Thursday, April 13, 2017

Does criminalizing the purchase of sex endanger sex workers?

A lawyer who is also sex worker brings suit to overturn the law that makes purchasing sex a crime, on the grounds that this endangers prostitutes.

Northern Ireland sex worker bids to overturn ‘dangerous’ ban on hiring escorts
Laura Lee brings legal challenge to law that makes women ‘vulnerable to abuse’

"Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.

Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.

But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.

Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.

“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.

“So in a sense the law is actually putting sex workers at greater risk than before, when there was some ability to trace and track down any client that was violent and abusive. The law to protect women in the sex trade has done the opposite of what it was intended to do. Every escort I know working in Belfast now insists on working side by side with another woman for protection. The law has not in any way reduced demand and supply, which is still the same. It has only driven the business further underground.”
"Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.

“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said."

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