Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Stormont decision welcomed by Northumbria Commissioner

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has welcomed the decision of Stormont assembly members to start the legislative process to ban paying for sex.

In the UK, selling or buying sex is not currently illegal.

However, it is illegal to buy sex from someone who is controlled for another person’s gain; other illegal activities including loitering and soliciting for prostitution; kerb crawling; keeping a brothel and placing an advert for prostitution within the vicinity of a public telephone box.

Northern Ireland has now started the process that paying for sex becomes illegal.

Discussions went on until late into the night and the Bill is aimed at amending Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution.

Currently, when it comes to prosecution it is the prostitute who is more likely to be prosecuted rather than the person paying for sex.

Government figures for 2002 show there were 2,678 convictions for soliciting in comparison to only 993 convictions for kerb crawling.

Vera Baird said: “I congratulate the members of Stormont Assembly for leading the way in further ensuring the protection and safety of women.

“By following the Nordic model, consumers rather than workers in the sex trade are targeted.

“Many of these women often have very troubled backgrounds and research shows that up to 70% of those in street prostitution have a history of local authority care and up to 75% have been physically assaulted at the hands of pimps and punters.

“The introduction of this Bill will ensure these women are safer.”

The clause was passed, during the Bill’s consideration stage, by 81 to 10 votes. It still has to go through the legislative process but, as such a large number of members supported the Bill, it is likely to become law.

Mrs Baird said: “Stormont has spoken loud and clear on members’ wishes to further protect women and I welcome the strong commitment from across the assembly to support the legislation. We must follow suit in the rest of the UK as quickly as possible.”

There was opposition to the Bill from a minority of members, including Stormont’s Justice Minister David Ford who saw no evidence to prove that this legislation would reduce the incidence of trafficking.

Mrs Baird said: “One of the most common forms of trafficking and slavery is using women for prostitution, enticing them when they are at their lowest ebb with promises of money and security. Yet prostitution puts the women in a very dangerous position.

“In 2006, it was found that people are much less likely to be convicted of murdering a prostitute than any other kind of murder. The murder conviction rate stands at 75% but drops to 26% when it comes to the killings of women in prostitution.”

She added: “We all have a duty to support these women to ensure they can enjoy a life away from fear and intimidation.”