters and media welcome outside Belfast City Hall 5-6pm, Wednesday December 17th 2014. Masks will be available for privacy if desired.


For further information, please contact:
Lucy Smith, /

Update on NI Legislation for sex workers

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice

For sex workers wondering what happened in NI today, the Further Consideration Stage of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill took place.

The purchase of sex is set to be criminalised by this Bill. We learnt that in October. The Clause criminalising the purchase of sex was previously known as “Clause 6″ but it is now “Clause 15″.

We learnt today that Clause 15 is set to come into effect on 1st June 2015. That means from 1st June 2015 persons buying sexual services will be committing a criminal offence.

This Bill will only criminalise ‘sexual services’ where the buyer is physically in the presence of the seller, i.e. it will not criminalise the buying of remote services like phone sex or webcam sex.

‘Sexual services’ are described in this Bill as sexual touching, either you – the sex worker – sexually touching the client or the client sexually touching you.

A new amendment was passed today which will criminalise the purchase of a person sexually touching themselves in the purchaser’s presence. The purchase of services like lap dancing and stripping could also be criminal following this amendment. There are currently differing legal opinions on whether this amendment will criminalise the purchase of services like lap dancing and stripping.

Unfortunately there were no amendments put forward to remove the brothel laws sometimes used to criminalise sex workers.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Belfast & Dublin, 17th December 2014

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Belfast

December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This annual event was first marked in 2003 by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. Since then sex workers and allies around the world have come together on this date to call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers, and the need to remove the stigma and criminalisation that contributes to violence against sex workers.

This year there will be events in Belfast and Dublin to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The Belfast event is to be held at 5pm on 17th December 2014 at Belfast City Hall. This demonstration has been called by the Solidarity Federation Belfast Local and Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. The Facebook event page is here.

The Dublin event is to be held at 6pm on 17th December 2014 at the Dáil. This vigil has been called by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland. The Facebook event page is here.

More sex workers being sent to prison since TORL campaign

Sex workers are increasingly being sent to prison in the Republic of Ireland since the launch of the Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) campaign to further criminalise sex work in 2011.

In 2011 the now disbanded TORL opposition campaign, Turn Off the Blue Light (TOBL), carried out research which found that the brothel keeping laws were being used almost exclusively to criminalise sex workers, rather than the owners or managers of brothels. TOBL identified 55 persons convicted of brothel keeping offences from 2008 – 2011 (to 27 July) via media reports and found that 91% appeared to be sex workers, not owners or managers of brothels who had sex workers working for them. Further 93% were women and 98% were non nationals.

Looking at the punishments given to the 55 persons convicted of brothel keeping in the TOBL study, only three persons received jail sentences that were not suspended, and, only one of these was a sex worker who had no other sex workers working for him/her. That was the 2010 case of 35 year old Romanian woman, F.P., who was jailed for 3 months by a judge in Monaghan after she could not find the €1,000 bail surety which would have resulted in her receiving a suspended sentence. The Irish Independent reported at the time that F.P. asked the judge: “Who is going to look after my nine-year-old child?” to which he replied “That is not my problem.”

In the three years since the TOBL research was published the number of sex workers being sent to prison for brothel keeping offences appears to have increased significantly. Media research identifies five further cases of sex workers, who appeared to have no other sex workers working for them, jailed for brothel keeping, as follows:

Galway, March 2012: M.C., Romanian, female, age 34, sentenced to three months in prison

Kildare, December 2012: R.D.S.O., female, age 28 and K.C.S., female, age 57, both sentenced to four months in prison

Leitrim, September 2013: E.C., Romanian, female and D.H., Romanian, female, both sentenced to four months in prison

TORL organisations often financially profit from the criminalisation of sex workers. For example in the Leitrim case above the judge ordered that the money seized from the two sex workers he jailed be donated to Ruhama.

Additionally sex workers who appear to have no other sex workers working for them are being sent to jail under other laws. In February 2013 the Clare People reported on a case of two Romanian women jailed for 10 weeks each for knowingly living in whole or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person and aiding and abetting that prostitution. The women’s solicitor said they had co-operated completely with the gardaí and had only become involved in prostitution in order to get money to send home to their families who lived in “dire poverty” in Romania. The judge accepted they were not part of a criminal organisation, but clearly this did not deter him from jailing them.

Although TORL frequently puts out the soundbite that it wants to “criminalise the buyer and decriminalise the seller” in reality TORL has only ever sought to ensure that the laws used to criminalise indoor sex workers remain in place.

Persecution of sex worker goes unnoticed

Current Enniskillen case highlights hateful Northern Irish sex work policy.

On 16th October the PSNI Fermanagh Twitter account announced ‘Brothel raided by Police in Enniskillen in the Cornagrade area last night. A number of persons arrested as a result.‘

The following week the front page of the Fermanagh Herald newspaper revealed that the result of this operation was the arrest of a 35 year old woman on suspicion of brothel keeping.

In the meantime the DoJ had published independent research into sex work and the NI Assembly had promptly disregarded this research and passed Clause 6 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which will criminalise the purchase of sex. Despite claims to the contrary from both the DUP and Sinn Féin, sex workers are not to be decriminalised under this legislation, the brothel laws that can be used to criminalise indoor sex workers remain.

