Following the release on September 18th, 2019, of research commissioned by Northern Ireland’sDepartment of Justice and carried out by Queen’s University into section 15 of the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015, national and international women’s rightsorganisations have come together in support of the existing law.

Under this section, Northern Ireland became the first jurisdiction in the UK to make paying for sexual services a criminal offence.

Northern Ireland’s legislation provides a strong foundation for actions to address sexual exploitation and human trafficking, however there have been considerable barriers to effective implementation of the new law.

In the report, “Assessment of impact criminalisation of purchasing sexual services”, we disagree with the Queen’s researchers’ conclusion that the law criminalising the purchase of sexual services is ineffective, rather it is effective implementation which needs to be further developed. Despite the barriers, PSNI statistics show that there have been more crimes recorded and more arrests and consequences for those who have committed the new offence than there were for the previous offence of paying for sex with a person subject to force, showing that the police can and do use this law to a positive effect. We welcome the comment from the PSNI that the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act is “a useful piece of legislation.” We welcome new training initiatives beingdeveloped by the PSNI and call on all other relevant agencies to make implementation of the Act a priority.

IFHR’s chairperson states: “The lack of support in this research for legal and other measures that discourage the demand forwomen for the purpose of sexual exploitation is particularly disturbing. Discouraging demand is an approach that is obligatory under international human trafficking treaties and proven to be effectivein preventing the sexual exploitation of women in a number of other countries. ”

The full press release is available here.