Although the new law is designed to help victims of trafficking many sex workers are concerned that it may make working conditions more dangerous for them. In a press release Sex Workers Alliance Ireland explained why it opposes the legislation.
The legislation goes against international best practice and advice from expert organisations including the World Health Organisation and UN AIDS, which advocate instead for a human rights based, harm reduction and decriminalization approach to law and policy surrounding sex work. Maria, a sex worker in Northern Ireland said, “This new law is going to make my children and I homeless. I do escorting to give my children food, shelter and clothes. I am worried sick. I don’t want to feel like a criminal and have my clients facing charges”. Sex workers themselves have clearly shown their opposition to the new law. Research commissioned by the Justice Department last year in Northern Ireland found that 98% of sex workers surveyed were against the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services. Yet, these findings and views of sex workers were completely ignored by politicians in Stormont.
Research carried about by an academic from Loughborough supports this view.
“The legislation has been introduced on the premise that all clients are exploitative or coercive, but my research found that participants had good relations with most of their clients. By criminalising paying for sex, it is possible that some clients who are more respectful may be deterred, leaving a higher proportion of clients with no regard for the law.
“At the moment many workers can choose who they sell services to, and are able to turn business away, based on the information they receive from prospective clients. But new laws may lead to clients being less willing to give out details about themselves, putting workers at risk if they are in financial need and less able to be selective.”
Dr Pitcher also argues that as long as sex work continues to be criminalised, workers do not receive the same support available to employees in more normalised lines of work.
Recently Barclays announced an interesting non-judgemental initiative aimed at sex workers who want to retrain.
Barclays Bank has teamed up with the Terrence Higgins Trust to sponsor a scheme that will help 35 London-based sex workers retrain for different jobs.
The Sex Workers and New Ambitions Project (Snap), which is run by THT, offers “support and training to achieve your employment goals alongside or outside of sex working”.
Successful applicants will get one-to-one mentoring, professional skills coaching, support with work experience and volunteering and CV and job application training.
Funding for the project has been provided by Barclays, and the scheme’s model is based on the Terrence Higgins Trust’s Work Positive programme, which helps people living with HIV who are long-term unemployed find ways of getting back into work.
Here’s some further analysis of the new legislation from Left Foot Foward.