It is generally accepted that indoor sex workers working alone are not breaking any laws, as a premises is not a ‘brothel’ unless two or more sex workers are working there. In England and Wales CPS guidance further advises against using the brothel laws to prosecute sex workers at all, outlining that charging practice should focus on “The need to penalise those who organise prostitutes and make a living from their earnings”. But in Northern Ireland there appears to be no PSNI policy on sex work and the PPS issues no guidance. Therefore we do see the PSNI using the brothel keeping laws to criminalise indoor sex workers.

In this recent Enniskillen case, the PSNI appear to be attempting to use the brothel keeping laws against a sex worker who was working alone, which is even more severe than usually seen. The basis of the case is believed to be that, although the sex worker was working alone, a different sex worker worked at the same premises previously. (It can be argued that a premises can be legally classified as a brothel where it has been used by more than one person for the purpose of prostitution at different times.)

PSNI Inspector Roy Robinson gave the Fermanagh Herald a number of quotes on this Enniskillen case, describing it as a ‘positive’ police operation and saying “I think any sort of neighbours in the area would be pleased with the police action and response. “ He goes on to say “These are girls who don’t want to be in the trade, they come here under false pretences probably and people are holding on to their passports and these people are slaves to those who are controlling them.” He finishes by encouraging people to ring Crimestoppers or the PSNI to report similar cases they may be aware of saying of the PSNI “we’re more than happy to investigate.”

Left to devise his own sex work strategy in Enniskillen, Inspector Robinson appears to believe that all sex workers are victims of trafficking and the best way of dealing with this is arresting and prosecuting these victims of trafficking.

Yesterday the woman accused of brothel keeping in Enniskillen appeared in court. The case will continue in December. The front page of today’s ‘Impartial Reporter’ is apparently an article naming and shaming her.

Where is the outcry about the treatment of this sex worker, or sex trafficking victim, if PSNI Inspector Robinson’s views on her situation are to be believed? One thing Inspector Robinson is apparently correct about is that the lady’s passport has been taken from her by a third party. However understands that it is the PSNI who have taken the lady’s passport from her, not a trafficker as the PSNI comments to the media suggest.

Modern Day Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland?

Magdalene Laundries loom large in the history of Irish sex work policy, especially so in the Republic where the last such slave labour institution, the High Park laundry in Dublin, only closed in 1996. Given the same religious orders that ran these laundries continue to dominate over sex work policy in the Republic today, it barely seems appropriate to talk of this as ‘history’ at all. But, moving away from the Republic, has the moral panic over ‘Modern Day Slavery’ in North now created a situation where Magdalene Laundry type institutions could re-emerge in the North?

In 2012 a fundraiser appeared for a new ‘safe house’ to be run by Solas Trust, an organisation with a stated mission to provide residential care, refuge, restoration and rehabilitation for women and young girls who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and/or prostitution. In a series of slick professional videos the religious couple planning to run the ‘home’ were introduced as Mike and Ros Oman. Mike, who self-styles himself as the ‘father of the fatherless’, talked about wanting to be a father to abused women and girls and help them discover God and experience restoration in Christ. Ros said women would stay in the ‘home’ for 45 days to 2 years.

Soon after this the front page of the Freedom Project Ireland (now renamed Invisible Traffick) said “As more victims are rescued, FPI intends to develop an intensive rehabilitation service to assist victims as they heal.” More recently anti-trafficking charity, Flourish NI, which was launched in 2014, stated it also has an interest in developing exit services for sex workers. A great number of anti-trafficking organisations have sprung up all over Northern Ireland in recent years, and many of these could potentially want to get involved in running exiting services for sex workers.

The DUP has been busy planning a future for sex workers in Northern Ireland for a while now. On 20th March 2014, at a Justice Committee evidence session on their Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, Lord Morrow and his ‘Advisor’ Dr Dan Boucher of fundamentalist Christian lobby group CARE added a new clause to the Bill to require that support is provided for those who wish to exit sex work. As if yet to grasp how ineffective passing a law against the purchase of sex work will be in terms of actually stopping sex work, Lord Morrow talked of sex workers being left “bewildered”, “like orphans” and “alone to fend for themselves in a big world that they have very little experience of”. His DUP colleague Jim Wells noted that once “their trade dries up” sex workers might “turn to something equally sinister such as drug trafficking” if not provided with “care, settlement, training and sheltered housing.”

Women’s Aid, who have stated they view all sex work as rape and slavery and have supported the DUP Bill to criminalise the purchase of sex, met with Lord Morrow and proposed they are funded an extra £200,000 per annum to provide sheltered accommodation for women exiting sex work. The Justice Committee’s report on the Bill contains a letter from Women’s Aid to Lord Morrow outlining their plans here, and that they envisage women would stay in their ‘care’ for a period of 6 to 12 months after exiting sex work.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill was passed by the NI Assembly on 21st October 2014 including a requirement that the Department of Health provides ‘assistance and support for exiting prostitution’.

Noting that it is the Department of Health, now headed up by the DUP’s Jim Wells, which will be in charge of providing the exit support and assistance services for sex workers, or selecting another organisation to do so, I’d argue that things are looking pretty grim and it is not likely that many sex workers are going to want to volunteer themselves for entry to these new exit services for sex workers that are to be established.

The Bill does specify that support and assistance for exiting sex work “shall be provided with the agreement of the person”, which on the face of it means sex workers will not be forced into exit services, which is of course good.

However, as I highlighted in an earlier post today, the decriminalisation sex workers were promised as part of this Bill remains suspiciously missing from the Bill still. This I think gives rise to a concern that sex workers in Northern Ireland could potentially be forced into exit services in the future by so called ‘diversion schemes’ which would offer them a choice between prosecution or engagement with an exit service.

Could this happen though, would the police arrest sex workers and then divert them into empty exit support and assistance services in order to fill these empty services? I think unfortunately we do need to be concerned about this possibility.

Where’s the decriminalisation Northern Irish sex workers were promised?

An open letter to MLAs

Re Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill

This Bill is due to go to Further Consideration Stage next, where there will not be the opportunity to debate clauses, like clause 6 which criminalises the purchase of sex, but amendments can still be made.

MLAs must now take note that this Bill is not “criminalising the buyer and decriminalising the seller” as it has been so widely advertised. Despite numerous claims to the contrary, including from both the DUP and Sinn Féin, the decriminalisation part has not yet been added to this Bill.

In my own evidence to the Justice Committee on this Bill on 30th January 2014 I asked Mr Jim Wells and Mr William Humphrey of the DUP to outline where in the Bill decriminalisation is offered as they were claiming. I asked this question three times before the Deputy Chairman Mr Raymond McCartney of Sinn Féin intervened to stop me asking it further. No answer was forthcoming.

Sinn Féin have also promised sex workers decriminalisation. Ms Caitríona Ruane of Sinn Féin speaking at the last debate on this Bill on 20th October 2014 stated “I believe that we should criminalise the purchaser of sex and decriminalise women”. Mr McCartney stated at the same debate that “Throughout our deliberations, particularly at Committee Stage, we had the view that, if we were doing this as an attempt to say on behalf of the Assembly and, indeed, the people whom we represent that we had a very clear issue with prostitution, we should be taking steps to decriminalise the actual prostitution.”

Amendment 29 – to repeal the laws against loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution – was proposed by Mr McCartney and passed at the last debate. Mr McCartney further said of this amendment “It is to send a very clear message to the people who are being exploited that in no way will we permit or allow a process of criminalisation when we are trying to tackle this complex issue. That is what was behind the framing of that amendment.”

But Amendment 29 only decriminalises outdoor sex workers. The independent research on sex work in Northern Ireland commissioned by the Department of Justice and published on 17th October 2014 estimated only 20 people engage in outdoor sex whilst an estimated 330 indoor sex workers are available every day. Further, as Lord Morrow of the DUP stated during the last debate, “According to data that has been received from the PSNI under a freedom of information request, not a single arrest was made for soliciting for the purposes of prostitution between 2009 and 2013”. I’d further note that ASBOs (Anti-social behaviour orders) can be used against outdoor sex workers, so actually the laws against loitering or soliciting for purposes of prostitution only exist at present in addition to other laws that can also be used against outdoor sex workers.

No amendment has been put forward to decriminalise indoor sex workers, who can be criminalised by brothel keeping laws unless they work alone. As has recorded sex workers in Northern Ireland are being targeted by criminal offenders who threaten, abuse, assault and rob sex workers, because they are forced into the vulnerable position of being lone workers by brothel keeping laws. recorded 233 incidents of crime against sex workers that occurred in Northern Ireland in the 5 year period between 23rd September 2009 and 22nd September 2014, only 5.2% of which were reported to the PSNI, in no small part due to this criminalisation.

Indoor sex workers represent an estimated 94.3% of sex workers in Northern Ireland according to the recently published independent research. Further indoor sex workers are the group who are being criminalised currently. I cite as an example the 2012 case of the PSNI discovering a Portuguese and a Brazilian woman working together as sex workers in a Belfast apartment. The two women were both convicted of brothel keeping and jailed for two months each. This was also despite a third party, Robert Weir, being charged with controlling them. The following month three Polish women who were found to be working together were convicted of brothel keeping. In that case it was stated that no third-party was involved.

The Minister of Justice, Mr David Ford, pointed out the lack of decriminalisation for indoor sex workers in Amendment 29 during the last debate on this Bill and stated “It may be that those who propose that particular amendment might wish to revisit some of those aspects, because it seems to me that there is a difference between two women working together in the interests of protection and those who are working in a brothel controlled by pimps.”

An amendment must now be put forward and passed at the Further Consideration Stage to ensure the brothel keeping laws are no longer used against sex workers. If Northern Ireland fails to do this it will remain a place where sex workers are criminalised, despite a new law having been brought in to criminalise the purchasers of sex by two parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – who clearly promised sex workers decriminalisation along with this new law.